Superblooms Are a ‘Smorgasbord’ for Bees
Last year, California’s Death Valley was struck by a superbloom of spring wildflowers. But this spring, it’s the park’s southern neighbor, Anza-Borrego, that’s all abloom. Sunflowers, yellow desert dandelions, and brittlebush have painted the park in sprays of yellow, and beavertail cacti are erupting in bright splashes of hot pink.
While desert flowers’ splashy colors may get all the attention, those rare blooms provide wild bees with a “smorgasbord of food,” says UC Riverside entomologist Hollis Woodard. She says that some of these buzzing desert homesteaders even feed on flower oils—an unusual diet for a bee.
[Tips on where to find wildflowers and how to pick the right seeds for your garden.]
But you may not live near the desert. Don’t despair! Go hunt instead for bluebonnets, trout lilies, larkspurs, or shooting stars. Wherever you live, it’s a great time to observe. And if you have trouble identifying your finds, try uploading them to the iNaturalist app, where an army of nature enthusiasts can help you ID your snapshots. The app collects and curates observations of the natural world, and passes that information onto scientific databases, too. “Every photo you take has a lot of scientifically useful information in it,” says iNaturalist co-director Ken-ichi Ueda—so your springtime foray may someday aid scientific study.
[Watch how Death Valley springs to life.]
Ken-Ichi Ueda is the co-director of iNaturalist.org. He’s based in San Francisco, California.
Andrea DeLong-Amaya is Director of Horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the The University of Texas at Austin in Austin, Texas.
Richard Minnich is author of California’s Fading Wildflowers. He’s a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Riverside in Riverside, California.
Hollis Woodard is an assistant professor of Entomology at the University of California, Riverside in Riverside, California.
IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. A bit later in the hour, mathematician Eugenia Chang takes us to infinity and beyond. That will be kind of interesting. I think you’ll like it.
But first, last year California’s Death Valley was struck by a super bloom of spring wild flowers. Well, this spring it’s Anza-Borrego State Park that’s all abloom in California– sunflowers, yellow desert dandelions, brittlebush have painted the park in sprays of yellow. And beavertail cacti are erupting in bright splashes of hot pink. Looks like we all should be there.
But while the desert may be one of the most dramatic springtime displays, wild flowers are popping up everywhere. There are bluebonnets and trout lilies, larkspurs and shooting stars– it’s a great time to get out and observe.
And if you snap photos of your finds, we have some tips on how you can ID those specimens and even share them with scientists. So give us a call. What have you spotted sprouting up in your area? Our number, 844-724-8255, or tweet us @scifri, and if you need some inspiration, well then check out the wild flowers our Sci Fri producers have spotted at sciencefriday.com/bloom. It’s interactive today. Tell us what you’re seeing blooming in your area.
Let me introduce my guest, Ken-ichi Ueda as co-director of iNaturalist.org in San Francisco. Welcome. Welcome to Science Friday.
KEN-ICHI UEDA: Hey Ira, great to be here.
IRA FLATOW: Thanks. Andrea DeLong-Amaya is a Director of Horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Welcome to Science Friday.
ANDREA DELONG-AMAYA: Thank you. I’m also glad to be here.
IRA FLATOW: And we’re happy to have you.
Richard Minnich is author of “California’s Fading Wildflowers.” He’s also professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the UC Riverside. Welcome to Science Friday.
RICHARD MINNICH: Glad to be here.
IRA FLATOW: Let me ask you, Andrea, what’s blooming in Texas right now?
ANDREA DELONG-AMAYA: Gosh, the party is beginning. We have bluebonnets are pretty much full on, our Texas State flower. And then there’s all kinds of other things– we have bitter weeds blooming, and verbenas, and coreopsis, and a lot of Indian blanket. It looks really beautiful.
IRA FLATOW: Has it been an early spring for these to bloom?
ANDREA DELONG-AMAYA: Yeah, it’s been a little unusual in that regard, specifically with the bluebonnets. They were, in our area, probably two or three weeks earlier than normal or average. Normal, what does that mean? So average, yeah. We’re a couple of weeks early.
