The Master Gardener’s Bookshelf
Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide
by Heather Holm
Review by Susan Wilhelm, Extension Master Gardener
Bees are the superheroes of pollinators. One of the best places to learn about these amazing insects is Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide by Heather Holm. It is a wonderful guide to the bees of the eastern half of the United States, the important pollinator services they provide, and the native plants they feed upon.
Holm begins with a bee primer – starting with bee ancestry (Apoid wasps) and what they eat (bees are vegetarians eating pollen, nectar, and floral oils from flowers). She also describes bee life cycles and sociality, how to distinguish bees from wasps and flies, bee anatomy, nesting sites, pollination, factors impacting bees such as loss of habitat and pesticides, as well as managing landscapes and farms to support bees.
Chapters two through six provide greater detail on bees by families starting with the Colletidae family. For each family, Holm describes the distinguishing features of most species in the family (female and male), and other identifying characteristics. These include the bee’s size, the seasons when the bee is most active, whether it is social or solitary, nest location, the crops the bees pollinate and how they do it (there are more techniques than you may be aware.) Depending on species, Holms also includes other facts such as the date when Apis mellifera (European honeybees) were first introduced to the United States (around 1620), or what the leaf damage of Megachilidae (leafcutter bees) looks like.
Chapters seven through 10 “highlight native flowering trees, shrubs, perennials, biennials, and annuals that produce flowers visited by bees.” A summary chart preceding these chapters lists each plant by name (both Latin and common), its size, flowering time, and growing habitat, along with the page number for the individual plant pages. The individual plant pages offer more information such as the plant’s native distribution, soil and sun preferences, and the common bees and other pollinators it attracts. For example, Prunus serotina (black cherry) attracts Andrena (mining bees), Lasioglossum (small sweat bees), and Bombus (bumble bees), as well as other pollinators. Even though Holm does not focus on the mid-Atlantic region, many of the featured plants grow well in our area and can be found on the Master Gardener of Northern Virginia’s Tried and True Native Plant Selections for the Mid-Atlantic.
Bees is an easy book to use, and it is not surprising that it has won six awards, including the 2018 American Horticultural Society Book Award. The text is straightforward, there are great graphics and summary charts that enable readers to locate information in a glance, and the photos are outstanding. For instance, there are actual-size graphic depictions of each featured bee and what the bee’s wings look like when viewed from above on a flower. Close up photos highlight distinguishing bee characteristics, such as the “happy face” marking on the thorax of most species of Triepeolus (cuckoo bees). Bolded terms, such as names of bee anatomy or plant parts, are defined in the Glossary of Terms.
Whether your interest is planting to attract bees to your garden, identify the bees already there, or better understand the critical pollination services bees provide, Bees is a terrific resource.
Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide by Heather Holm (Pollination Press LLC, 2017) is available from national booksellers.
Want to Learn More? Check out these Master Gardener of Northern Virginia resources:
- Partnering with Pollinators – Virtual Class June 2022
- Bees for Pollinator Week—June 2021
- Flowers That Attract Pollinators and Robbers to a Garden— August 2020