Book review | 100 Plants to Feed the Bees
100 Plants to Feed the Bees by The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Storey Publishing, Massachusetts. Copyright © 2016 by The Xerces Society. This review refers to the softcover edition.
Do you need some guidance on what to plant to attract bees? 100 Plants to Feed the Bees is a reference handbook that will help you decide what to plant, where to plant, and what those plants might attract.
Each plant has a two-page spread which includes one to four full-color photographs of the flower and a general description of the plant. Icons in the margin of the first page show what type of pollinators are usually attracted, whether they be honey bees, native bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, or moths.
The second page has paragraphs on the recommended species or varieties to plant, and a separate section on “notable visitors.” Each plant has a US map showing distribution of the plant, and a sidebar section suggests uses for the plant such as hedgerows, wetland restoration, ornamental, or pollinator nesting materials.
The footer section that runs across both pages gives addition planting information such as exposure, soil moisture requirements, bloom time, flower color, and maximum height.
Lots of information in a compact volume
I found myself perusing the descriptions in search of plants to attract native bees. Since my honey bees seem to do their own thing regardless of what I plant, I try to attract wild bees to my garden (aka photography studio) however possible.
The front material includes an overview of the relationship between plants and pollinators. The section on what makes a good pollinator plant mentions ultraviolet light, color phases, nectar guides, fragrance, shape, and phenology. Also included is a section on nutrition and the other rewards plants offer, including nesting materials and nesting habitat.
A number of books surfaced in the last few years that cover these same topics, but I find that no matter how many I’ve read, I learn something new from each new publication. All-in-all I’m happy with this new addition to my bee library, except for one thing.
Okay, so what’s the one thing?
The Xerces Society calls themselves “the global authority on insects and other invertebrates” (see back cover of the book). Bearing that in mind, be sure to turn to page 13 and study the diagram labeled, “Anatomy of a Honey Bee.” The creature shown is definitely not a honey bee, and the arrow pointing to a “pollen basket” does not point to a pollen basket.
The term “pollen basket” generally refers to a corbicula, the kind of pollen-carrying structure used by honey bees and bumble bees. The pollen in a corbicula is tightly packed and shiny. But nearly all wild and native bees have some other type of pollen-carrying structure.
Depending on the species, these alternative structures, called scopae (singular scopa), are found on the tibia, femur, trocanter, abdomen, or back of the thorax. Pollen carried in scopae remains light and fluffy because it is not squeezed together; think of the difference between freshly fallen snow and a snowball. And because it remains fluffy, it is available for pollination, unlike the pollen in a true pollen basket.
The type of pollen-carrying structure a bee has is a major clue to identification. Even a novice bee watcher can see that the bee in the picture does not have the leg shape or pollen-carrying mechanism of a honey bee. I will place this book on my shelf beside the Facts on File edition of Bees of the World (2004), which has a fly on the cover.
A good book nevertheless
In spite of that one little hiccup, I think 100 Plants to Feed the Bees is worth having. I know I will refer to it many times as I begin paging through the 2017 seed catalogs that are already filling my mailbox. The book is available in hard, soft, and Kindle editions.
Honey Bee Suite