Sunday, March 12, 2017

Bee Welcome

On your path to nature, what did you fall in love with first? It probably wasn’t bees, was it? We grow up from childhood with a healthy respect for creatures that can pack a powerful sting. The one I remember first was during 3rd grade recess – a honeybee in a patch of blooming clover. Today I look for bees in my garden because they are a sign of a working ecosystem, and they are always welcome here.

Southeastern blueberry bee
In my current appreciation for bees, I am naturally curious about what kinds are visiting and what I can do to make them feel even more welcome. I was excited to get a new book recently, “Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide.” It is written by Heather Holm, author of “Pollinators of Native Plants.” Her first book was great and so my expectations were high for this new book.

How did she do? The book is amazingly detailed and so full of information that my expectations have been exceeded. Chapter 1 sets the stage for detail with 30 pages of background on bees: life cycle, anatomy, nesting, their relationship with flowers, and the latest issues that impact bees. All of it is beautifully illustrated with close-up photos. This section closes with a 4-page spread that illustrates key characteristics “at a glance.” I love the pictorial illustrations that highlight the sizes; they really help me envision one bee relative to others. 

Chapters 2 through 6 get up close and personal with bee families: Colletidae, Andrenidae, Halictidae, Megachilidae, and Apidae. Each family is divided into several genera. I didn’t know that the Apidae family included the European honeybee as well as the native bumblebees (plus several others). Profiles vary in size but each includes basic information: size, months of activity, presence in the Eastern US, how they collect pollen (if applicable), nest details, life cycle, and common forage plants. Each profile has numerous photos of the bee, often both male and female.

Example of a bee profile, we have these bees in Georgia

Monarda punctata stems
I feel fortunate that I read this book so early in the season. My understanding of “leaving stems in place” for bees to nest in was obviously wrong. First, bees that nest in stems need cut or broken stems so that they have a way to get into them. Second, it is in the springtime that they use them and they need them for a whole year. I used to think they needed them over the winter and I could cut them to the ground in the spring.

Here’s an example of what they need: in spring of 2017, cut the old stems of 2016 to 15 inches. Bees will lay eggs in them during the spring. Leave those stems in place all during 2017; the new foliage will grow up around them. In spring 2018, new bees will emerge from them and then the stems will start to naturally break down. You don’t need to remove them. Repeat this every year. You could also cut some stems and stick them in other areas or in pots so that they are available to bees elsewhere. I did that with some super long stems from tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens).

Chapters 7-10 cover native plants that are good for bee forage:  Large Trees, Small Trees & Large Shrubs, Small Shrubs, and Annuals/Biennials/Perennials. Heather’s love of native plants really shines in these chapters.  Plant profiles include flowering time, distribution, habitat, what bees use them as well as helpful symbols to indicate if they support other insects, birds, or are larval host plants. Just like the bee profiles, each one is packed with information.

Example of a plant profile, Geranium maculatum is native to Georgia

A Colletes bee from 2014
I plan to use this book all through the spring and summer to watch certain plants for bee activity as well as to identify bees. Even though the book indicates its plant profiles are for the Northeast and Midwest regions, many of the plants featured are also native to the Southeast.


  1. Thanks to you (and Heather), I left cut stems on some of the plants--I just hope they are tall enough. Will email some photos with my entry for the drawing.

  2. Thank you! I'll add to my pollinator library. Havent cut back stems yet; will trim as Heather suggests;

  3. Thank you Ellen and Heather for the book I recieved from the drawing! It is as packed with information as you describe and can't wait to make use of it here in Virginia!