GardenSMART :: Mason Bees are a Gardener's Best Friend
Mason Bees are a Gardener's Best Friend
By Gardener's Supply Company
Honeybees seem to get much of the glory when it comes to discussions of pollinators, but there are many other insects that provide the same service. In fact, honeybees aren't even native to the U.S.! The first honeybees arrived in the 1600s when settlers from Europe brought their hives.
There are about 4000 species of bees that are native to the U.S., and they are the unsung heroes of much of the pollination that takes place. Many of these are solitary bees — in contrast to colony-forming honeybees — and go about their work pollinating wild and cultivated crops.
Mason bees (genus Osmia) are a type of native bee that's quite common throughout most of the U.S. There are about 140 species of mason bees in North America. Most are somewhat smaller than a honeybee, and their typical coloring includes metallic blue and blue-black. The name mason bee refers to their nesting habit: They seal off the areas where they lay their eggs with mortar-like mud.
Mason bees are a good friend to gardeners. Not only are they prolific pollinators, they are unlikely to sting. The males don't even have a stinger, and the females will only sting if trapped or inadvertently squished.
Photograph courtesy of Gardener's Supply Company.
In the wild, mason bees lay their eggs in small natural cavities, including woodpecker holes, insect holes and hollow stems. They're also happy to lay eggs in artificial tube-shaped cavities such as those found on mason bee houses, including the Mason Bee House and Planter Combo which incorporates a spot where you can plant some pretty flowers in the top.
A female mason bee packs pollen and nectar into the far end of her chosen nesting cavity. Then she lays an egg and seals up that section of the cavity. This process continues until the bee has filled the entire chamber with a series of pollen/nectar/egg cells.