IRA FLATOW: Richard, I know you’ve been out exploring some of these blooms in Southern California. Tell us what you’ve spotted so far.
RICHARD MINNICH: Well, we’ve seen wonderful flowers across the Borrego Desert and Coachella Valley and many other areas– lots of poppies. There is cryptantha, these are fiddlenecks, and wonderful flowers throughout the region.
IRA FLATOW: Ken-ichi Ueda, you have been down to the desert too. Pretty spectacular?
KEN-ICHI UEDA: Totally spectacular. All the common things were sort of just explosive– so much more color and greenery than I’ve ever seen in the desert before. And lots of rare things that were coming up as well. For instance, one of my favorites, the ghost flower, is much, much more common this year than it has been in previous years. Usually it’s kind of a semi-unusual flower, and this year it seemed to be at every place we stopped.
IRA FLATOW: Right now, I know you have a tool that can be useful for people out spotting blooms– the app, iNaturalist. You just download it to your phone. How does it work?
KEN-ICHI UEDA: Sure. iNaturalist is an app and a website where you can share photos of any plant and animal, any wild plants and animal that you find. And you post it up to the internet, and other folks will help you figure out what it is and sort of talk about it and start a conversation about what it was you saw.
IRA FLATOW: So it helps you get the name of things, and it helps everybody sort of crowdsource what they’re seeing.
KEN-ICHI UEDA: Sure. We crowdsource the identification process, so if you don’t know what you saw, if you’re out looking at wildflowers and you see something that totally blows your mind and you just want to put a name on it, you can post to the website, and hopefully someone who knows that area will help you out with that name.
IRA FLATOW: Are scientists actually using these photos the people submit?
KEN-ICHI UEDA: Definitely. So a lot of our actual users are themselves scientists who are also naturalists and enjoy getting outside and looking at photos like everyone else. But a lot of scientists end up using the data that we share with several scientific data repositories. So if you’re a scientist and you’re studying desert blooms, you might be looking up occurrences of, you know, any time anyone has seen ghost flower. And these days, some of those records are going to come from iNaturalist and other citizen science data repositories.
IRA FLATOW: Andrea, any suggestions for things people should be on the lookout for other parts of the country. Like here in the Northeast, I know there’s still snow on the ground, in lots of parts of the Northeast. I can tell you from my backyard.
ANDREA DELONG-AMAYA: Yeah, that’s such a bizarre concept, because we’ve been having summer-like temperatures here. Actually, one of the reasons for the early wildflower bloom is that we had a very warm end of our winter. We had a number of record-breaking warm days, like in the 80s, mid– to even upper-80s. Predicted to be near 90 again this weekend, so it’s hard to imagine that there’s snow somewhere. But yeah, different parts of the country, you’ll see different things, you know. Trilliums in woodland areas, of course we have California covered– but there’s stuff happening pretty much anywhere.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah
ANDREA DELONG-AMAYA: It may be early. Obviously it’s still early for some areas if you’re still under snow.
IRA FLATOW: We saw before the snow that we had, the crocuses were up, we had daffodils beginning to bloom, and then the snows hit, and now we’re looking for that stuff.
ANDREA DELONG-AMAYA: Right, the flowering trees. I know some were a little bit nervous about how they’re going to fare through the cold weather.
IRA FLATOW: Richard, your book is called California’s Fading Wildflowers. It doesn’t sound terribly optimistic here.
RICHARD MINNICH: Well, optimistic and pessimistic, I suppose. But the whole state used to be covered with flowers from the coast to the mountains to the deserts, and now, more and more, we’ve had these flower fields invaded by European-introduced species that are very, very aggressive and actually displace the flowers. The only positive thing is the flowers can outdo them by having long seed life, as opposed to grasses which have short seed life. And we’re swaying back and forth from one to the other. So in wet years, it goes to the grasses, and then the dry years we get more and more flowers. But the optimal situation is right now, as one wet year that follows a long drought, and we’re in that right now.
IRA FLATOW: Let’s go to Oklahoma City. Stephanie has something to tell us. Hi, Stephanie. Stephanie, are you there? Stephanie?
STEPHANIE: We’re big Science Friday fans. Yes, sir.
IRA FLATOW: Go ahead. I’m sorry.
