You can help bees by adding native plants

  • Article by: Kim Palmer , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 28, 2013 - 3:05 PM

Pollinators are in peril.

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paulTandbergMay. 28, 1311:24 PM

Planting native plants is fine thing to do, but the honey bee is not native to North America (or South America, for that matter) and the concept of native plants means little to a non-native bee.//// Honeybees were brought over from Europe by bee keepers (think of them as little Holsteins with wings). A diversity of blooming plants is good for bees, but there is no need or reason for these plants need to be native. The bees sure don't care. They just need a steady supply of tasty blooms (and in Minnesota, the most likely time of bloom shortage is early spring and late fall).///// And the "we need bees to pollinate 30% of our food crops" meme is pure hooey that somehow has gained legs. Most of our base food crops don't require pollinators because they are self-pollinating or rely on wind for cross pollination (wheat, oats, corn, soybeans, even sunflowers (which do like pollinators, but they are now bred for self-pollination). And for the crops that require pollination, there are a host of native pollinators, pollinators that were happily pollinating North American crops long before bee farmers brought over European and African honeybees (In fact, several of our native pollinators can have a difficult time competing with honeybees and probably would just as soon see them gone).////// All of which begs the question to degree, all pollinators, native and non-native, need suitable habitat to live, eat, and breed. And as our farmland becomes more and more tidily managed and manicured, it would certainly help if our towns and cites became a little more wild. But, using colony collapse as a forum for planting native plants is indulging in a bit of skulduggery, even if the cause is held to be a worthy one. Bees want blooms and a steady supply of them. Whether these bloom are native to North America matters not a whit to the European (and Africa) honeybee.

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earneditMay. 29, 13 7:08 AM

Paultandberg, you are soooooo wrong to imply that the problem is simply that honeybees are not native to America. Many of the native pollinators are also in decline, to the point that they are not able to make up for the needs of the hundreds of other fruit and vegetable crops grown here (many of which are also not native). There are strong indications that the massive use of chemicals is playing a huge role in the decline. Add to that the loss of native habitat and reduced plant diversity and we are in trouble.

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sohkohMay. 29, 13 8:19 AM

A first-hand account of the difference between natives and non-native plants: I went to the Botanical Garden in Madison, WI last year and noticed this massive flowering bush, about 8ft tall and 4ft wide, a non-native from Eurasia. It probably had a thousand beautiful large pink flowers covering every square inch of it. But as I got closer I noticed that there wasn't a single bee, butterfly, or insect on ANY of the flowers--in the middle of summer! I then walked 100ft to the wildflower/water garden and saw a native Rattlesnake Master plant with a bee on every single one of the small white inconspicuous flowers (that barely even look like flowers...). Probably 25 pollinators on a single native plant with 30 flowers, compared to 0 pollinators on a non-native flowering bush with 1000+ huge beautiful flowers. There were even more bees on the less showy native plants (Rattlesnake Master, Prairie Onion) than there were on the bright red Bee Balm/Monarda cultivars that had been bred for beauty and not function! This year 3 out of the 6 cultivated perennial varieties my mother planted in her Butterfly Garden died (cultivated Bee Balm, Dianthus, mystery plant..another reason natives are superior--they live A LOT longer than non-native so-called "perennials"). I replanted the dead Dianthus ground cover with Prairie Smoke, the Bee Balm cultivar with Butterfly Milkweed, and the mystery plant with Rough Blazing Star--all natives from seed. Now the garden just needs a fall blooming Aster and a native bee balm and it will be a pollinator magnet. tl;dr: Saw a massive non-native bush with 1000 flowers and zero pollinators on it, then saw a small native plant nearby with small inconspicuous flowers but tons of pollinators on it. PaulTandberg: the pollinators DO care.

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paulTandbergMay. 29, 1310:16 AM

My implication should have been clear to a capable reading. The honeybee is not native to North America and there is no biological reason to use colony collapse as platform for the planting of "native" flowering plants for a non-native bee. There are a host of "bee friendly" plants that can be planted. Applying the limiting metric "native" to this list is not "bee helpful".

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SammyBoyMay. 29, 1310:48 AM

Paul, the article addressed pollinators, not just honey bees specifically. While it is true that the lede focused on Colony Collapse Disorder and made a messy transition into native flowers, the anecdotes focused on bumblebees, a very native bee. A quick turn on a search engine, and you would quickly learn that bumblebees are in peril as well. They actually are ideal for pollinating other food crops, especially those of the nightshade family, but work on many traditional food crops as well. Your focus on a single (but very real) problem of honeybee colony collapse is missing the point, especially since CCD can be mitigated through the use of native pollinators. The problem is that there is evidence that the urbanization and meticulous way in lawns are kept is reducing habitat while also introducing insecticides into the food supply of *all* pollinators.

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radagastMay. 29, 13 3:30 PM

Planting flowering plants is fine and good, but the article should have mentioned that if you use pesticides, especially neonicotinoid pesticides, on your property, you'll end up doing more harm than good - putting out nice "bait" in the form of flowers, but with poisoned nectar. The U.S. EPA is spineless on this issue, in fear of Big Agriculture and pesticide producers.

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orvestaMay. 29, 13 6:09 PM

paulTandberg - Your comments are either an incredible example of poor communications and/or a total lack of understanding the pollinator dilemma. You do yourself no favor by mixing fact, fiction and mis-diagnosis of both. You also do the food system, pollinators, bees and about everybody on the planet no favors with your confusion. In the future, please speak coherently and using generally accepted principles and facts, not a hodge-podge of misinformation.

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aardvark878May. 30, 1311:50 AM

I have a small plot of native flowers, and am slowly expanding. I love my goldenrod in the fall...bumblebees cluster on it, and they sleep on it overnight, clinging to the blossoms. It's the most fascinating thing, coming out on a cool morning, then watching them slowly become active again as they warm up. And for those scared of bees...know that this plot is right next to my side door that i use heavily, and never, not once, has a bee shown the slightest interest in me. They aren't defending a nest, so they don't care about your presence. They're quite intent on gathering all the pollen and nectar they can possibly load up with. I also bought mason bee houses and put them up the other week. Let's hope those are used as well!

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