There's More To Pollinators Than The Honey Bee

Jul 12, 2017

When you think of bees, you picture honey bees, or maybe a fat bumblebee, dipping into flowers in a garden. But did you know there are more than 450 types of bees in Illinois alone? And the Rusty Patched Bumblebee, added this year to the Endangered Species List, isn’t the only pollinator in need of help.

That’s why Heather Holm is on a mission. With a background in biology and horticulture, the Minnesotan is a landscape designer specializing in native plants. She’s also an environmental educator and author of two books, Pollinators of Native Plants and Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide.

Heather Holm

Holm is the featured speaker Thursday at an event put on by the Rock River Valley Chapter of Wild Ones,  a not-for-profit national organization promoting native landscaping. She says, “I consider myself sort of a bridge between the plant people and the insect people because often, they don’t interact.”

Holm says most people understand that honey bees, which are NOT natives, are important because they pollinate about a third of the food we eat. But those unfamiliar native bees are really important, too. “They’re pollinating about 80% of the flowering plants. So if we didn’t have bees and we didn’t have flowering plants, the entire food web would collapse.”

Holm says most native bees nest underground, so gardeners need to find ways to protect those nesting sites while planting the types of natives that support them.

Holm says the best way to protect pollinators is to plant a big variety of native plants, stop using pesticides, and get to know your garden’s visitors. “Slow down,” she says. “You really need to slow down to snail’s pace. Sit quietly next to plants in flower and then you will see all kinds of bees visiting your garden. Then you will be hooked. You’ll realize the diversity you have in your garden.”

Holm’s talk is the kickoff of a weekend of public tours of Rockford-area gardens.