Bees of Singular Tastes and the Plants They Love

by Sherrie Burson and Brooke Alexander, ARMN

Sam Droege, a scientist at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, entertained and educated ARMN volunteers and members of the public on May 11 in a talk at the Arlington Central Library. Droege works on the design and development of status and trends data for U.S. plants and animals. Currently, he is swept up in surveys for native bees.

Droege shared research from a soon-to-be-published paper he co-authored with Jarrod Fowler that lists plant genera and the native specialist bees that need them. He explained that specialist bees have more finicky needs than generalist species. Generalist bees are out all season, have higher population levels, and can handle disturbed sites. In contrast, specialist bees are out for an average of five weeks, have lower overall population levels, and are good indicators of quality habitat. Of the bees that carry pollen (not all do––parasitic bees, for example,) specialist bees feed their young from a limited range of one to three plant genera. Native bee specialists tend to visit perennial plants commonly found in vernal woodlands (ephemerals), summer composite communities, and ericaceous (plants in a family that includes blueberries) heaths.

Sam Droege

Sam Droege at Arlington Central Library. Photo by Suzanne Dingwell.

Droege dazzled the audience with photographs of flowers and the bees that frequent them, describing their interactions. In response to a question about cultivars, Droege said that initial research performed at the Mt. Cuba Center, a horticultural institution in northern Delaware, and by the New England Wild Flower Society shows that cultivars are less attractive to bees. However, planting native species is a known benefit to native bees.

Droege and Fowler’s paper includes a list of plants that native bee specialists find particularly appealing. The list includes a number of native plants that are not commonly planted in local yards. Droege encouraged the audience to consider planting some of these species to support the bees that need them.

The following table lists genera and common names for a host of native plants that thrive in our area. Most of them should be available from the Earth Sangha plant nursery in Springfield (www.earthsangha.org) or from the Potowmack Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria (www.vnps-pot.org).

Ceanothus

New Jersey Tea

Packera

Ragwort

Chrysopsis

Golden Aster

Penstemon

Beardtongue

Cirsium

Thistle

Pontederia

Pickerelweed

Claytonia

Spring Beauty

Potentilla

Cinquefoil

Erythronium

Trout Lily

Rhododendron

Rhododendron

Euthamia

Goldenrod

Rudbeckia

Coneflower

Gaylussacia

Huckleberry

Salix

Willow

Geranium

Geranium

Solidago

Goldenrod

Helianthus

Sunflower

Symphyotrichum

Aster

Huechera

Alumroot

Uvularia

Merrybell

Hibiscus

Rose Mallow

Vaccinium

Blueberry

Hydrophyllum

Waterleaf

Verbena

Vervain

Krigia

Dwarf Dandelion

Vernonia

Ironweed

Lyonia

Staggerbush

Viola

Violet

Lysimachia

Loosestrife

Zizia

Golden Alexander

Monarda

Bee Balm

Planting species that native bees depend on is one important strategy to help save these important pollinators. Another is to provide patches of bare ground for ground-nesting bees. These kinds of measures, when practiced widely by homeowners and caretakers of community landscapes, go a long way toward ensuring the continued––and critical–– presence of native bees in our ecosystems.

More information about Sam Droege can be found at these links for a National Geographic article and video: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/features/140114-bee-native-macro-photography-insects-science/#.VVjZr7lViko and http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/news/140711-droege-bees-vin?source=featuredvideo

Also, check out Droege’s amazing bee photographs from the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab via this Flickr site: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usgsbiml/

Andrena ziziae

Andrena ziziae by Sam Droege

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