The honeybee, introduced to North America from Europe in the early 1600s, receives most of the credit for commercial crop pollination. But honeybee populations are declining sharply because of the diseases and parasites that spread when they’re transported around the world.
Thankfully, the orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria) is also a great pollinator and a native of the Northwest. Insect conservation organizations like Portland’s own Xerces Society (4828 SE Hawthorne Blvd, xerces.org) recommend that we all pitch in to provide habitat for native bees to help these populations grow.
Pros: There are no real cons to having bees around. These pollinators often evolve in close relationship with the plants they pollinate, so they play an essential role in fostering native plant communities. Many Pacific Northwest native bees are solitary rather than hive-forming and are only active during the time their host species are in flower. In the case of the orchard mason bee, this period lasts just six to eight weeks, from early April to early June—the ideal time for pollinating many fruits and berries.
Helping Hands: Support pollinator biodiversity by avoiding the use of insecticides and creating habitats and refuge for both nesting and feeding bees. Good bee-nesting habitats include well-drained, undisturbed ground; tree snags; and hollow branches.
Encourage bees to visit your garden by growing nectar- and pollen-producing plants. Native plants are the best source of nutrients for native bees. These include Oregon grape (Mahonia), flowering currant (Ribes), wild lilac (Ceanothus), and wild buckwheat (Eriogonum). Some garden plants are also helpful to these insects, particularly old-fashioned flowers rich in nectar and herbs such as Agastache, hyssop, lavender, and oregano.