Meet the bees! No, the other bees…
By Richard Joyce
Come late summer, many of us will delight in picking fresh blueberries from BTLT’s section of the blueberry sandplain grassland. The berries that we don’t simply pop into our mouths we’ll bake into desserts or freeze to have a sweet taste of summer in the depths of winter. Public access to this blueberry sandplain grassland is truly a gift from BTLT to the community.
If you take a stroll through the blooming blueberry fields right now (blueberries in Maine typically flower between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day), you will find the blossoms buzzing with bee activity. Large bumble bee queens, having emerged from their winter hibernation, zoom around sipping nectar and searching for nest sites. Tiny mining bees crawl over flowers, pollen covering their bodies and hairy faces. Cellophane bees, named for the substance they secrete to waterproof their burrows, build little chimney-like nest-entrances in the sandy paths. You might spot wasp-like nomad bees, which don’t collect pollen but instead sneak into mining bee nests and lay their eggs among their hosts’ provisions.
Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s blueberry sandplain grassland is great habitat for bees, especially because it supports diverse plants that flower before and after the blueberry bloom. Shadbush, pin cherry, black chokeberry, sheep laurel and whorled loosestrife feed the bees when the blueberries bushes aren’t blooming.
So next time you savor Maine’s favorite fruit, give thanks to our native bees!
But we owe our gratitude to the bees, too! While the non-native, domesticated honey bee (Apis mellifera) gets a lot of attention for its role in crop pollination, wild native bees are actually largely responsible for pollinating low-bush blueberries in Maine. After all, these are the bee species that co-evolved with lowbush blueberries in North America for millennia before the introduction of honey bees by colonists. Two hundred and seventy species of bees are native to Maine, and over half have been recorded visiting blueberry flowers.