Saturday, June 29, 2013

Bring Back the Pollinators

Bee Balm and Bumble Bee
This summer, I've started paying more attention to bees. We've heard about the honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder for a few years now, and I knew that honey bees were imported by European settlers when they arrived. But somehow, I never gave much thought to pollinators  before that time, although logically, the Western Hemisphere had to have its own pollinators.

Bee Balm and Gray-headed Coneflower
 Dick has worked to establish a native plant garden in our yard since his retirement, and this morning, everything is in wonderful, full bloom!

Blanket Flower
 Tavia Cathcart (Executive Director at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve, and co-author of Wildflowers of Tennessee the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians) and I signed up to attend a native pollinator short course this week, sponsored by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.  What wonderful timing this was!  As part of the course materials, we received a copy of Attracting Native Pollinators, which is a fantastic book, with everything you never knew you didn't know about pollinators.
Bumble Bee on Bee Balm
 Did you know there are over 4,000 species of native bees in the United States? In fact, in many instances the native bees are much more efficient pollinators than honey bees. They forage longer during the day, at dawn and dusk, and when weather isn't bright and sunny. Native bees always forage for both pollen and nectar, while honey bees assign some workers to only pollen or only nectar. Certain crops require a "bee buzz" to loosen the pollen, and honey bees can't vibrate at the right speed for this. You can transport a hive of honey bees from field to field, but you have to provide the right habitat to attract the native bees.

Butterfly Weed
 About one in every three mouthfuls of food you eat requires the presence of a pollinator. Without bees, there would be no apples, pumpkins, strawberries and many other fruits and vegetables. Other wildlife, from songbirds to grizzly bears, depend on the work of bees. The economic value of bees and other pollinators is in the billions of dollars, as farmers are finding now that there is a scarcity of bees.

Common Milkweed buds
The problem is that some flowers require a specific pollinator, and some pollinators require a specific flower, either for the adults, or for larvae to survive on. The emergence of adults must be at the same time as that flower blooms for both to thrive. You have noticed the drop in butterfly numbers and variety in the last couple of years, haven't you?

Purple Coneflower with Sweat Bee
 The course also addressed land management for pollinators - aimed at famers essentially, although most of the attendees seemed to be government folks. When I read through the handouts, recommending native plants for our area, I discovered that we were already doing all this in our backyard native flower garden!! 

Native Honeysuckle
 Take a look at Southeast Plants for Native Bees.  Patches of flowers can be grown almost anywhere and will form an important food resource for bees. Even small beds along a field or roadway can help make a difference. It needs to include a variety of plants which bloom at different times throughout the season. Since the native bees reside in the area, they can't just go somewhere else when a particular crop is finished blooming.

Pineapple Sage
Some other recommendations are:
  • Use local native plants, which are as much as four times more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers.
  • Choose several colors of flowers. Native bees are especially attracted to blue, purple, violet, white and yellow blossoms.
  • Plant flowers in clumps. That way the bees don't have to fly so far to pollinate another flower of that species.
  • Include flowers of different shapes. Bees come in different sizes, with different length tongues and  need a variety of flowers to feed on.
  • Have a diversity of plants flowering all season. This supports a range of bee species that fly at different times of the season, and certainly makes your garden more interesting.

Rattlesnake Master

Royal Catchfly


Sure, I'll brag on my husband, who has done a wonderful job with our garden. And every year it gets better and better!

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