About 90 crops in the United States depend upon insects, mainly honey bees, for pollution. This represents $10 billion in crop value and about one-third of the American diet.
But to those who are allergic, the bee sting may be the kiss of death. A Virginia resident writes: "I love plants and gardening but am unable to work outside because of bees. My husband and I are about to purchase a home. Can you suggest any plants that do well without the risk of bees?"
"It is a question I get continuously," says Dr. Dewey M. Caron, University of Maryland professor of entomology, specializing in apiculture (raising and care of bees). Some things might be planted that would not attract bees (or wasps) and there are many more that would be of minor attractiveness.
"Something that doesn't flower or that has a small flower would fit in the category of unatrractiveness," Caron says. "The problem would be wasps attracted to aphids or scale insects that secrete honeydew. Most any evergreen or grass of hemp family member would not be attractive to bees.
"A few flowers are not very attractive to bees. Forsyhtia, for example, is a common shrub that is not attractive. Petunia and tulip are two others. Roses are not very attractive. Basically, plants that breeders have worked with to make showy are usually not too attractive to bees.
"Weeds will bring in bees. Weeds can be controlled with herbicides (weed killing chemicals) very effectively. I feel the problem is more often the yellow jackets and wasps. Bees are present only for a very limited time during flowering.
"Allergic people might go for something attractive to the large bees, like bumble bees and carpenter bees, rather than honey bees. These will seldom if ever sting, but they are larger and people are more afraid of them. Honeysuckle and lilac are examples of plants that large bees like.
"Yellow jackers and wasps are present hunting insects for fresh meat early in the season, June and July, and then for honeydew, nectar, plant secretions later, August and September. The homeowner needs to control these pests and especially the aphids and scale insects to keep these creatures away. They are the real culprits as far as tings, not honey bees and not the bumble or carpenter bee."
Bees are remarkable insects, says Dr. Charles Mason, University of Delaware entomologist who teaches apiculture.
"The reason someone gets stung more than once is because after a bee stings, an odor remains that smells like bananas. The other bees smell it and especially if they're upset, may become more aggressive. I hope eventually we will have colonies more even-tempered than the present ones.
"Bees that are swarming are the least apt to sting. Although no one is sure why, my theory is they are carrying honey from their previous hive. They need this to sustain them while they build the comb for their new nest. With a stomach full of honey, the bees are just too distended to bend themselves into the position required for stinging.
"The trick to avoid getting stung around bee hives is to be gentle with the bees and stay covered. Students wear their own clothes, long sleeves and long pants, and we provide each with a veil and gloves if they want them. As long as you are completely covered, there's little chance of being stung."
Honeybee workers are potential stinging insects, regardless of how gentle they might be, says Dr. Lawrence J. Connor, Ohio State University extension entomologist, apiculture.
"Normally they sting only to defend their colony or themselves. To avoid stings, do not pass directly in front of a colony of bees (work hives from the sides or back) and if bees buzz around you, do not swat vigorously or fight them. This merely attracts more attention to you. Instead, remain still or walk slowly away from the bees into a brushy area, building, or to a vehicle of some sort. Once stung, the site of the wound is highly attractive to other bees.
"If you should get stung by a honeybee, remove the stinger by scraping it off the skin with a knife. Do not squeeze the stung portion, as this will inject a full dose of venom into the skin."