Snack food for bees: Autumn Joy sedum
Right now I’m totally fixated on Autumn Joy sedum as a honey bee plant. It began when I was typing the responses to the Honey Bee Suite plant survey. The same plant repeatedly cropped up in the responses, and it was unusual in that people were always very specific about the variety: it couldn’t be just any sedum, it had to be Autumn Joy.
Immediately afterward, I tried to buy seed but I couldn’t find any. Added to that, I read that it was difficult to start from seed. Since I had no prior experience with sedums, I decided to heed the advice.
Searching for autumn joy sedum
As soon as perennials began to show up in the local stores, I began to search. My first several attempts yielded nothing, but finally I went to the huge local gardening center that seems to grow faster than the plants they sell. It must be four or five times bigger than it was just a few years ago; in fact, it now fills multiple buildings. They even have a display of hives and smokers, conveniently located near the check-out for those customers who, while standing in line, develop a sudden urge to keep bees.
Now bear in mind that I didn’t know what I was looking for, only that is was called Autumn Joy sedum. But by strolling up and down the aisles with a cart, I eventually found myself in the sedums.
Actually, “strolling” isn’t the best word. Every time I came to a hose—and there were plenty—I had to pick up the front end of the cart and then the back end. I tried running over the the first hose really fast but nearly catapulted myself over the top. And for some reason I can’t remember, I had to lift the cart from the bottom. At any rate, the strolling, bending, and lifting weren’t so bad until I put a few two-gallon potted bushes in there, and then it became a kind of weight-bearing exercise that wasn’t any fun.
So many varieties of sedum
In the sedum section I was dumbstruck by all the different varieties. They were arranged on tiered shelves starting at ground level, but there was only a few of each of maybe 60 or 70 named cultivars. Methodically I slid along on my knees reading all the little tags that were partially stuck in the dirt, pulling them out one by one, but no Autumn Joy. When I found nothing, I went back through the tags again, certain I must have missed it. But no.
Finally, with filthy knees and gritty hands, I asked an employee with a hose where the Autumn Joy was. She more or less sneered and said, “We don’t sell candy bars.”
I didn’t pursue it. At any rate, there were other plants on my list. I found an Eryngium, some Agastache, two Ceanothus, and a Russian sage. The show rooms were filled with the intoxicating aroma of damp earth and wet leaves. The hoses hissed at the junctions, and little arcs of spray painted the walkways and dotted my clothes with mist. At one point the aroma of sage was so heavy I could taste it.
Finally, I headed toward the cashier, having selected more plants than necessary. The very last time I bent down to lift the cart, I saw it: a little hand-written card announced, “Autumn Joy Sedum.” These plants had big leaves (I’d spent all that time looking at little leaves) and, of course, these plants weren’t anywhere near the others. In fact, they were in a different building altogether. Not about to let them get away, I put all six in my cart.
Candy bars for bees
So now I am mother to a half-dozen “Almond Joy” plants—candy bars for bees. From what I’ve heard, honey bees trip over themselves to get to these. I don’t know about native bees, but I intend to find out. I even began a new Pinterest board dedicated to learning as much about these as I can.
So far I learned they are easy to propagate, fairly winter hardy, and bloom in the fall when other forage is short. They provide fall color, winter bird food, and they are totally non-invasive. Thank you to all who recommended them.