Baby Blue Eyes
Baby blue eyes, Nemophilia menziesii, is a native California annual in the same genus as five-spot. It grows to be about ten inches tall, blooms early in the year, and can re-seed easily. In very warm areas it prefers partial shade or filtered sun, but in cooler areas it will do fine in full sun. It prefers well-drained soils.
Baby blue eyes is one of five wild flowers selected by the USDA-ARS as excellent native bee forage for California, and it is often planted in pastures designed to attract and nourish native bees. The plant will grow in most areas of the United States and can be planted wherever you wish to attract native pollinators.
The bright blue flowers look great in hanging baskets, barrels, pots, borders, and rock gardens and will attract many different wild pollinators as well as honey bees.
I first learned about this plant several years ago when I was visiting the dentist. In front of his office was a gorgeous bush covered in blue flowers. I stopped to look and noticed it was infested with honey bees . . . hundreds of them. I simply had to have one of these, so on the way home I stopped at a nursery.
Anyway, I learned the bush was a species of Ceanothus, more commonly called California lilac. The plants belong to the Buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae) and are highly prized as garden shrubs.
The genus Ceanothus includes roughly 55 species, almost all of which are native to western North America. Most are evergreen shrubs or small trees. The garden varieties come with blue, white, or pink flowers and are amazing drought tolerant once established. The flowers are visited by butterflies, wild bees, and other pollinators and the seeds are consumed by birds and small mammals.
Oddly, the bush I have never attracts honey bees but is routinely visited by all types of bumble bees, hover flies, and butterflies. The furry little bumble shown below visited just last week.
Five spot, Nemophilia maculata, is an annual spring flower that is great for attracting a wide variety of native bees as well as honey bees. This California native plant grows 6-12 inches high, will thrive in sun or partial shade, and blooms in late spring or early summer. It is easy to grow from seed and requires little maintenance.
One cheerful spot occurs on each petal and sports a deep purple color that is especially attractive to bees. The flowers are a source of both pollen and nectar. I plant five spot in a whiskey barrel and, by mid-spring, fluffy mounds of purple and white cascade over the rim. It is one of my favorite “bait” flowers—I check it daily for pollinators I can photograph.
Five spot is available by the packet or by the pound. Once planted it reseeds easily but is not invasive. It works in rock gardens, planters, borders, or for over-seeding daffodils or tulips.