Supporting Native Wild Bees in the Florida Landscape

Supporting Native Wild Bees in the Florida Landscape

This article was written by: Joanna Jaramillo Silva1, Rachel Mallinger2, Xavier Martini3

1 Ph.D. Student, University of Florida, Department of Entomology and Nematology

2 Assistant Professor, University of Florida, Department of Entomology and Nematology

3 Assistant Professor, North Florida Research and Education Center, University of Florida, Department of Entomology and Nematology

Bees are the primary pollinators of plants, essential in natural and crop environments for guaranteeing global food security to the human population. Florida is home of more than 300 species of native wild bees, which rely on pollen and nectar from flowers to survive. However, a global pollinator decline reported for honeybees and wild species (including insects, birds, and bats), is decreasing the worldwide provision of pollination services. Food limitation (pollen and nectar), resulting from decreasing flower diversity and quantity, is one of the multiple causes of pollinator decline. Pollinator-friendly plants are receiving attention from people of various disciplines such as the scientific community, stakeholders, Master Gardeners, and citizen science groups willing to participate in pollinator conservation efforts.

Domestic gardens

Domestic gardens comprise a substantial proportion of land in the urban landscape and are often the most significant component of green space; they play essential roles in conserving plant genetic resources, insects, and other wildlife, and have social and economic value. Gardens behave as islands of usable habitat surrounded by urbanization, and they present varying benefits for pollinators. There is generally a positive relationship between high pollinator abundance, flower diversity, and bloom evenness. Gardens for pollinators propose to solve the pollinator crisis by enlarging greenspaces in urban areas by planting more flowers in urbanized environment and by improving the diversity of floral resources for pollinators.

Pollinator friendly plants

There are different categories of floral traits: qualities that attract pollinators such as floral size and color, and physical characteristics that reward the pollinator (nectar and pollen quantity and quality). Flowers with higher quality and quantity rewards are more attractive to pollinators. Nectar provides the main sugar source for insect pollinators; its energetic value is determined by its sugar concentration. The volume of nectar produced by flowers will directly affected visitation by honeybees and bumblebees, butterflies, and birds. Pollen on the other side, consists of the main source of protein for most pollinators.


1.                Provide a Mix of floral shapes and sizes.

There is usually a positive correlation between flower size and nectar volume: long tube flowers usually provide more nectar, whereas open or flat flowers provide more pollen. In addition, flower shapes are also associated with different pollinator types (Fig. 1). Long-tongued insects (Butterflies, and some bees) visit deep corolla tube flowers, while short-tongued pollinators (wasps, flies and some bees) remain on short tube or open corolla flowers.

Mixed Flower Shapes
Figure 1. Examples of plants with long tube flowers, short-medium, and open corolla flowers (From left to right: Butterfly on a Pardon my pink (Monarda didyma) (Credits: Joanna J. Silva); Carpenterbee on Salvia Indigo spires (Salvia longispicata x farinaceae) (Credits: Kelly Thomas); Sweat bee on Gaillardia pulchella) (Credits: Joanna J. Silva).

2.                Provide a mix of flower colors

Color patterns influence the flower’s attractiveness and increase the efficiency of pollination by helping insects orient on the flower and guide them to the reward (Fig. 2). Bees prefer white, yellow, or blue-purple flowers. Orange, pink, and red flowers attract other pollinators such as butterflies.

Different Colors
Figure 2. Examples of native plants to Florida that display different colors Native to Florida (From left to right: Butterfly on Spanish needles (Bidens alba), Tickseed coreopsis (Coreopsis leavenworthii), Sckullcap (Scutellaria arrenicola), Pitcher sage (Salvia azurea), Swamp Rose-mallow (Hibiscus grandiflorus), Carpenterbee on False-Rosemary (Conradina grandiflora), Spotted beebalm (Monarda puctata), Blanket flower or Firewheel* (Gaillardia pulchella) . Credits: Joanna J. Silva
*A recent discovery suggests that Firewheel is not considered native to Florida, but it is widely cultivated. It is probably not native to the rest of the eastern USA as previously thought (ISB: Atlas of Florida Plants ( – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (

3.                Include a pollinator hotel

Add a bee nest box for the native bees that build their nests above ground. Solitary bees and wasps will take up residence in a pollinator hotel after you place it outside. 

