100 Plants to Feed the Bees: Review

With so much interest in helping bees and other pollinators, many gardeners are asking: So, what do I plant? While declines in pollinator populations are due to a variety of factors, including monocropping, pesticide use, loss of habitat, climate change and disease spikes in certain pollinators, gardeners can be part of the solution to the pollinator crises by creating landscapes that are habitats for pollinators.

We’ve discussed before some of the ways gardeners can create a great habitat for pollinators and this new book from The Xerces Society adds to the discussion. The book, 100 Plants to Feed the Bees: Providing a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive (Storey Publishing, 2016), begins with a discussion of problems faced by pollinators and how to create a habitat. The authors emphasize the use of local native plants, which are the plants that pollinators in each region have evolved to use. The bulk of the book is the list of 100 plants, which includes native perennials, trees and shrubs as well as nonnative plants that also help pollinators, such as herbs.

One of the best features of the book is its maps, which are located next to each plant listing. Some pollinator plants have very narrow ranges, such as buckwheat tree (Cliftonia monophylla), a small tree or bush that makes its home in the swamps of northern Florida and southern Georgia and Lousiana. Honeybees that visit the buckwheat tree produce an almost red honey. While not all the plants listed in the book will survive in the North, the vast majority of the plants listed will grow here. Many of the suggestions are native plants gardeners know: coneflower, anise hyssop, black eyed Susans, bee balm, sneezeweed (Helenium) and other meadow plants.

Some of the plants listed, however, were new to me. For instance, has anyone planted figwort (Scophularia spp.)? It is recommended for prairie restorations rather than home gardens, but it apparently attracts all sorts of wasps, bees, flies and hummingbirds. Minnesota Wildflowers, one of the best sites for information on native plants in Minnesota, describes the lanceleaf figwort as “not a very showy flower, but pollinators love it.”

Another new to me plant in the book was manzanita (Arctostaphylos). It also has the common name bearberry and, according to Minnesota Wildflowers, it grows in all but the southeast corner of Minnesota. The plant’s pretty white flowers in spring resemble a blueberry flower and that is followed by a bright red berry.  A low-growing shrub that does well in rocky habitats, manzanita or bearberry can be found in Voyageurs National Park and many other places.

If you are looking for plants to plant for pollinators, 100 Plants to Feed the Bees is an accessible and interesting book. You are sure to learn something about bees and plants here!