Madia elegans: a crazy pollinator plant
Madia elegans, also known as common madia or tarweed, is not your typical pollinator plant. In early morning light, the bright yellow flowers look like typical daisy-style composites. But during a hot summer afternoon, it is so nondescript as to go unnoticed, taking it’s skinny place among other quiet dryland species in the western United States.
Why this plant is different
I promised you crazy, so here here are some oddities about this pollinator plant that set it apart from others.
- The flowers of this plant close in the morning, re-open in late afternoon, and remain open until mid morning the next day. According to an article in SFGate, the petals of this plant are prone to water loss. So to conserve water in the heat of the day, the flower just balls up and hangs tight.
- The petals don’t close in the normal way, but roll up like used carpets. The tips roll in first and wind up until they reach the central disk.
- Sometimes the petals have a red splotch on one end, making a dark ring around the central disk.
- Most plants that close during the day and open late are pollinated by creatures of the night, such as moths and bats. But this plant, from all appearances, seems to be pollinated by bees and butterflies.
- The plant is great for native bees because it begins to flower in June (or even earlier in some locations) and persists into the fall. Many native bees, especially those that forage in early morning and late afternoon, can make good use of this plant. But the fact that is is closed at midday makes it a poor choice for honey bees.
- Gardeners report that judicious watering keeps the flowers from rolling up during the day. So if you would like to use this plant in an all-purpose pollinator garden, water it occasionally but not too much. (Remember, it’s native to dry areas.)
- Some people report that the foliage smells like pineapple.
- Like sunflower seeds, the fruits are edible and have been used by native tribes, especially ground into flour or baked.
A native plant for native pollinators
Obviously, the phenology of this plant is poorly suited for mid-day foragers such as honey bees. Some beekeepers have reported sampling by honey bees, but not sustained foraging. One beekeeper in southern Oregon suspected she had a small fall flow from it, but she described the honey as bitter. “Spitable” was her exact word.
One final note. The name “tarweed” is also given to plants in the the genus Hemizonia and Deinandra. It is possible that some reports of surplus tarweed honey actually belong to plants in one of these other genera.
Honey Bee Suite