4.                Provide flowers throughout the year.

Pollen and nectar collection varies seasonally for honeybees, while many other solitary bee species collect pollen continuously during adult foraging to feed their larvae. Design the garden to have three or more different plants blooming at any given time during the growing season, which is March through November in northern areas of the state (Fig. 3).

Flowers Throughout the Year
Figure 3. Honeybee on Viburnum (Winter) (Credits: Joanna J. Silva), Honeybee on Salvia Indigo spires taking nectar (Spring-Summer) (Credits: Walker Bensch), False Rosemary and Muhlly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) (Fall) (Credits: Joanna J. Silva).

5.      Include native plants.

A “Florida native plant” refers to a species occurring within the state boundaries prior to European contact, according to the best available scientific and historical documentation. Florida is home to over 4,867 species of plants; 3,314 species are considered native of which 230 species are endemic.

6.      Chose the right plant for each location.

Success depends on using the right plant in the right place, especially by considering plant’s cold hardiness (Fig. 4). Plant selection for landscapers, nurseries, and gardens requires individual site criteria and an evaluation of individual plant performance under different environmental circumstances, such as water, soil, and temperature.

Figure 4. Hardiness zones in Florida (
Figure 4. Hardiness zones in Florida (

7.      Resources

North Florida Goldenrod

North Florida Goldenrod

Autumn Blooms

The days are getting shorter, the sun setting earlier each day, and the temperatures are beginning to dip.  All the signs are there, we’ve reached autumn which means it’s time for many roadside wildflowers to begin their bloom cycle.  Surely, you’ve seen them as you drive down the road, small colorful patches in the ditch or as almost blinding yellows across vast fields. The vibrant yellow in this latter example is that of goldenrod (Solidago spp.).  A name attributed to many plants in Asteraceae better known as the Daisy family, they serve to feed pollinators when other plants begin to fade.  Two of the most common in the panhandle are seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) and Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis).

Coastal Goldenrod

Seaside goldenrod will be most prevalent in the coastal counties along the panhandle. It thrives on beach dunes in tidal marshes and disturbed coastal areas. Tolerance to saline soils and sea spray allow growth in these environments.  A clumping perennial, it grows to 6.6 feet clumping with a 1.6 foot spread.  The flowers of this plant bloom in autumn on a spiked inflorescence as tubular disk florets. They are pollinated by several types of insects and birds. This plant was used as far back as the Roman times to treat several medical conditions.

Photo: Joshua Criss

Inland Goldenrod

Canada goldenrod is found in Florida almost exclusively in the panhandle with a few pockets as holdouts in the peninsula.  Not as common along the coast, this plant prefers to take hold in ditches and open meadows.  At 1-7 feet tall with it spreads via underground stems known as rhizomes.  Rhizomatous plants such as these are traditionally difficult to control and may become weedy in some situations. Yellow ray style flowers present in clusters at the end of stems on drooping panicles. Pollen form this plant is often blamed for fall allergies, but does not tend to travel far on the wind making this an unlikely source. As with the seaside goldenrod, this plant was used traditionally as a medicine in ancient times. 

Photo: Joshua Criss

Summing it up

Goldenrod along with many autumn blooming wild flowers may be something you’ve put very little thought into.  They are proven winners in terms of late season pollinator support. Often overlooked in the home landscape, plants like goldenrod may bring a new twist to your home gardens.  They require little water and fertilizer and grow well in our area.  For more information on Florida wildflowers, see these Ask IFAS documents, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Native Pollinators and their Favorite Flowers

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Native Pollinators and their Favorite Flowers





The Q&A on Native Pollinators and their Favorite Flowers offered valuable information on many types of flowers that feed our many species of pollinators in Northwest FL.  Below are the reference materials related to specific questions that were asked along with notes from the panel discussions.


