Stachys byzantina was formerly known as Stachys lanata. But let’s be honest, most of us know it by its common name, Lamb’s ears. So called because its leaves are elongated ear shaped and woolly and fluffy like a lamb’s. It’s evergreen, meaning that it retains its leaves all year, but in the summer it throws up stunning flower spikes, whorls of candyfloss pink flowers on towers of fluffy silver stems.
It’s a magnet for bees. In particular there are two solitary bee species that visit the flowers. The forked tailed Flower Bee (Anthophora furcata) which flies fast and furious, feeding on the nectar rich flowers. It’s quite a loud, buzzy little bee and like its name suggests it has a forked bottom. But there is another iconic bee that hangs out around this plant. The wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) not only feeds on the flowers of this plant, but the female uses the fluff from the leaves and stems to line the cells of her nest. She cards the fluff and then weaves it into pocket-like cells into which she places a ball of pollen and lays one egg. And repeats. Several times. But before she embarks upon her nest building she needs to find a mate.
Wool carder bee males hang out around the lamb’s ear plants waiting for the females to arrive. So if you have a clump of this spectacular plant, stake it out for the distinctive yellow spotted livery of the male wool carder bee. Take notice of the bees that visit. It’s also a food plant for all sorts of other pollinators and a great place to learn more about the insects in your garden.
Lamb’s ears is a good ground cover plant. It’s easy to grow. It will self seed around, or if you collect the seed and sow it fresh you can grow more to share with your bee buddies. Or take cuttings, they root quickly and can be replanted around the garden or shared with friends and family.