Planting for Specialist Native Bees

Kim Eierman

Kim Eierman

Founder of EcoBeneficial!

Available for virtual and in-person landscape consulting, talks and classes.

Buy a copy of
The Pollinator Victory Garden!

Get the Latest Buzz

Subscribe to EcoBeneficial Updates and get your free download of:
Top 20 Ways to Create an EcoBeneficial Landscape
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.
16920875427_e48eaf1f8a_o

Planting for Specialist Native Bees

Our estimated 4,000 native bee species in the United States and Canada fall into one of two categories – pollen generalists and pollen specialists. Generalist bees are the majority, accounting for approximately 75% of all bee species. It is their good fortune to be able to forage on many different native plant species, and often on a number of non-native plants.  The European honey bee (nonnative, of course) is also a forage generalist.

Requirements of Specialist Bees

For the other 25% of our native bees, it’s slim pickings for forage sources. Specialist bees rely upon just a handful of native plant species, with some bee species dependent upon a single plant species. Does it matter what you plant in your landscape? It certainly does to a specialist bee!

Specialist bees emerge from their nests when their specific forage plants begin to flower. The relationship is sometimes interdependent – the bee relying upon that particular plant species and the plant depending upon that specific bee species for pollination services. In other cases, the plant may attract many different bee species. While numerous bee species are in trouble, our specialist bees would seem to be at greatest risk.

Plant Quiz

Here’s a quick exercise – name six native plants in your landscape and the specialist native bees that use them. Can’t do it?  Don’t feel too badly, you are not alone. Simply finding a list of the bees that are native to your state can be a challenge, much less a list of forage plants for specialists.  Some plants that support specialist bees are less well known in average landscapes, such as Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), but other plants are more common, including native Sunflowers (Helianthus spp).

New Research on Specialists

If you live in the Mid-Atlantic or the Northeast, you are in luck – there is a new research report listing many specialist bees and their host plants.   “Specialist Bees of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States” was published by Jarrod Fowler of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts and Sam Droege of the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland.

The authors report on 95 species of specialist bees, with Andrena bees being the most numerous (40 in their study).   Andrena bees are a big group – with approximately 1,400 species in North America. They are one of two genera of mining bees, the other being the Perdita genus (most commonly found in the Southwest). Mining bees nest in the soil – a clue to providing proper habitat for them in your landscape – leave patches of bare soil in full sun.

While the authors of the study admit that their research is not exhaustive (native bees have not been well studied, in general) their work is a tremendous resource for those of us who want to plant for pollinators, including helping the supremely challenged bees that are quickly running out of resources due to development and conventional planting practices.

You can make a difference for specialist bees as well as their generalists cousins, by planting the native plants they need.  Those specialists just might need a little extra help.

For more information on our native bees, take a look at these helpful resources:

“Specialist Bees of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States”

The Xerces Society

UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab

The Xerces Society Guide: Attracting Native Pollinators by the Xerces Society

Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide by Heather Holm

Bees, Wasps, and Ants by Eric Grissell

 

Happy pollinator planting from Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!

Photo: Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) – forage source for specialist bee, Andrena erigeniae
Photo credit: USGS Bee Inventory

 

More from EcoBlog

Why Locally-Sourced, Locally-Grown Native Plants Matter

Have you visited your local farmer’s market lately or picked up your weekly allotment at a CSA?   If you are a locavore, like so many of us, you might be asking some pretty specific questions of your suppliers when you are vetting your food choices, such as: Where was this…

Read More
Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)

Easy Native Perennials to Start from Seed: Economical and EcoBeneficial!

Biodiversity is critical to the health of ecosystems but species diversity is crashing and getting worse in the face of climate change.  How can you help?  Skip the clones of native plants (grown from cuttings or tissue culture) and plant native seeds to increase genetic diversity to support our challenged…

Read More

The American Gardener: Book Review of The Pollinator Victory Garden

Book Review from The American Gardener: The Pollinator Victory Garden: Win the War on Pollinator Decline with Ecological Gardening Kim Eierman, Quarry Books, Beverly, MA. 160 pages. Publisher’s price, paperback: $26.99 Having worked as a garden designer for 15 years, I’m aware of the importance of native plants, but communicating…

Read More