Native mason and leafcutter bees are highly efficient pollinators, especially in cross-pollination, and are generalists in their flower choices.
As I listen to the rain, I notice the bouquet of flowers on the counter. The flowers remind me of the two groups of native pollinators that we have in our gardens and flower beds.
They are the native mason and leafcutter bees. Both bees are dark in color and small in size somewhere between a large fly and honey bee.
Unlike European honey bees, their dark bodies warm up quickly in the morning sun and they begin flying early in the day. They are solitary bees and do not live in hives, nor do they produce honey. They are highly efficient pollinators, especially in cross-pollination, and are generalists in their flower choices. They lay their eggs in cocoons in hollow reeds, abandoned beetle burrows and in man-made wood or paper nesting tubes.
Like the honey bee, their life span is only six to eight weeks long.
Mason bees emerge from their overwintering cocoons when the daytime air temperature is in the low to mid-50 degrees. In Pittsburgh, this is around April 15, generally when crocus, daffodils, redbud or forsythias are beginning to bloom. Their nest is lined with mud hence the name mason bee.
Mason bees prefer the pollen and nectar of flowering fruit and nut trees such as cherry, plum, apple, apricot, peach, pear and several nut varieties. They will also forage native plants or herbs that are blooming.
One mason bee is estimated to be capable of pollinating enough cherry blossoms to produce 12 pounds of cherries. It would take 60 honeybees to pollinate a similar number of cherry blossoms!
The second group of native bees are leafcutter bees, which emerge from their overwintering cocoons around mid-June roughly when summer begins and daytime temperatures are 75 to 80 degrees. They will seek pollen from fruit, wild flowers and vegetables for example, beans, squash, tomatoes, sunflowers and asters. Leafcutters also employ grazing flight patterns similar to mason bees making them efficient pollinators.
The leafcutter bees home is also in a hollow tube which they will line with cut out sections of leaves or petals. Cutting sections of leaves to line their nests gives them the name leafcutter bees.
As a home gardener, you can provide an artificial habitat for these bees, in wood or paper nesting tubes.
For more information, visit https://extension.psu.edu/conserving-wild-bees-in-pennsylvania.
Hummingbirds are the featured pollinator at the Penn State Master Gardeners Smart Gardening Workshop on March 14 at the Learning Resource Center on the Community College of Beaver County campus. For more information and to register by the March 6 deadline, go to https://extension.psu.edu/smart-gardening.
Frank Saus is a Master Gardener with Penn State Extension -- Beaver County.
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