STEPHANIE: No, we’re just huge fans. We’re just so excited to talk to you. We’re also beekeepers.
IRA FLATOW: Wow, so have you seen stuff going crazy in Oklahoma?
STEPHANIE: Heck, yeah! Our spring’s been coming earlier every year. We’ve seen a super bloom out here. The year after we had a drought, there was a little bit of moisture in a hot spring, and everything went crazy and every bud that was in [INAUDIBLE] came up to the ground at once. And that was in late March, early April. And normally, stuff really doesn’t get going here in central Oklahoma until mid-April.
IRA FLATOW: Wow.
STEPHANIE: So this is weird. We’ve already had several days in the mid-90s.
IRA FLATOW: No kidding!
STEPHANIE: OK, normally you don’t see that kind of temperature until you get down towards Houston.
IRA FLATOW: Wow. Well, I guess it’s nice to see, in a certain sense.
STEPHANIE: Not really, no. It kind of freaked me out.
IRA FLATOW: It’s the new normal, Stephanie!
STEPHANIE: There is no normal. Our weather patterns here in central Oklahoma are already very extreme. It’s making it more difficult for, I think, our forecasters to really get a handle on things. It changes our storm season. It changes our crop growing. It really messes with our honeybees really bad, because you can have three or four days where it’s so hot the bees will start swarming, and then one super big cold snap, and that’ll kill them off because there won’t be enough to cluster around the queen.
IRA FLATOW: I guess your senator is not noticing this climate change, though, so–
STEPHANIE: No, Senator Snowball is not going to notice.
IRA FLATOW: OK. Thank you, Stephanie.
IRA FLATOW: Good luck with–
STEPHANIE: You’re welcome.
IRA FLATOW: Enjoy. Let’s go to Uniontown, PA to Greg. Hi, Greg! What are you seeing out there?
GREG: Hello, there. How are you?
IRA FLATOW: Yeah.
GREG: Good. Good. Well, maybe not so good for the bees. I think my comments are pretty much going to mirror what your previous caller just said, that the roller coaster ride that we’re on with ups and downs and temperature, especially in my region here in southwestern PA, have decimated my bees. I am also a beekeeper, and it seems that when you start seeing honey bees emerging from the hive in January, that it’s a little too soon.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah.
GREG: And as Stephanie said, the bee ball inside breaks open, and they have to reform when it gets cold and it wipes them out.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah. Thanks for that call. I want to follow up. Richard, you touch on something before about the wetness. And is the reason all these blooms are happening in California this year simply because it’s been so wet all year there?
RICHARD MINNICH: Well, that’s the first thing that’s necessary for a good bloom, but the second thing is that the annual weeds that have been suppressing our flowers have been knocked down greatly by the drought of the last five years in California. So finally, we come to a year without many weeds, and flowers have their great moment and they proliferated.
IRA FLATOW: So you need the long drought, then, to have this bloom occur?
RICHARD MINNICH: In this modern climate, with the European annuals, absolutely. But in the old days, before these weeds were around, the flowers would come out great any wet year. But if we go to another wet year next year, don’t expect the flowers, because the annual grasses will take over again.
IRA FLATOW: Well, give us a forecast– do you think we’re going to see another super bloom in Death Valley this year?
RICHARD MINNICH: I think so. It’s already good. I have my students who’ve been out there looking, and deserts in general– it’s a really good year so far. It’s not like the great year in 2005, which made national news. But it’s the best one since 2005.
IRA FLATOW: And it’s because of continued wet weather, or just the flash flood of some sort?
RICHARD MINNICH: Well, the last year’s was a flash flood, but this year is just a lot of good storms and the deserts remain wet for months. So the flowers are really outstanding.
IRA FLATOW: Well, I want to thank you, Richard, for taking time to be with us today. Richard Minnich is author of “California’s Fading Wildflowers” and professor in the Department of Earth science at UC Riverside.
