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Bee Lawn Visitors: If you build it, who will come?

By James Wolfin

For many, the most exciting part of establishing a bee lawn is observing all the pollinating insects in your yard!  Bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, and countless other beneficial insects will frequent your yard throughout the warm weather months when bee lawn flowers are blooming within your lawn.  That being said, who should we expect to find? During my research at the University of Minnesota, we set out to document as many bee visitors as we could find on these bee lawns throughout a set of public parks in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Let’s dive into who we found, and some exciting trends.

In total, we observed more than 65 bee species on bee lawn flowers throughout the flowering lawns we observed. This accounts for approximately 15% of all described bee species in Minnesota, an incredible level of diversity for such a simple mixture of flowers! The vast majority of the bee species we observed were native to Minnesota and the United States.  That being said, we did observe some non-native species as well, including the European honey bee.  While honey bees are more akin to managed livestock than wild bees, they still help to pollinate agricultural crops and the natural landscapes that bring beauty to our communities.

Each flower in the bee lawn mix comes with its own exciting story for pollinators.  The value of the Dutch white clover is in the sheer diversity of bees it supports.  We observed more than 50 bee species on Dutch white clover alone including small sweat bees, leafcutter bees, and large, charismatic bumblebees.  Dutch white clover exhibits a wide bloom window, flowering from May through September, which aids the diversity observed in this flower.  One species of note that we observed on Dutch white clover is Bombus fervidus, a bumblebee that is classified as a vulnerable species on the IUCN red list.  This is one level away from an endangered classification.

Self-heal is a native flower, with a beautiful, deep violet color.  When conducting bee lawn research, we hypothesized that self-heal would attract primarily larger bees due to the long floral neck of the flower. We were excited to find that self-heal attracted both larger bees, like bumblebees, as well as small bees, like sweat bees and mining bees, that are able to crawl inside the flower to gather nectar and pollen. The most exciting thing about this flower was that greater than 95% of the bees we observed foraging on self-heal were native species.

Creeping thyme blooms late in the season, generally flowering between late July and September, providing crucial nutrition for pollinators before they overwinter.  Creeping thyme displays a small, wide-open light pink bloom that attracts primarily smaller bees.  Beautiful, iridescent green sweat bees are very common visitors on creeping thyme.

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