Watching brightly-colored bees flutter from flower to flower is one of the delights of spring after months of cold weather, but the display is much more than just a feast for the eyes. Bee pollination is one of the single most important components of our ecology and even, for human survival.
In fact, a Cornell University study concluded that fully one-third of our diet is derived from insect-pollinated plants and that the diminutive honey bee is responsible for 80 percent of this pollination.
About 4,000 species of bees are native to North America, and though European settlers first brought honey bees to the New World, the latter has become modern-day farmers’ primary pollinator because of their amazing efficiency. Along with the need to collect pollen as a food source for their larvae, honey bees also require nectar to sustain the vast amounts of energy they use.
Sadly, the honey bee has been suffering. Over the past several decades, the number of colonies has decreased by half to about 2.5 million, leading experts to name this phenomenon as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
The reason has not yet been firmly established—possible causes have been cited as parasites, pathogens, pesticides, climate change or even nutritional stresses—but the situation is serious enough to have caused entomologists, researchers and legislators alike to study the issue. Though the current number of honey bees has been enough to maintain our pollination needs, if the number of colonies continues to collapse, an agricultural crisis could occur.
Is there any good news? In a nutshell, yes. Every home gardener can attract valuable honey bees by planting flowers that they love. Including plants, trees and shrubs that bloom at different times of the year is also good for keeping honey bees happy.
Spring blooms that attract honey bees include alder, apple, borage, catnip, chard, cherry, chives, clover, crabapple, dogwood, foxglove, hawthorn, lavender, liatris, mock orange, peach, pear, poppy and viburnum.
In the summer months, try bee balm, blackberries, bluebeard, blueberries, crapemyrtle, coreopsis, cosmos, daisy, daylily, dill, delosperma, dusty miller, echinacea, elderberries, fennel, gaillardia, goldenrod, joe-pye weed, marigold, mint, oregano, purple sage, raspberries, rose, salvia, scabiosa, scented geranium, stachys, sweet alyssum and verbena.
As the evenings turn cooler, some good bee-attracting plants are aster, eupatorium, potentilla and sedum.
Also, stopping the indiscriminate use of pesticides, particularly at midday, is critical to the health of all pollinators, including bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Finally, mason bees, who live a solitary existence in mud-packed tubes within blocks of wood, are excellent pollinators of spring fruits. Though mason bees are usually used to augment, rather than to replace, honey bees, their advantage is that since they do not produce honey or beeswax, they have less motivation to sting.
Click here to read more about how you can attract Honey Bees to your garden.
Photo Credits: Melanie McCabe, Creative Director at Homestead Gardens