Plant Diversity a Boon for Declining Bees

By Jan Sluizer, Voice of America

Could the right mix of flowers, shrubs and grasses help resuscitate North America’s rapidly declining bee populations? Researchers are trying to find out.

“With agricultural intensification, with urbanization, bees have lost so much of the habitat that they rely on for forage. Pollen and nectar make up 100 percent of these diets,” said Jessa Kay Cruz of the Xerces Society, an Oregon-based conservation group. “So they are totally dependent on certain types of flowers in order to survive.”

In an effort to identify the right combination that will bloom and attract bees throughout the spring and summer, and into the fall, Cruz and botanist Margaret Smither-Kopperl have set out a diverse mix of plants at the Lockeford Plant Materials Center in California’s Central Valley. The center, which Smither-Kopperl manages, is one of more than two dozen U.S. Agriculture Department facilities around the country working to restore and sustain healthy ecosystems.

“We’ve spent a lot of time engineering different wildflower mixes so that there can be a mix that is specially designed for pollinators,” Cruz explained. “Kind of layered on top of that, we have spent a lot of effort trying to research extremely drought-tolerant plants, because the drought is hitting people really, really hard and it’s something we are always thinking about — how do we establish these plants in really dry conditions.”