Bees and Weeds: OSU Arboretum Home To Pollinator Habitat

May 26, 2015

The White House recently released what it calls a national strategy to promote the health of honey bees.  Ohio State University is taking steps in that direction.

The sound of urban Columbus invades the park-like setting of Ohio State’s Chadwick Arboretum.  But it does not distract Sharon Treaster, a retired OSU horticulturalist, who works to make the arboretum more attractive to bees.

“I absolutely am finding more and more to love about them.  There’s just a feeling of watching them go about their work, watching them pack that pollen in.  It’s amazing.  They do so much,” Treaster says.

And Treaster has done so much for bees; long before the White House effort to increase bee populations.  Bees need a wide variety of flowering plants that bloom at various times throughout the growing season.  So Treaster often takes shovel in hand and adds or rearranges plants at Chadwick. 

“I have lots of Goldenrod and Bee Balm in this particular area. So what I’m going to do is remove those plants and add the Rattlesnake Master,” Treaster says.

Rattlesnake Master gets its name from Native Americans who used it as an antidote to snake venom.  The plant attracts an incredibly diverse variety of insects, especially bees.

“It blooms in the middle of the summer: July, August. It has a very unique flower; it is a round ball that when it’s in bloom smells like honey.  And it’s very good for short-tongued bees,” Treaster says.

A sign at Ohio State's Chadwick Arboretum touts that the space on campus is trying to bring the pollin back.
Credit Sam Hendren / WOSU News

  These bees are in a hive inside a lab at Ohio State.  A tube gives them access to the outside to a rooftop garden where they can go about the business of pollinating. 

It’s hard to understate the value of bees.  They’re critical to U.S. agriculture.  A Cornell University study found the value of honey bee pollination is $15 billion annually.

“Bees are our most effective pollinators. Honey bees as well as wild unmanaged bees are the best pollinators,” says Denise Ellsworth, an Ohio State University entomologist. 

“Honey bees pollinate the majority of our agricultural crops but not all of our agricultural crops.  Bumble bees are actually better pollinators of crops like cranberries and blueberries and greenhouse tomatoes and that sort of thing.  But honey bees do the majority of agricultural pollination,” Ellsworth says. 

But as more and more wildflowers disappear from lawns, fencerows and roadsides, so do the bees.  The Obama administration’s Pollinator Health Task Force wants to restore or enhance 7 million acres of U.S. land for bees.  OSU’s Chadwick Arboretum is doing its part, in in the heart of metropolitan Columbus.  Arboretum director Mary Maloney.

“We have to put out great effort to ensure that environments of all sorts are protected so that these populations of plants, animals, butterflies, can thrive in our very urban environment,” Maloney says.

The pollinator garden is in the northern section of Chadwick Arboretum. It’s part of the Prairies Grasses and Monarch Waystation.