How Crescent Came to Bee
By John Latsko
Many have heard the story. It’s the beginning of the saga of native bees in the Crescent Farm. Our love affair with them.
They were the male long-horned bees all tightly lined up on the dry florets of the blue grama grass – Bouteloua gracilis. They were there overnight, huddling together for warmth, and by late morning, they would be battling each other for territory. Fighting over native sunflowers.
Since then, the list of photographed native bees, on the Crescent, approaches over three dozen species. Our fascination led to research. This has taught us about their habitat needs. San Gabriel Valley native bee populations are suffering loss of resources. They typically find little opportunity for nesting in our super-neat gardens.
We were encouraged to create a collection of plants within the Crescent, aimed at appealing to native bees. Flowering plants, both native and non-native, were selected according to criteria based on diversity of flower form and bloom time. We continue to find that our native plants attract the most diverse array of native bees.
The healthy and diverse Southern California garden can actually attract hundreds of species. But accommodating native bees goes beyond supplying the right flower buffet. We soon learned that, because most native bees nest in cavities in old wood or in tunnels underground – our very movement through the landscape took on a new awareness. Who would want to accidentally squash a baby bee?
Allowing bare areas with no foot traffic is a good idea. Bees need dry empty spots, for example, for their tunnels. Other species, like some bumblebees, use certain textures of mulch as their nurseries. We quietly reserve such areas across the Crescent.
And it seems that the more we do, the more species we observe!
The Crescent is now a reliably healthy and continually diverse landscape that incorporates native plant resources for all our pollinators.
We understand that our very behavior – from what we plant, to how we ‘clean’ and where we tread across our garden – affects the balance of native bee survival.
John Latsko is interpretive horticulturist at Crescent Farm.