Quick Background on the Mid Atlantic region's native bees

Science Center Objects

Bees are tiny, one bush or one clump of perennials is often all it takes to foster native bees in your yard. Within a mile of your yard (urban or rural) there are at least over 100 species of bees looking for the right plants. Attracting and tending these native bees on your property is all about planting the right flowers and flowering bushes.

Colletes validus, male

Look at the veryyyyyyy long distance from the bottom of the compound eye to the mandible base (technically this is called the malar space). Few bees show this long a head and it is nearly distinctive within Colletes at least in the north. This is a species that likes to hang out around blueberries and other Vaccinium type things. It tends to clump its nests together and it relatively uncommon to find.

(Credit: Brooke Alexander. Public domain.)

  • The Mid-Atlantic has nearly 500 different species of native bees.
  • Most are ground nesters
  • Most either require or have strong preferences for pollen from native rather than exotic non-native plants to raise their young
  • Only the 6 or so regional bumble bee species defend their nests with stings
  • The remaining bees are solitary nesters and either cannot sting or don't defend their nests .... you have stood upon and passed many thousands of their nests in your life time without consequence.
  • If you are stung by large numbers of insects coming out of a hole in the ground those are always yellowjackets (a wasp) not bees
  • Loss of the complex native woodland, field, and meadow habitats to agriculture and housing/businesses causes native bee populations to crash because their pollen flowers are gone or replaced by weeds
  • You can reverse some of those losses by planting and managing native plants in your yard and property

Your Backyard

Bees are tiny, one bush or one clump of perennials is often all it takes to foster native bees in your yard.

Svastra obliqua, female

Found on Eastern Neck Island National Wildlife Refuge in their lovely lovely native plant garden and fields. This large Eucerine bee is a good indicator of high quality habitat. May we see them in more than places with this bee.

(Credit: Sam Droege, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Public domain.)

Within a mile of your yard (urban or rural) there are at least over 100 species of bees looking for the right plants.

Attracting and tending these native bees on your property is all about planting the right flowers and flowering bushes.

     Here is the formula:  More flowers = More bees

So, friend, your goal is plant more flowers 

Simple...

Except that our native bees prefer native plants.

And many native bees are quite picky about what flowers they gather pollen from.

Some only go to one type of plant to get their pollen.

So the more types of native flowering plants you plant the more types of native bees you will be supporting

This also means the more lawn you have....the fewer bees you will be supporting.

Below are some general categories of native plants that should be planted first, if possible, to support the picky specialist bees, which also, almost by definition, are the least common.  We will note some good general native flowering plants at the end too. 

Priority Plants

  • Blueberry
  • Maleberry
  • Staggerbush
  • Deerberry
  • Shrubby Dogwoods
  • Winterberry and other native shrub hollies
  • New Jersey Tea
  • Pinxter Azalea
  • Willow
  • Coneflower
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Annual and Perennial Sunflowers
  • Goldenaster
  • Ironweed
  • Thistle (native not Canada or Bull)
  • Goldenrod
  • Asters
  • Golden Alexanders
  • Verbena/Vervain
  • Gerardia
  • Penstemon 
  • Loosestrifes (natives, not purple or garden)
  • Monarda Mint
  • Quaker Lady/ Bluets
  • Ragwort
  • Spring Woodland species like Wild Geranium, Troutlily, Spring Beauty, Bellworts
  • Manroot
  • Evening Primrose
  • Hibiscus 
Ceratina dupla, Female

Ceratina dupla, Female, side, New York, Kings County

(Credit: Sam Droege, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Public domain.)

Other Activities

Consider trading your lawn mower for a good string trimmer.  With your string trimmer keep the perimeter of the house/sidewalks/fences/driveway/lawn patches  neatly trimmed and plant or allow to grow the interior of your yard using your string trimmer to create paths, keep things neat and tidy and clip out unwanted plants.  

In the Fall or Winter after the birds have harvested the seeds from your plants, install a brush blade on your string trimmer or use your pruning to shear off the perennial stems to 1 foot above the ground.  This creates stem nesting habitat for your bees, keeps unwanted trees at bay, and meets neighbor's aesthetic sensibilities.

General Plantings for Bees

Many plants, while not housing specialists are none-the-less dynamite for bee watching and general pollen and nectar sources.

svastra obliqua, female

Lovely elegance of Svastra obliqua, from Easter neck national wildlife refuge on the eastern shore of Maryland in Kent County. A species of late-summer composites, it is particularly fond of the sunflower and daisy groups.

(Credit: Sam Droege, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Public domain.)

Any native plant that have flowers will be attractive to at least some pollinators.  Choices are numerous and the best approach is to look for having bloom throughout the year with emphasis on spring flowering shrubs and brambles and fall composites as being keystone pollen and nectar sources for plants.    There are quite a number of online guides to local Mid-Atlantic planting for pollinators as well as Heather Holm's two books on bees and native plants, though these books tend to emphasize more northern plants.  Furthermore rescuing flowering perennials and shrubs from upcoming developments, clearing and mowing is always good and connects you to existing local plant and bee systems.  Sharing and splitting your perennials and shrubs is an excellent way to increase the plant diversity in your garden.

Learn more about native bees by following the USGS Native Bee Laboratory on Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr at:  USGSBIML

Feel free to use, modify, and distribute the information on this sheet in any way you like.