August 19, 2015

Night-foraging native bees pollinate the evening primrose, which honeybees cannot feed on.
mwms1916/Flickr

The cicadas on my farm are singing, and many of my summer flowers are drying and turning brown. As I walked the property this morning, preparing for our annual farm tour, I was despairing that our guests weren’t going to be treated to much beauty—until I turned the corner and ran into the evening primrose (Oenethera biennis).

The tall, stately primrose here at the farm have been turned into lace doilies. They have sacrificed their lush, green leaves in an effort to protect the nearby roses from the ravages of the Japanese beetle. Every year, these pests emerge, so I ensure that there is plenty of evening primrose in the area to keep my rose bushes safe. The beetles seem satisfied to feast on the volunteer plants and stay away from my most prized possessions.


More Than A Sacrifice Plant

We don’t allow evening primrose to grow merely for their sacrifice, though. These beautiful plants have a right to be noticed for their own merit. Many know this plant for the processed from its seeds, which is high in essential fatty acids and has been used to support cardiovascular, nervous system and digestive health. The oil, leaves and bark of the woody stem have been used in various reproductive maladies, ranging from endometriosis to menopausal symptoms. This prolific weed can be important in counteracting the inflammation that results in eating a diet high in omega-3s and low in omega-6.


Pollinator Feeder

Even in its current bug-eaten form, I see beauty in the evening primrose plant. The delicate yellow blossoms are why we think of the plant in connection with the evening. The flowers are pollinated by moths and night-foraging native bees and often have a bit of a phosphorescent look in the waning light of the day.

As a beekeeper, I’m fascinated by all pollinators. Over the years, we’ve worked to provide habitat on our farm not just for the greedy honeybee, but also the native insects that could easily be crowded out by our hives. Evening primrose is one of the plants I feel good about having around, as the honeybee can’t pollinate the flower’s internal mechanisms. I know that all the bees on our property are well cared for when this flower is available.


Growing Evening Primrose

Once you start an evening primrose colony, it will quickly add to its family, dropping its seeds and spreading year after year. When I first became interested in this prairie plant, I put down a small amount of seed in one small flower bed in the spring. In the five years since that time, the plant has moved itself to all parts of our property. I enjoy digging and eating some of the first year rosettes that remind me of an early radish and allow the others to grow into next year’s pollinators and rose protectors extraordinaire.

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