Naomi Jackson, Becketwood Member
If on a sunny day you carefully watch the flowers in Fernwood Glen or the Member gardens, you will find a parade of bees zooming in for a snack of nectar or a load of pollen to bring home. Most of what you see will not be honeybees. They will be native bees, and will range from very large bumblebees to miner bees and sweat bees less than a quarter-inch long. We probably have dozens of native bee species on Becketwood grounds that rely on our gardens (and, yes, our dandelions and clover) for food.
But where do these bees live? How do they go about nest-building? Since almost all bee species are solitary or semi-social, you won't find any of them in hives like honeybees. Most nest underground, in wood cavities or in pithy plant stems, and you won't see them on a casual walk through Fernwood Glen.
There is something you will see, though, if you're paying attention: Solomon's seal leaves with half-circles cut out all along the edges. This is the work of a leafcutter bee. I don't know which kind; there are 44 known species in the eastern U.S. and Canada and it's unlikely I'll catch this one in action.
The leafcutter bee takes pieces of leaf to its nest cavity and makes cylindrical containers for eggs and pollen. They will nest in rock cavities, abandoned wasp nests, pithy plants, or even a decaying picnic table in your back yard, which is the only location where I've seen a leafcutter bee in person.
One reason we have leafcutter bees in Fernwood Glen is we're well stocked with some of their favorite foods: coneflowers, Canada anemone, Joe Pye Weed, Golden Alexanders and milkweed. Another is that we have a habitat that works for them, with lots of nesting options.
If you'd like to know more about native bees, what foods they like and how to protect their habitat, go to the Becketwood library and check out Bees by Heather Holm. You'll enjoy the great photos and perhaps get ideas about what to plant in your garden next year.