Critter Spotlight: Passionflower Bee
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For 15 years I have enjoyed observing the many pollinators that forage on the native passionflowers in my Pollinator Paradise Demonstration Garden. North Carolina is home to two native passionflower species: purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and the lesser known yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea). Both species are found throughout the state from the mountains to the coastal plain.
I have both species in the pollinator garden and have long admired their exquisitely structured blooms. Purple passionflower (also called maypop) has an edible fruit and its leaves and flowers are prized by herbalists and used for medicines. Both species are host plants for fritillary butterflies and attract many pollinators. The plants are perennial herbaceous vines and come back from roots and also by seed. They can be trained on a trellis or planted as a groundcover.
Both species of passionflower can be quite aggressive in the garden, using their tendrils to climb up other plants and in some cases completely covering them like a native version of kudzu. I regularly thin out the vines throughout the summer months when they become overly exuberant.
The primary pollinators of purple passionflower are the carpenter bee and the honey bee. Only occasionally have I seen bumble bees on purple passionflower.
Yellow passionflower blooms are slightly smaller than a quarter and resemble miniature yellow-green versions of purple passionflower. The primary pollinators I see on yellow passionflower are various wasps and also honey bees but they are also visited by native bees and syrphid flies.
Here in the piedmont, purple passionflower starts blooming in May followed by yellow passionflower later in June; both species will bloom into late October.
I was so excited in late July to observe a small black bee I had never seen before on a yellow passionflower bloom! It turned out to be an uncommon species, the passionflower bee (Anthemurgus passiflorae). This solitary ground-nesting native andrenid bee is monolectic, meaning it only collects pollen from a single species, in this case the yellow passionflower. The female carries the pollen on scopa (branched hairs) on her hind legs, then packs the pollen into a flattened mass in underground tunnels and lays an egg on it for the larva to feed on.
Now every time I see the yellow passionflower I keep an eye out for the tiny passionflower bee. Knowing about this uncommon species has even impacted my management of passionflower. I am more inclined to let it go where it wants to go knowing it is so important to this native pollinator!