Most plant species — almost 90%, in fact— rely on pollinators to reproduce, and bees are among the most numerous and efficient pollinator species in the world. Bees contribute to complex, interconnected ecosystems that allow a diverse number of species to co-exist. By pollinating trees, bushes, and herbaceous plants, bees are important for the food production of all the other animals and birds in the forest ecosystem dependent on it for berries, seeds, and fruits.
Long before Europeans brought honeybees to North America, native bees pollinated much of the continent’s plants. According to the U.S. Forest Service, native bees are more efficient pollinators of native crops. This is due to their unique ability to perform buzz pollination, a process where a bee uses a rapid vibration movement to loosen pollen. By placing their thorax close to anthers and vibrating their flight muscles, they release pollen. When European honeybees were first introduced to America, they were easily naturalized. They adapted to the nectar flows of local plants and developed resilience by coping with the challenges in their new environment (weather, predators, and disease).
With nearly 20 years of phenology and observations related to flora and fauna on Toxaway Mountain, staff and founders have long dreamed of adding a bee yard at the Reserve. With the help of volunteer Will Garvey, we were able to identify honeybees on our flowering plants. This eureka moment led us to believe that swarms of honeybees were living on the mountain, and we could potentially capture a live swarm. Will has been enamored with honeybees since he was a child; currently, he manages his bee yard and six hives at Flat Rock Park, NC. He and SHR staff worked together to select areas to host bait hives last spring in hopes of capturing a wild swarm. We monitored the activity around the bait hives and, by late May, we were confident we had captured one! Will retrieved the bait hive and moved it into a permanent box while we scouted the ideal location for our bee yard. Sun, wind, and rain exposure were key elements in the decision-making. Our bees are now safely ensconced in their new home, protected from predators by an electric fence powered by solar energy. Over time, we plan to add more hives to our mountain ecosystem. And, hopefully soon, visitors will be able to take home Southern Highlands Reserve honey! The apiary at Southern Highlands Reserve is lovingly donated by family and friends in memory of Justin Walter McCart, a lifelong lover of nature and the great outdoors.