We’re going to stay with our other guests. Ken-ichi Ueda is director of iNaturalist, and Andrea DeLong-Amaya is director of horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
We do want to get you– we do want you to participate and tell us what you’re seeing, and we want you to go out and look in your backyard now if you haven’t, and go to our website and look at what stuff that we have on there, and then give us a call to tell us what kinds of stuff you’re seeing in your neighborhood. 844-724-8255. You can also tweet us @scifri, tell us what kinds of blooms you’re seeing. I see we have beekeepers out there talking about the bees, lots of folks taking care of bees. It’s been an unusual season for them, and we’ll talk about that a little– bees, later on in the show, unusual stuff that we’re seeing with bees. So stay with us. We’ll be right back after this break. Don’t go away.
This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. We’re talking about springtime blooms and how to track them with your smartphone, with my guest, Ken-ichi Ueda, co-director of iNaturalist.org in San Francisco. Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at University of Texas at Austin.
And with all the flowers blooming now, you might wonder, well, how does it affect the bees? We have been getting phone calls in this afternoon about the bees, and this time I’m not talking about– in, our case about the honey bees– I’m talking about their lesser-known wild cousins, the solitary bees. Hollis Woodard is an assistant professor of Entomology at UC Riverside in California. Welcome to Science Friday.
HOLLIS WOODARD: Hi, thanks for having me.
IRA FLATOW: I know that you’ve been observing these buzzing desert homesteaders yourself.
HOLLIS WOODARD: Yeah, we’ve been going out so far for the last few weeks, and we’re seeing bees starting to come out and start visiting all these flowers.
IRA FLATOW: What’s the difference between the honey bee and the bee we’re talking about here?
HOLLIS WOODARD: Well, so honeybees are not native to the US. They were brought here around the 1600s, we think. So they’re non-native. But we have all these other bees, thousands of bee species, that are native to the US. And they evolved here, and they visit all of these native flowering plants.
IRA FLATOW: Now, I understand that one of the bees you study actually eats oil. A high fat diet for bees?
HOLLIS WOODARD: Exactly, yeah. This is a new bee for us, so this is our first year working in the system. But I have a researcher in my lab, Kristal Watrous, who’s starting to investigate the system. So this is one group of bees in the deserts around here and elsewhere who have started to collect floral oils from a plant called Krameria. And they collect these oils and they provision their nests with them, and the larvae feed off of the oils while they develop. This is something that I think is super interesting, because when you think of bees, you think, OK, they eat pollen and nectar. But this is a whole other thing in their diet that comes from flowers that they’re subsisting off of.
IRA FLATOW: Are they also eating pollen for the protein, too? Or is there something else they add on?
HOLLIS WOODARD: That’s a good point. So they are also– they do eat pollen nectar. They’re just eating these oils as well.
IRA FLATOW: Seems like the desert is where all the wild, weird bees hang out. Would you agree with that?
HOLLIS WOODARD: It actually is. Yeah. It’s a super– deserts in general are a big biodiversity hotspot for bees. And there are all kinds of bees that do weird things and eat weird things in the desert.
IRA FLATOW: You know, California is finally escaping the years of drought. Any idea how a lot of these wild bees fared during the drought? Too early to tell?
HOLLIS WOODARD: Well, what a lot of folks might not know, as you mentioned, is that a lot of bees- most bees– are solitary, and they nest in the ground. And what they do, when the flowers bloom, is they come out and they collect all these food resources from these flowering plants. And they provision their nests with these foods. And then those foods that they’ve collected, they give rise to bees that will emerge, typically, the following year. And so a super bloom like we’re having this year is having a huge impact on bee populations, but we won’t really see that effect until next year. But there is some evidence that some bees can actually kind of hunker down and wait a few years before they emerge. So, very interesting time lag effects, in terms of bees and how they’re impacted by all these bloom periods.
IRA FLATOW: It’s amazing how you never run out of new things to discover about bees, do you?
HOLLIS WOODARD: Yes. It’s really true. There’s been such a big emphasis on honeybees and even bumblebees, the other group that I work on, but there are so many other species living around the world that have really different lifestyles than a honeybee does.
IRA FLATOW: Ken-ichi, do you get insect sightings on the app, too? Can people track a pollinator on there?
KEN-ICHI UEDA: Absolutely. iNaturalist supports observations of any living thing. So if you see pollinators, if you see insects, you see hummingbirds– and I think visiting the flowers are also fair game for observations.
