A pocket wilderness in the heart of Houston.

West 11 Street Park

Tour Stop 17: Native Bees

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Native Bees


Most people come to this garden to see butterflies, but there are plenty of other insects here.   One of the most important groups is the bees.  Most of us think “honey bee” when we hear the word “bee,” but did you know that honey bees are not native to the United
States?  They were brought here in 1622 by early colonists who recognized their
importance to agriculture.

If you take a close look at these Partridge Peas, you will see many other kinds of bee as well. These are our native bees, sometimes called “pollen bees” because, although they do not make a lot of honey, they do collect pollen like honey bees, and are very important pollinators.  Approximately 500 native bees can be found in Texas, from huge hairy carpenter bees and bumblebees, some of which are well over an inch long, to tiny,
metallic sweat bees that measure less than 1/4 inch.

Everyone who grows fruits and vegetables, from large-scale farmers to home gardeners, has been concerned over the reduced populations of honey bees caused by parasitic infections, pesticides, fungicides, and competition from the Africanized honey bees. So, it is good news that native bees may be more efficient than honey bees for pollinating certain flowers and crops.   For example, bumblebees are the preferred pollinators for greenhouse-grown tomatoes, and pumpkin growers from Wisconsin to Alabama are recognizing the value of squash bees that often outnumber honey bees visiting squash blossoms.

Stand very still in front of this bed of Partridge Peas and see how many different kinds of bee you can find. You will see the most activity if you come in the morning on a sunny day.

Here is a brief list of some native pollinators in our area:

Bumblebees are relatively large, hairy, yellow and black bees that make small colonies in the ground, often using abandoned field mouse or other rodent burrows.  In Houston they are active in the spring and early part of the summer as they do not like heat!  They are more common and diverse in cooler areas (farther north or at higher altitudes).



Carpenter bees are large, hairy bees, sometimes confused with bumblebees, but active throughout the summer.  They can be distinguished from bumblebees because their abdomens have no yellow hairs, but are black and shiny.  These solitary bees excavate nesting holes in old wood (they prefer dead trunks and branches but will also dig holes in old lumber.)  They avoid painted or treated wood.  They will colonize appropriate-sized holes if provided.


Sweat bees are small, metallic bees, often shiny green or blue.  These solitary bees colonize small holes in dead wood.




Leafcutter bees, also solitary, are small, grayish bees that line their nesting tunnels with pieces of leaf cut in neat circles or ovals from a variety of plants.  You can see evidence of their activity in the park—their neat cutouts can be seen on the leaves of rattan vines, greenbriar, and other plants.  Like sweat bees, they seek out existing nesting holes rather than digging their own.  Man-made leafcutter nest boxes are available from a number of sources, or you can make your own.