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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pingback: Country Bee, City Bee — gardeninacity – Site Title
Pingback: Country Bee, City Bee — gardeninacity – Community United For Health And Prevention
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.
Yeah, I hadn’t thought about the flight limitation issue before I saw it in the article.
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.
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.
I’m sorry to hear that. Good that you have bumblebees, though.
It is interesting that there is now great interest in city gardening and how it can help our environment.
A positive development, though.
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.
Yes, beehives have acquired some urban chic. That’s a good thing, I suppose.
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!
It seems that more people are starting to think about pollinators when they plant their gardens. I hope so, anyways.
Wow…I didn’t know! Now I feel much better about gardening 🙂 Who knew planting a few flowers truly does help the environment.
It’s nice to feel you can do something constructive, isn’t it?
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!
Thanks. I certainly hope so.
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
That makes sense about the old graveyards. Railway and utility corridors also.
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.
I think here they recommend having a muddy area that bees can use to absorb water and minerals from the soil.
From what I’ve read there is often an amazing amount of wildlife in cities.
That seems to be true, although not always for good reasons. For example, I read that deer are starting to show up in Manhattan, but this is more because of overpopulation and sprawl.
You should submit that Bumbebee to Beespotter or Bumblebeewatch. Could be B. fervidus.
You mean the one on the Monarda or the Baptisia? How on earth can you tell? Not familiar with either of those sites, but I’ll check them out.
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!
Thanks. I’d like to think that somehow our farming practices might go back to something more friendly to pollinators, but that is perhaps unrealistic.
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.
It really should be much easier for private gardeners, as opposed to farmers, to eliminate their use of insecticides . Just this would make such a great improvement.
Good stuff. We’ve got to keep telling people.
I never thought I would find myself missing the beekeeper who used to live up the road, as I am highly allergic to bees. But I have seen many more species of bees in recent years.
Pingback: Country Bee, City Bee — gardeninacity – Rex Bear
These are great resources! I share the urgency in helping people know about native pollinators and planting for them. Chicago is incredibly friendly to beekeepers! My year of beekeeping there was one of the most challenging ever (and they died over winter). I was grateful for Windy City Bees group and locals sharing their knowledge.
There does seem to be a dedicated local community of beekeepers.