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Speaking for Native Bees

Originally appears in the Winter 2016 issue

I have always been fascinated by insects.  For over 30 years I have taught adults and children about the wonders of butterflies, dragonflies and the occasional beetle but it wasn’t until five years ago that I discovered native bees. As a gardener and a naturalist, I have always noticed “little flying things” on my flowers, I have patted hundreds of bumble bees and devoured the many berries and vegetables produced in part by bees, but I never thought about pollinators as a group. I always assumed honey bees were the only pollinators working for us. Wrong! There are over 4000 species of bees in North America and the non-native honey bee is just one of them. (And bees are not the only species of pollinator.)

To learn more and help attract native bees, I have redesigned my backyard garden. And I have educated anyone who will listen about why we need them and what people can do to enhance bee habitats. My intent in this article is to share ideas and activities that you can use to engage all ages in caring for bees.

Collectively, bees pollinate 78 per cent of all of the food, fabrics, beverages and medicines that we depend on. Watermelons, squashes, apples, berries and almonds are a few of the plants that require assistance from bees in order to produce fruits. Ditto fabrics such as cotton and linen. Without bees we wouldn’t have medicines such as morphine, digitalis or atropine. Our very existence as we know it is dependent on our native bees.

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Gail Trenholm is the president and founder of Nature Visits with Gail in Oakville, Ontario. This organization is dedicated to educating and familiarizing the public about a variety of earth and life science topics with enthusiasm and humor. Previously, she spent 15 years working for the Massachusetts Audubon Society in Worcester, Massachusetts.


The Xerces Society, 2011, Attracting Native Pollinators, Story Publishing.

Online Resources   Great pollination activities for Grades K-3   Great pollinator resource for Grades 3-6    Great resource on plantings and building a bee house   The go to resource for everything you need to know about native bees    Free downloadable and printable bee ID charts.  How to build a bee hotel