Solitary mining bees are pollinators

A solitary ground-dwelling bee in our area is the mining bee (Andrenidae). They are highly beneficial for pollination of a wide variety of fruit trees, berries and other plants and are nonaggressive.

These native bees are similar to honeybees in size and coloring. Females burrow in the ground to create a nest that is typically is seen as a quarter-inch-diameter hole surrounded by a small mound of soil. She makes several cells in each nest, with each cell lined with a liquid produced by the female and stocked with pollen and nectar she has collected. A single egg is deposited in each food mass. Females can be seen hanging out at the entrance to their nests to protect against predators, such as wasps and parasites.

After hatching, the larvae use the stored food as nourishment and then pupate, becoming adult bees. The newly hatched adults, both male and female, overwinter in the nest and emerge in the spring.

Mining bees nest individually, not in colonies like other bees. However, in favorable habitat such as loose or sandy soil, many mining bee nests may appear close to one another, resembling an ant colony. While the female is excavating the nest, the male, which does not collect pollen due to the lack of an area on the hind legs needed to carry pollen, will fly around to chase off intruding bees. The males do not have stingers and will die later in the year.

Use of insecticides for control is not recommended, considering the importance of mining bees to pollination and their solitary and nonaggressive nature.

Varnish fungus

There is an order of plants called fungi (or mushrooms, cankers, rots, conks) that do not obtain their energy from the sun like most "green" plants. The fungi, instead, digest woody cells of host plants to obtain the energy and nutrients they need to live.

"Saprophytic" fungi attach to dead plants and cause decomposition. They are important to the recycling of nutrients and are why dead trees lying on the ground decompose after a number of years. "Parasitic" fungi attach to living organisms and often cause internal rot, sometimes killing the host plant. Often it is the old, weak or damaged trees that are invaded by parasitic fungi.

A relatively short-lived tree that always seems to be infected with fungi is the black locust. It is relatively uncommon to see an old locust tree without a number of conks growing on it. The varnish fungus (Ganoderma lucidum) is a common fungus of black locusts, causing a white rot of woody tissue in the roots and main stem of the tree. This fungus can cause the eventual demise of the host plant in five to 10 years.

The Ganoderma mushroom is part of a family of mushrooms known as the Reishi or Lingzhi mushrooms that have been used for thousands of years in traditional Oriental medicine.

Colonists made charcoal from Ganoderma and other tree conks since they burned much slower and hotter than traditional wood charcoal.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 5/1/2011