When I visited the yard this morning to take photographs for this post, first I checked to see what was flowering. Flowers are great places to find insects.
The little leaf cordia (Cordiaparviflolia) attracted my eye. It was covered with clusters of white blossoms.
The flowers were beautiful, but nothing was visiting them. In contrast, the plant next to it was humming and buzzing.
That’s the wolfberry, Lycium species. It isn’t much to look at from a human perspective.
From an insect’s perspective, however, it was an open grocery store.
The honey bees and digger bees were lining up to sip nectar.
Smaller bees were wrapped around the anthers harvesting pollen.
When it was done, the underside of this one’s abdomen was white with pollen.
Snout butterflies visited the flowers, too. They are drab when sitting like this.
Numerous flower flies and a few wasps flitted around. This flower or hover fly has a really big head compared to the rest of its body.
From the street (top photograph) the wolfberry bush looks like a small cluster of brownish branches on the left between the bright green Texas sage on the bottom left and the little leaf cordia. If you didn’t know the wolfberry was there, you wouldn’t even see it. Just the same, it provides food for hundreds of insects which in turn pollinate our gardens and serve as food for wildlife.
I hope I can continue to convince our homeowner’s association that it deserves to stay.
At least ten different species of wolfberries or thornbush grow in Arizona. Some common species are the Anderson thornbush, Lycium andersonii, Berlandier wolfberry, Lycium berlanderi, and the Fremont thornbush, Lycium fremontii.
They are known for their lovely orange to red fruit.
The plants can grow to be large, somewhat messy-looking shrubs.
Regardless of their appearance, wolfberries are wonderful for wildlife gardens. Bees, butterflies and even hummingbirds will visit the purple to lavender flowers.
A variety of birds and other wildlife eat the berries, which are often on the bush at the same time as the flowers.
The berries of the most species are also edible for humans. In fact, two species of Lycium from Asia have been used for their medicinal properties for thousands of years.
Caution: Wolfberries are related to some plants that can be poisonous – the nightshades- which can also have red berries and purple flowers. See for example the bittersweet nightshade, Solanum dulcamara. Also, avoid unripe berries.
Wolfberries are drought tolerant and grow easily in the desert. They can be started from seeds or purchased as plants from the nursery.
If you are interested in growing wildlife-friendly low-water-use plants, give wolfberries a try!
Interested in learning more about berries that grow in the West?