Bees abuzz with pollinating

Published 5:20 pm Friday, April 5, 2019

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Kristi Hendricks

There’s much to buzz about this time of year. For starters, it is documented that animals pollinate 85 percent of plant species worldwide. Of that figure, bees are the main pollinators in most types of ecosystems. The world supports some 20,000 bee species; roughly 4,000 of those species are native to North America. Let’s refresh our understanding of the notable characteristics of a few bees we are familiar with in Southside.

To the surprise of many gardeners, the honey bee is not native to our land. This bee was brought to the east coast in 1622 by English settlers to pollinate and provide honey, wax and propolis. Honey bees have black stripes alternating with bands of amber hairs. They are beloved for their industriousness.

Bumblebees are known for size with the queens generally larger than workers. Bumbles are one of the most efficient pollinators because of their bulk and ability to buzz plant anthers, the stamen part containing pollen. Bumblebees have a fuzzy abdomen and are ground-nesting bees. They can sting. But unlike that of a honey bee, a bumble’s stinger lacks barbs. This bee can sting repeatedly without injuring itself, and the stinger is not left in the victim.

Gardeners often mistake the girth and black and yellow appearance of the carpenter bee to be a bumble. Look closer to see that the carpenter has a shiny abdomen and is a wood-nesting bee. Seen frequently in spring circling wooden structures, the carpenter creates nesting cells in soft, unpainted wood. Carpenters make these holes by vibrating their body while scraping their mouthparts against the wood. Females have a stinger, but are unlikely to sting unless provoked.

Often used in orchard pollination, mason bees are blue-black in color and somewhat smaller than honey bees. This cavity nesting bee caps their egg cells with a layer of mortar-like mud, hence their name. These bees carry pollen in the hairs under their abdomen. The masons are a non-stinging species and are solitary bees.

As bee populations struggle, gardeners can play an important role in attracting these assets to home habitats. We should be seeking out creative ways to serve our bustling garden friends. One way is to create a bee campus for Earth Day to support their dietary needs. Here are a few buzz-pollinated plants that attract a variety of bees: Russian sage, liatris, salvia, black-eyed Susan, zinnia, ajuga and catmint.

Bee-friendly plant selections will be available at the WTMG’s 3rd Annual Plant Sale on Saturday, May 4 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Rain date is Sunday, May 5. The sale will be in the “Learning Garden” of the Carrollton Branch, Blackwater Regional Library, located at 14362 New Towne Haven Lane. Bring a wagon for easy transport.