Bees, Flowers and Love…
“Let me tell you ‘bout the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees ….and the moon up above and a thing called Love” (a popular song from the mid sixties). Actually, let me share with you a little about the bees (and other pollinators) and the flowers and a little about love. Over the last twenty years living in Loomis, around the second week of February, I feel like singing when I look at the beautiful pinkish blossoms popping out of our almond trees. The blossoms, in combination with warm weather, bring out the bees. Observing their activity, it seems like a good time to share information on the value bees and other pollinators provide. After all, without them, we wouldn’t be able to survive. Learn how we all can show some love to the bees by reading the following, “Pollinator Conservation” from the Xerces Society.
Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is an international nonprofit organization named after the now-extinct blue butterfly, the first butterfly documented to go extinct in North America as a result of human activity.
Pollinators include bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, wasps, flies, beetles even a few bats are some of the animals that move pollen between flowers, enabling them to produce seeds. They are essential to our world.
The ecological service these pollinating animals provide is necessary for the reproduction of roughly 70% of the world’s flowering plants. The resulting seeds and fruits provide food for countless other animals ranging from songbirds to grizzly bears.
Pollinators are essential to human life. Consider for a moment that approximately one in three mouthfuls of food and beverage required the presence of a pollinator. The United States alone grows more than a hundred crop plants that need pollinators. Without pollinators, there would be no apples, pumpkins, blueberries, or many other fruits and vegetables. Only wind-pollinated crops such as corn and wheat would remain.
Bees are the primary pollinators for most wildflowers and crops in the United States and Canada. Worldwide, there are an estimated 20,000 species of bees, with approximately 4,000 species native to North America. The nonnative European honey bee is the most common domesticated pollinator the United States. However native pollinators are often adapted for specific plants, resulting in more efficient pollination and the production for larger and more abundant fruits and seeds.
Pollinators at Risk In many areas, pollinators are in decline. The loss of honey bees due to pests, diseases, and other factors has been widely publicized in recent years. While the loss of honey bees is alarming, many of our wild native bees are also disappearing. For example, in the mid-1990s, the yellow-banded bumble bee was the most abundant bumble bee in northern Wisconsin. Ten years later it made up less than 1% of the state’s bumble bees. Across the continent in Oregon, Franklin’s bumble bee has likely gone extinct during the same period. Pollinators are a keystone species group; the persistence of a large number of other species depends upon them. As pollinators disappear, the effect on the health and viability of crops and native plant communities can be disastrous.
How can we show some love? There are three steps we can take to help pollinators. Protecting, enhancing, or providing habitat is the best way to conserve pollinators. Whether you tend a small flower box in the city or maintain a large rural garden, there are practical steps you can take to improve the health, abundance, and diversity of your local pollinators.
Create a Diversity of Bloom Bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects need abundant nectar and pollen sources throughout the growing season. Select native plants wherever possible. Cultivate a landscape with diverse flower color, shapes, and bloom times. Try to provide blooming plants from early spring to fall, with at least three species of flower in bloom each season. Note that some ornamental plants have been selected for traits that are attractive to people, rather than pollinators. Avoid pollenless cultivars and double-petaled varieties of ornamental flowers.
Protect Nests and Egg-Laying Sites Native bees use untidy areas of the garden to nest such as open sandy ground, brush piles, and old tree stumps and snags. Consider leaving some of these for wildlife habitat. Butterflies often need specific host plants to feed on during the caterpillar stage. For example the caterpillars of monarch butterflies feed exclusively on the leaves of various milkweeds. Protect or plant the host plants of butterflies native to your area.
Don’t use pesticides Pesticides can be important tools for protecting crops and controlling invasive species, however most lawn and garden pest problems can be solved without such chemicals. Keep in mind that even “organic-approved” insecticides can harm pollinators and other wildlife.
Herbicides, while usually not directly lethal to insects, can reduce plant diversity, including the diversity of weedy, noninvasive wildflowers that provide essential pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Bees at a Glance Unlike honey bees which form large social units, the majority of our native bees live as solitary individuals, with each female constructing her own nest. She collects nectar and pollen to provision it with food for her offspring. The only native bees to form social colonies are bumble bees and a few species of sweat bees. Most native bees are usually very gentle and unlikely to sting unless grabbed or stepped on. Only honey bees, bumble bees, and a few of the social wasps such as yellow jackets (which are not significant pollinators) are likely to sting when their nests are disturbed.
The economic value of pollinator-dependent crops in the United States was estimated to be between $18 and $27 billion in 2003. If this calculation is expanded to include indirect products, such as milk and beef from cattle fed on alfalfa, pollinators may be responsible for more than twice this dollar amount.
To learn more about the Xerces Society and protecting nature’s essential service visit their link at: www.xerces.org. You can download plant lists and fact sheets on native bees and other invertebrates.
In Placer County, the Resource Conservation District provides services to private landowners that include wildlife habitat improvement. Visit their website at: www.placercountyrcd.org.
If all this talk about bees has you craving honey right now, we encourage you to buy locally. Honey producers can be found at: www.placergrown.org.