IRA FLATOW: All right. Let’s go to the phones, because lots of people have now gone out and talked to their neighbors about what they’re seeing. Let’s go to Springfield, Missouri. Let’s go to Chris. Hi, Chris!
CHRIS: Hi, how are you doing Ira?
IRA FLATOW: Hi, there
CHRIS: Hi, there.
IRA FLATOW: Go ahead.
CHRIS: Can you hear me?
IRA FLATOW: Yeah, I can hear you. Go ahead.
CHRIS: Yeah, the best flower I’ve seen– and nobody likes it, but the dandelion is the one that is blooming crazy right now in Springfield. And some people don’t like it, but I think it’s a beautiful flower. It’s also very nutritional. You can make salad out of it, you can make wine out of it, and the bees really do like it. And I think that’s part of the problem with the bees– especially the honeybees– is that people use so many insecticides to get rid of the dandelion, thinking of it as a weed. And I never looked at it as a weed, I looked at it like a flower– a very, very pretty flower decorating your lawn.
IRA FLATOW: That’s a good point. Get to Andrea. Do you want to comment about that?
ANDREA DELONG-AMAYA: Well, it’s a good point. He makes a lot of good points. One of the things that we get a lot is, what is a weed? And it is really in the eye of the beholder. I mean, a weed– the way I like to think about it– is a plant that is where you don’t want it to be. And so something that might be a perfectly wonderful plant in one situation could be a weed considered in another area.
And with the dandelion, you know, it is a European species, so it’s something that’s been introduced into North America. And it’s not surprising that the bees love it, because it probably reminds them of home. So it is a little bit weedy in that sense that it’s an introduced species. And it is prolific, which a lot of people think of plants that are prolific as also being kind of weedy. But, you know, I think–
IRA FLATOW: I think prolific is a euphemism for a dandelion.
Let’s go to Carla in Ferdinand, Indiana. Hi, Carla!
CARLA: Hi, there. How are you doing?
IRA FLATOW: Fine, how you doing?
CARLA: Great. Great.
IRA FLATOW: What’s on your mind?
CARLA: Yes, so you were talking about what’s going on in our area, and I live in southern Indiana, in southwest Indiana. And we had sort of an early spring at first and then we froze up for a little bit– didn’t really get any snow. But then things seem to be pretty much on target now, as far as blooming now. And we were in the woods the other day and just saw a beautiful, beautiful patch of blood root. And I’m sure a couple of the folks that you’ve got there know a little bit about bloodroot, but it’s just a beautiful little spring flower. The pedals are about an inch and a half long, and they’re only there for about four or five days, and they all just drop off. And you wouldn’t even know that it was a flower. And they’re just– they’re gorgeous.
IRA FLATOW: Did you take any photos for us?
CARLA: Well, I didn’t. Some of the folks that I was with did take photos, but I’m not the photographer of the group. Yeah, they’re just, they’re beautiful. Beautiful plants.
IRA FLATOW: Ken-ichi, they have to download iNaturalist, right? So they can–
KEN-ICHI UEDA: Yeah, they really should.
CARLA: There you go. Yeah. Yeah.
KEN-ICHI UEDA: I concur. Bloodroot’s a beautiful flower. I grew up in Connecticut, and I miss seeing it in the spring.
IRA FLATOW: Well, you won’t see it this spring. I live in Connecticut. It’s still pretty snowy.
KEN-ICHI UEDA: A good thing to look for when it’s snowy out is skunk cabbage in the Northeast. Many people probably don’t think of that as a very beautiful flower, but I think it’s really cool, and it can actually generate its own heat and melt the snow. So it’s something–
IRA FLATOW: Is that right?
KEN-ICHI UEDA: –you can find, even if there’s still snow on the ground.
IRA FLATOW: Wow.
KEN-ICHI UEDA: Really cool flower.
IRA FLATOW: Why do they call it skunk cabbage?
KEN-ICHI UEDA: Well, Ira, if you tear it apart, you’ll find out soon enough. It’s got a pretty distinctive odor.
IRA FLATOW: It’s a rhetorical question.
ANDREA DELONG-AMAYA: Nature is just so amazing.
