Planting Animals – Chaparral

Plant-Animal Ambassador Pair: White Sage & Yellow-faced Bumble Bee

Artwork: Carly Lake

Pollination Perfection

The close relationship Between Yellow-faced Bumble Bee and White Sage

by Chloe Van Loon
Instagram: @chloe.van.loon

Nature is full of examples where plants and insects coevolved to the benefit of both. One example is between the yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii), and the aromatic white sage (Salvia apiana).

The yellow-faced bumble bee is one of the most common species in San Diego County that’s easy to identify, even while darting from flower to flower. It has almost an entirely black body, except for yellow around its head, a section on the thorax (think upper back), and a single stripe near the bottom of its abdomen. Yellow-faced bumbles nest underground, with 200-300 diligent workers. They forage for nectar where diversity of plants is highest. Unfortunately, the sprawl of impervious materials like pavement via urbanization has decreased available nesting areas.

White sage is an iconic plant of chaparral habitat. White sage’s flowers have an enlarged lower lip which folds open for a pollinator with enough weight to press the lip down, allowing the throat to open up. While reaching towards the nectar, the unsuspecting yellow-faced bumble gets pollen deposited on its back. This specialization of flower structure, with the unique adaptations to allow only large bees to pollinate the flower, is why white sage’s species name is “apiana,” meaning “bee.” The bumble bees are the key to the sage’s pollination and reproduction, and in return, the sage provides them with the nectar they seek, the result of years of coevolution. 

By increasing the numbers of white sage in our urban areas, we can nurture resource-plentiful havens for our local bumblebees. This partnership between these species is a testament to the interconnected worlds of nature that often go unnoticed. 

Artwork: Carly Lake

Additional Animals: 

Wavy-lined Emerald (Synchlora aerata)
The wavy-lined emerald moth uses white sage and other chaparral plants as a host plant, meaning they are a place to lay eggs and a food source for the caterpillars. 

California Quail (Callipepla californica)
Whether seeking refuge under it, pecking at the seeds, or flying away in a flurry after being spooked, the California quail utilizes the white sage in multiple ways. 

Sage Leaf Gall Midge, Rhopalomyia audibertae
White sage leaf gall midges start as a small egg laid on the sage, becoming enveloped by a small green and/or red urn-shaped plant growth on the leaf, which eventually emerges as a tiny fly. 

Additional Plants