  • Stephen Greer was asked which garden perennials are best for pollinators, he mentioned that Blanketflower, Cardinal Flower, Black Eyed Susan were his top three.


  • Julie McConnell was asked, what are some shrubs to benefit birds and pollinators? She stated that insects forage off lawn grasses, but good shrubs are Wax Myrtle, Saw Palmetto, American Beautyberry, Vibernum and Holly Species. Sandy Soil Pollinators: Firebush, Holly, Saw Palmetto, all drought tolerant and good for pollinators.




  • What about Winter Pollinator Plants?
    • Winter: Mahonia, Fatsia, both good plants for pollinators in shady areas, also Beth added that winter vegetables help pollinators in the winter, such as carrot, wild radish, provide forage for bees, bumblebees and plasterer bees, carpenter bees. Matt Lollar said daikon radish is another good pollinator plant for fall and winter.


  • Question from Facebook: Are Loquat trees good for pollinators. How large do they get and when do they bloom? Do they need shade or full sun?







  • Better access to native plants: Florida Native Plant Society
    • There are Native Plant Nurseries in Bay and Leon County, you can find them on google.
    • Some Master Gardner Volunteer programs sell native plants at their sales!


  • Stephen: What methods have been successful to approach HOA’s to approve of Native plants in homeowner’s properties?
    • Build consensus about native plants before the meeting.
    • Covenants or Bylaws. Covenants are less enforceable, Bylaws have enforcement ability.


  • Beth: Do we need to supply water for pollinators? YES!






This episode of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! is available to watch at

Panhandle Beekeeping Resources

Panhandle Beekeeping Resources

When people think of livestock, honeybees may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Bees are, however, a very significant part of agriculture. It is estimated that 30% of the crops we use for food are pollinated by honeybees. That’s around $15 billion of crops! On top of that, these hardworking insects also produce honey, wax, and other products that we can use.

For those who want to get into the world of beekeeping, it can be a challenge to absorb all the information that’s out there. Thankfully, there are resources out there to assist. If you or someone you know are interested in apiculture, you might try:

Online resources. The University of Florida (UF) publishes research-based information in its EDIS publications. For topics relating to beekeeping specifically, you can go here: From there you can find links to specific publications, such as the Florida Beekeeping Management Calendar and much more. UF also has a Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab with online resources about their Master Beekeeper program and Bee College at

The American Beekeeping Federation maintains a website with tons of information on beekeeping at From there you can join the federation, find local groups, and find nationwide educational opportunities and resources for beekeepers.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) requires beekeepers to register hives. You can find information on that here: This site has a lot of extra information on beekeeping and links to other resources as well!

Local Resources. While digital sources of information can help, nothing can take the place of simply having other beekeepers to go to for answers. Local beekeeping organizations are a great place to start. Listed by county, here are some from across the panhandle:

County / Counties Organization Meeting dates / times
Escambia Escarosa Beekeepers Association 2nd Tues. / month at 7 pm.
North Escambia Bee Association 2nd Mon. / month at 7 pm.
Santa Rosa Santa Rosa Beekeepers Association 3rd Thurs. / month at 7 pm.
Okaloosa Tri-County Beekeepers Association Last Tues. / month at 6:30 pm.
Walton New association forming now! TBD. Contact Walton County Extension for info – (850) 892-8172
Holmes / Washington Central Panhandle Beekeepers Assn. 1st Mon. / month at 6 pm.
Bay Tupelo Beekeepers Association 2nd Mon. / month at 6 pm.
Jackson Chipola Beekeepers 3rd Mon. / month at 6 pm.
Leon / Jefferson / Wakulla / Gadsden Apalachee Beekeepers Association 2nd Tues. / month at 6:30 pm.

As always, your local Extension office is available for help as well. Happy beekeeping!




