Country Bee, City Bee

For some bee species, cities can provide a more welcoming habitat than the countryside. In fact, cities are emerging as important players in bee conservation. That’s the message of an article I stumbled upon in the online magazine Yale Environment 360.

Bumble Bee, Wild Bergamot
Bee foraging on Wild Bergamot

The article, by Janet Marinelli, is entitled “Urban Refuge: How Cities Can Help Rebuild Declining Bee Populations”. She cites a study that found the greatest bee declines in the United States have occurred in areas of intensive agriculture: the Midwest and California’s Central Valley.

At the same time, researchers have found surprisingly healthy bee populations in a number of North American and European cities. There is a growing trend toward pollinator-friendly gardening in public and private spaces, of which Chicago’s Lurie Garden is a notable example.

2014-09-28 15.39.51 new england aster with metallic green bee
New England Aster with Metallic Green Bee

Creating urban habitat for bees is not as challenging as you might think, in part because both bees and people love flowers (though not for the same reasons). The abundance and diversity of bees is directly related to the abundance and diversity of flowers.

A new organization called the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge was founded in 2015 as a partnership of garden, conservation and civic groups. So far the challenge has registered over 650,000 pollinator gardens in the US and Canada – all of which can be found on their remarkable map.

Nothing in this world is simple, however, and researchers are exploring a number of challenges related to creating urban habitat for bees. One issue is that cities tend to be more hospitable to generalist species – those that can forage on a wide variety of flowers.

2014-06-07 10.24.36 bumble bee and baptisia
Bumblebee foraging on Wild Blue Indigo.

Specialist bees, those that forage only on a single species or genus, are not so lucky. Similarly, urban gardens may be less hospitable to native bee species in general.

One answer to this problem is to greatly increase the use of native plants. An article on the website of the Virginia Native Plant Society notes that Willows (Salix), Redbud (Cercis canadensis), and Dogwoods (Cornus) are among the woody plants most used by native specialist bees. Many specialist bee species also forage on Sunflower (Helianthus), Goldenrod (Solidago), and Aster (Sympyotrichum) flowers.

2013-07-28 17.03.35 bee d
Bee on Anise Hyssop

Many native bee species also need bare ground for nesting. Personally, I find this to be a challenge because I HATE the sight of bare ground in the garden. The only bare ground I willingly incorporate into my garden are the shallow trenches used to mark the edges of beds and borders.

If you want to know more, go read the whole article. That’s all for now.

24 Comments on “Country Bee, City Bee

  1. Pingback: Country Bee, City Bee — gardeninacity – Site Title

  2. Pingback: Country Bee, City Bee — gardeninacity – Community United For Health And Prevention

  3. Thanks for linking that article. I’ll be passing it on.

    One of the things our local chapter of the Native Plant Society is doing is working with people from the Houston Zoo who are establishing native plant pollinator gardens in our area. A number of them will stretch from the Johnson Space Center to a reclaimed golf course called Exploration Green, which is being developed into retention and detention ponds, as well as an area for recreation and so on.

    One thing the article mentioned — the flight limitations of various bee species — is being taken into account. As I recall, each garden will be no more than 250 meters from the others, so that a flight corridor will be created. It’s amazing how much already is known about how to approach some of these issues. The trick, of course, is engaging people action to solve them.

  4. There used to be a big historical marker at the old San Jose Airport (Mineta International Airport) that designates the site where the first honeybees were brought to North America. I do not know if the plaque is still there because that terminal has been rebuilt. Now, I am wondering what that plaque meant. I have not seen it in years, and was always in too much of a rush to stop and read the whole thing. Do you happen to know what it means? Where they they first of a particular species or breed of honeybees? Are honeybees native to California? I know that many native flowers are pollinated by them. I wish I knew more about it. If I remember correctly, the particular bees came from Paraguay, and lived on the ranch that was where the airport and plaque are now.

    • Honeybees are native to Europe, they are not native to North America, though they have been naturalized. The bees from Paraguay were likely European honeybees.

      • Well, that is what I thought the plaque said, but no one believes me. I am starting to doubt my memory of it.

  5. Beautiful photos, Jason. I love bees but here year to year their concentration becomes less. I think due to chemical fertilizers. Besides this I see many bumblebees in my garden.

  6. Hello Jason, there’s a growing trend for beehives in large cities due to this, kept on rooftops. It’s been featured on TV several times. The honey sells for a premium or on to restaurants. I’m not sure what I think about a jar of “London Honey”, when considering the air quality and the pollution that lands on flowers that may be picked up by the bees that might end up in the honey.

  7. I believe my garden in the Nashville suburbs is extremely important for pollinators and other critters. It’s an oasis in a lawn desert. We’re lucky that most yards have a lot of native trees which support bees when flowering. Lovely photos~aren’t the Green metallic bees fabulous!

  8. Wow…I didn’t know! Now I feel much better about gardening 🙂 Who knew planting a few flowers truly does help the environment.

  9. Well, you know I love this post! Thanks for the link and those of us who garden will help save the bees–natives and honeys! Great photos!

  10. It’s always good to hear positive news where bees are concerned. If we all stick with native plants we can make a tremendous difference. Old graveyards hear are becoming havens for wildlife and pollinators.xxx

  11. I’ve noticed a lot more pollinator gardens around now … I didn’t know about the bees needing bare ground for nesting though. In our part of the world bees need a shallow water bowl to drink from in summer.

  12. You should submit that Bumbebee to Beespotter or Bumblebeewatch. Could be B. fervidus.

  13. It’s really sad that we’ve gotten to the point where the countryside is not hospitable to our native bees. Sometimes I feel very sad driving in rural areas of the Midwest and seeing such wide swaths of monoculture crops, with few if any edging forbs. But that makes our responsibility as gardeners that much more important, as you describe. This is a great post!

  14. We have this problem that the bee/insect population decreases also in Germany – even in the countryside. They say its caused by all the chemicals our farmers use. I also think that many private garden owners here are not always aware of how they could improve their gardens that it becomes interesting for bees.
    Interesting now for me learn that bees need bare ground. I guess there is still enough bare ground in my garden.

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