Native plants for bees

Our gardens at the George Washington House have a nice variety of native plants that attract tons of pollinators every year.  Our two rain gardens, which have been working succesfully, have more than 20 species of native plants, plus our other sections of the yard around our Eastern white pine, the pond, and, last year we started an amazing produce garden beside the house.  The edible garden was tremendously productive last year; most of the staff had to take home plenty of Chinese eggplants, patty pan squashes, peppers, basil leaves, and tomatoes over the summer.  Its proximity to our rain gardens meant that a lot of the pollinators visiting our native wildflowers could stop by our produce plants and pollinate them.

Joe Pye weeds and Cardinal flowers, both native plant species, at one of our raingardens after a heavy storm in August 2010.

Why should we care about bees and pollinators?

Bees, insects, and other pollinators, are extremely important species since they provide a paramount ecosystem service, pollination.  These animals are responsible for pollinating 90% of the planet’s flowering plants.  Also, a good part of our food supply depends on pollination.  More than 60% of the crop plants require animal pollination for production.  Crops actually yield higher quality produce after insect pollination.  Evidently, pollinators are a vital component of our woodlands, meadows and wetlands since they pollinate a plethora of wild plants.

One of the many bee-pollinated patty pan squahes produced by our small raised bed garden.

Insects, predominantly bees, are by far the most important pollinators we have locally.  There is an interesting, and alarmingly accurate, quote arguably attributed to Albert Einstein: "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left.  No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."  Native bees not only pollinate wild plants, which are the basis of the foodweb that support ecosystems, but they are known to be excellent pollinators of pumpkins, tomatoes, apples, berries and other crops.  Cross pollination, which is the act of transferring pollen between different plants of the same species, results in increased genetic diversity and healthier plant populations.

Our produce garden at its best during last summer.

Bee populations are plummeting

There is evidence that both managed populations of honey bees and wild native bees (e.g. bumble bees) are declining throughout the world due to low genetic diversity, diseases, climate change, pesticide misuse and other causes.  If the trend continues, we could be facing catastrophic effects on the economy, the ecosystems and our food supply!

A Carpenter bee visits a spotted bee-balm inflorescence at our Anacostia Riparian Meadow Restoration (ARMR) project site.

What can we do?

Very simple, propagate native wildflowers as much as you can!  Studies in North America and Europe have shown that planting floral resources on farmland and gardens substantially increase numbers of wild bees and honey bees.  Sustainable landscaping with native plant species is the best way to create or enhance prime bee habitat at home, farm, community, school, or at your workplace.  Moreover, all the available LID techniques that utilize native plants can provide excellent habitat as well, e.g. rain gardens, bioretention facilities, green roofs and such.

One of the objectives of our ARMR project at the NW Branch of the Anacostia River (Hyattsville, MD) is to enhance wildlife habitat, particularly pollinators. A patch of sunroot flowers is like an oasis for many pollinators like bees and other insects that wander the area.


What is AWS doing?

Besides having two rain gardens and a yard teeming with native plants at our property, AWS has been advocating for and promoting stormwater management technologies that use native plants.  We also restore native plants by controlling invasive plant populations, restoring wetlands and by planting native trees, shrubs and forbs in the watershed.  This year we will kick off our native meadow restoration project at the NW Branch of the Anacostia River which will be our greatest effort to create pollinator habitat and enhance the beauty and character of our ecologically forsaken floodways. 

Check out our event calendar for upcoming habitat restoration volunteer opportunities.


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