The Tupelo Honey Festival is Just Around the Corner

The Tupelo Honey Festival is Just Around the Corner

The Annual Tupelo Honey Festival will be held Saturday, May 21st from 9 am – 4 pm central time at Lake Alice Park in Wewahitchka. This is an exciting event, with your chance to take part in a local treat. Area honey producers will be on hand, selling their honey in a variety of sizes. There will also be food, art & crafts, and live music.

For decades, tupelo honey has been synonymous with Gulf County. The nectar from the tupelo gum tree (Nyssa ogeche), produces some of the finest honey in the world. The common name “tupelo” is derived from language of the Muscogee Nation, also known as the Creek Indian Nation. The meaning of the word is “swamp tree”, as this tree flourishes in areas of wet soils and seasonal flooding. Gulf County is home to one of the largest tupelo forests on earth.

Honeybee visiting tupelo blossoms

Honeybee visiting tupelo blossoms. Photo Credit: Gulf County Tourist Development Council

The tupelo bloom season lasts from approximately mid-April to the end of May. This is an anxious time for beekeepers. Tupelo blooms are very temperamental and delicate in nature. For this short period, beekeepers hope for little wind or rain and no cold temperatures, as any of these factors can make or break tupelo honey production. Regardless of seasonal impacts, the demand for Gulf County’s tupelo honey never subsides.

Please visit for more information on the festival. For more information on beekeeping, contact Gulf County Extension at 639-3200.

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Coastal Plain Honeycombhead and the Gulf Coast Solitary Bee

Coastal Plain Honeycombhead and the Gulf Coast Solitary Bee

Coastal plain honeycombhead blooms through the summer and early fall on local beaches. Photo credit, Bob Pitts, National Park Service

Over my years of leading people on interpretive trail hikes, I have learned it is particularly important to know the names of the plants that are in bloom. These flowers are eye-catching, and inevitably someone will ask what they are. In fact, one of my favorite wildflower identification books is categorized not by taxonomy, but by bloom color—with a rainbow of tabs down the edge of the book for easy identification.

Wildflower identification can be tough, but color-coded guidebooks are really helpful! Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

In our coastal dunes right now, several plants are showing off vibrant yellow blooms. Seaside goldenrod, coreopsis, and other asters are common. Rarer, and the subject of today’s post, is the Coastal Plain Honeycombhead (Balduina angustifolia). It has bright yellow flowers, but often gets more notice due to its unusual appearance when not in bloom. The basal leaves are bright green and similar in shape and arrangement to a pine cone or bottlebrush (albeit a tiny one), sticking straight up in the sand. The plants are typically found on the more protected back side of primary dunes or further into secondary dunes, a little more inland from the Gulf.

When not in bloom, the plant resembles a green pinecone planted in the sand. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

The plant plays a special role in beach ecology, as a host plant for Gulf fritillary butterflies and the Gulf Coast solitary bee (Hesperapis oraria). The bee is a ground-dwelling pollinator insect that forages only in the barrier islands of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The species is currently the subject of a University of Florida study, as the endemic bee’s sole source of nectar and pollen is the honeycombhead flower. As of publication date, no bee nests have been discovered. Researchers are interested in learning more about the insect’s life cycle and nesting behaviors to better understand and protect its use of local habitats. Based on closely related species, it is believed the Gulf Coast solitary bee builds a multi-chambered nest under the soft sands of the dunes.

Adult female Hesperapis oraria foraging on coastal plain honeycombhead (Balduina angustifolia). Photograph by John Bente, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Park Service.

While the honeycombhead plant is found in peninsular Florida and coastal Georgia, the bee has been identified only in a 100 km² area between Horn Island, MS, and St. Andrews Bay, FL. Luckily for the bee, large swaths of this land are preserved as part of Gulf Islands National Seashore and several state parks. Nonetheless, these coastal dune habitats are threatened by hurricanes, sea level rise, and development (outside the park boundaries).  Due to its rarity and limited habitat, a petition has been submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service for protection under the Endangered Species Act.