One of the curious aspects of native plantings in Boston parks is that they fascinate one prominent non-native insect; the honey bee. Over the weekend I observed honeybees swarming over the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginium) on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Wharf District parks; on Wednesday, I saw another honeybee convention on the Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) at Ramler Park in the Fenway. There were bumblebees and other native pollinators feasting as well, but the honey bees dominated the field (well, the planting bed).

Like many, many other plants, animals, and people around Boston, honey bees arrived from Europe. The first report of honey bees in New England is dated 1641; any application they may have made to join the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendents was probably not well-received. (Pause here, dear reader, and imagine what it must have been like to spend six weeks on a wooden boat on uncertain seas with a swarm of bees on board). Unlike some of America’s most prominent non-native organisms—Norway rats and cockroaches—honeybees tend to draw attention when they gather in urban areas. People tend to notice swarms of bees; one Somerville beekeeper reports that schoolchildren regularly inform him, “You got bees on your roof!”

The honeybees on the Greenway and in Ramler Park might be living in a nice rotting log somewhere in Franklin Park; honeybees are known to range up to five miles to find their food. But there are plenty of flowers between Franklin Park and the Greenway. The bees are much more likely to be being kept somewhere nearby. Where? Where would bees live without attracting attention?

Boston Francophile and Union Park Press staffer Shelby Larsson revealed the most likely explanation: the InterContinental Boston has free rooms for bees–ca. 120,000 of them. They supply some of the honey used in the InterContinental’s restaurant Miel, which is, well, the French humans’ word for honey. I’m sure the InterContinental’s bees call it something else; they’re supposed to be a “docile Italian strain” (are Italians supposed to be docile?) according to the Boston Globe.

Other Boston-area bee outposts include the Somerville Community Garden, which just celebrated National Honey Bee Day  with Russian bees (they do better in colder climates, no doubt because of the vodka they have stashed in the back) and the Boston Nature Center, and five other gardens and farms featured in the August 20 Tour De Hives sponsored by NOFA Massachusetts. If you missed your opportunity to bike around looking at bees, do not despair: this Saturday NOFA is sponsoring a workshop at the Boston Nature Center in Mattapan titled “Honey Harvest: From Hive to Jar. For 25 bucks, you’ll get to watch a beekeeper robbing innocent little hard-working immigrant insects of all their winter food –and if you register early enough, you’ll get a beekeeper’s veil to arm yourself against their wrath.

If all that’s too much trouble, or ethically disturbing, or might inspire anaphylactic shock, you can go hire Boston-based Best Bees to manage a backyard hive for you. Dr. Noah Wilson-Rich, the Best Bee guy, is a Tufts Phd researching vaccines to prevent bee scourge Colony Collapse Disorder when he’s not out wrangling very small livestock. If you would prefer to avoid all contact with stinging insects, Follow the Honey near Harvard Square. According to the store’s web site, Follow the Honey sells

  • Varietal honeys from all fifty United States
  • Massachusetts & New England local honey
  • Honey from around the Planet Earth…    and
  • BEE EVERYTHING!
I’m sure we all aspire to bee everything;  perhaps we’ll all bee one with the universe someday. In the meantime, we can appreciate how native plants can support diverse communities–like Italian bees living in French restaurants on land that didn’t even exist 400 years ago. How sweet is that?