Bees, Please

All, From the Field
Blue False Indigo
Baptisia australis receives its common name of blue false indigo from early Americans using it as a substitute for true indigo in making blue dyes.

A plant’s need for pollinators is as essential as our need for air and sunshine. Without them, this world would look much different. Pollinators play a crucial role in the sustainability of our ecosystem as well as being significant to our survival.

The real work horses of the pollinator world are bees! Bees are without doubt the key contributor to our terrestrial ecosystems through pollination. Studies have shown that bees are responsible for pollinating more than two-thirds of the world’s agriculture crops.

North America is home to about 4,000 native bee species. Of those, 46 are bumblebees. Falling under the genera Bombus, bumblebees are the only truly social native bee. Most of our other native bees, in terms of social behavior, are solitary. Bumblebees’ social behavior means that they have individual roles throughout the growing season within the 50 to 500 member annual nest, with only the queen overwintering to the next season.

Lanceleaf coreopsis
Lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) is sometimes commonly called lanceleaf tickseed as the seeds resemble ticks.

Bumblebees and all other native bees are phytophagous, getting all their nutritional needs from the native plants they have coevolved with. Studies by Heather Holm, Doug Tallamy and others have demonstrated native plants are four times more likely to attract pollinators than non-native plants and by having at least eight or more native plant species in your landscape increases the diversity and abundance of native bees.

Bumblebees are considered generalist foragers, meaning the active colony is able to forage on a wide range of native plants throughout the growing season. Their foraging techniques often result in higher pollen deposition as they are able to fly in much cooler temperatures. Bumblebees are also much larger and stronger than most other bees, have longer tongues to reach nectar rewards and are able to sonicate or buzz pollinate, shaking out large amounts of pollen during flower visits.

Purple Milkweed
A bee enjoys a rest on purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens).

An unfortunate reality is that because of habitat loss, pesticide use, disease and competition with honey bees, our native bumblebees are at risk, which means our native terrestrial ecosystem is also at risk.

You can greatly impact bees in a positive way by not using pesticides that are harmful to pollinators, providing nesting sites and most of all, by creating a pollinator habitat in your own landscape. Think of bees when making plant choices for your landscape! To learn more about what flora to plant in your yard that benefits bees, check out Great Parks’ Facebook.

Tim Osborne
Shaker Trace Nursery Technician