IRA FLATOW: Andrea, there’s been a bit of controversy over Cheerios distributing wildflower seed packets as part of their campaign to save bees. What’s the outcry all about here?
ANDREA DELONG-AMAYA: Well, I will say that it’s nice that Cheerios is being sensitive about the issue, that they’re trying to call attention to it. The Wildflower Center, we really want to promote native plants, and one of the issues that has come up is that, in the seed mix, some of those species are not native to the United States– a lot of them are Eurasian and other places. And what’s particularly concerning is if you have a seed mix that has species that are invasive– and this is something that Richard was mentioning earlier. When you have plants that really are not adapted to our area, they can contribute to the loss of habitat for native vegetation, which then has a trickle-down effect for wildlife as well.
So we really like to recommend people be very careful. It’s a real responsibility to be smart consumers and try to use native plants as much as possible, and really avoid the non-native things that could become invasive or that are proven to be invasive.
IRA FLATOW: Mm-hmm. So they’re really not– the outcry’s a little overblown, do you think?
ANDREA DELONG-AMAYA: You mean, is it too much?
IRA FLATOW: Over Cheerios distributing the seeds? Or do you believe that they should not be doing that?
ANDREA DELONG-AMAYA: Well, ideally they would be selecting things that are regionally adapted. So if you could have a seed mix that had local native plants, that would be preferable to having things from Eurasia or other parts of the world.
IRA FLATOW: Let’s go to April in Houston. Hi, welcome to Science Friday, April.
APRIL: Hi, Ira. Thanks for having me. I actually had a question that related to that. I drive home every day, and I pass these depressing but lush-looking ditches, and I just imagine planting a ton of Texas wildflowers and being my own little mini Lady Bird Johnson in doing that. And I think, gosh, am I going to mess something up– some kind of ecosystem inside of that ditch where I’ve only ever seen a couple of turtles at best. And I just don’t know, as far as being a responsible consumer, how I know what would be– what would not be harmful. Would it be a moot point? How can I help pollinators and plant things, maybe in my own yard that will actually help–
IRA FLATOW: You want to know what–
APRIL: –rather than hurt anything?
IRA FLATOW: You want to know what is safe to spread around on the highway or your backyard or a vacant lot?
APRIL: Yes. Just as a casual non-scientist, how can I help? Because I’m willing to do it. I’m willing to spend $30 on some seeds and go and do that with my stepdaughter on the weekend, kind of thing.
IRA FLATOW: How can we help out this woman?
ANDREA DELONG-AMAYA: You know, I love hearing that question. Because she’s right. It’s nuanced. You don’t just want to put anything out. You want to make smart decisions. But you can go visit all the resources that are available for making those sorts of decisions, like the Xerces Society has an excellent website, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, they have a great database–
APRIL: Thank you.
ANDREA DELONG-AMAYA: –with great photos out there. So these are all things that you can turn to, to make the sorts of informed decisions. So in addition to spending the $30 on the seed packet, if you spend a little bit of time, too, to do your research on what should grow there, I think you’ll be empowered to make those kinds of good decisions.
IRA FLATOW: Good luck, April. Send us a photo when you plant something.
APRIL: Thank you so much. I’ll do that.
ANDREA DELONG-AMAYA: I might add, one of the other resources besides the Wildflower Center Website, which– thank you for the promotion there– also, most states have a local native plant society chapters, and I found they have been really helpful in helping to guide what is the best selection, but also a lot of them know where the resources are to get those plants. So sometimes they have seed swaps, and you might even be able to get some stuff for pretty cheap.
IRA FLATOW: A lot of the universities have agricultural divisions too. Like here in New York, Cornell has an outreach program– things like that. So you might do that.
We do have a comment from the Cheerios people. They wrote us and said, “The Honey Nut Cheerios wildflower packets contain the same variety of seeds that consumers will find in seed racks at major national home store chains throughout the US.” So that is their response.
Let’s go– so many phone calls, so little time. Let’s go to San Antonio. Yeah. Let’s see if we can get AG in San Antonio. Hi, welcome to Science Friday.
AG: Hi, Ira. Thank you for taking my call. I’m sorry, I’m on my way to work, but I just wanted to let you know that here in San Antonio, of course, we’re in the southern edge of the hill country. And what I’ve seen is that as the city has expanded, wildflowers are getting covered over with asphalt and neighborhoods. So what my husband and I do is we take out a bucket to areas where we’ve seen the wildflowers when they’re dying down.
So we find a safe place to collect the seed pods, which look– the bluebonnets seed pods look like little pea pods, tiny pea pods. And as they dry, they pop open and the seeds fly, and they propagate that way. So we collect the seed pods. We put them on the back patio to dry. As they start popping, we collect them and then we take them out to areas that we like along the highways or around my neighborhood, and just throw handfuls out wherever we would like to see them. And it has been working.
IRA FLATOW: Wow. Wow. You’re a Johnny Bluebonnet Seed person.
AG: Yeah. So the thing is that anybody can do this, and it only takes a few minutes. You just find a spot where there’s an abundance of flowers, and when you notice that the flowers are dying down, you see the little seed pods– you don’t want to pick them too soon when they’re green. So when they’re looking brown and you can see that some of them are opening and they’re splitting, that’s the time to collect them. Now, you’ve got to be careful, because I’ve got bluebonnets in my backyard now where the seeds rolled off the patio.
IRA FLATOW: All right, we have to go. We have to go, AG, but thanks for that tip, and there you go. That’s how you can do it on your own. This is Science Friday from PRI, Public Radio International.
I have to say to all my guests, we have certain subjects that just light up the switchboard here, and this subject has lit up– I mean, there’s no room on the call board for more calls. Ken-ichi, does this surprise you?
KEN-ICHI UEDA: Not really. People really love wildflowers. Usually when you think of what people love to do in nature outside, people think of birds first. But we actually have kind of an equal number of bird and plant observations on iNaturalist. So we have lots of evidence that people really do love plants and getting outside and looking at wildflowers.
IRA FLATOW: Any suggestions? Anybody want to chip in– any observation, observing suggestions, or anything to look for in the bees, Hollis? Any of the interesting phenomena?
HOLLIS WOODARD: Well, I’d just say that when it comes to desert bees, you know, they live in all sorts of different places. And some fly really early in the morning, and so if you go out really early, you might see some things that you wouldn’t see otherwise. And if you look around on the ground, you might find some nesting in different places. So yeah, there are all sorts of weird things you can see with the bees if you look a little bit more closely.
IRA FLATOW: Andrea, is it possible for just normal folk to actually find a new species?
ANDREA DELONG-AMAYA: That’s a good question. I think every time I go out in the wild and I see something, I think it’s a new species. That’s when iNaturalist can be really handy, right? Oh, yeah. Probably not very likely. Plants are pretty well documented. I mean, it certainly happens. A few years ago, we had– maybe 10 or so years ago– here in Texas we had a native Yucca that was discovered that had not been identified previously. But it’s pretty unusual for that to happen.
IRA FLATOW: Ken-ichi, you’d like to see that happen.
KEN-ICHI UEDA: Absolutely. It actually has happened on iNaturalist– not with flowers, but we had a species of poison dart frog that was observed on iNaturalist and turned out to be a new species. So it can definitely happen, especially if you’re looking at sort of relatively obscure groups of organisms– things you find under rocks, or weird worms. Stuff like that.
IRA FLATOW: So you’ll take anything– you’ll take anything that we can take a picture of in nature.
KEN-ICHI UEDA: We’re not so into, like, dogs and cats. But any wild animal or plant is totally cool.
IRA FLATOW: All right, that’s where we’re going to end. It’s a good way to end it. Ken-ichi Ueda is co-director of iNaturalist.org in San Francisco. Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin. And Hollis Woodard is assistant professor of Entomology at UC Riverside. And thank you all for joining us today.
ANDREA DELONG-AMAYA: Thank you. Happy spring, everybody.
IRA FLATOW: Happy spring. And you can still send your photos. Our website at sciencefriday.com has all kinds of links up there for all the flowers we’re talking about.
Christopher Intagliata was Science Friday’s senior producer. He once served as a prop in an optical illusion and speaks passable Ira Flatowese.