Dear Miss Floribunda,

I heard on NPR a talk about robot bees that will pollinate crops now that so many bees have died. This sounds like the basis for a horror movie! I can just imagine the panic when the bionic bees turn and try to sting their masters to death!

But what do you and friends such as your Dr. Honeybutter think? Is this really necessary? Is it a good idea?

Nervous on Nicholson Street

Dear Nervous,

First of all, this technology hasn’t been implemented yet. A researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Dr. Eijiro Miyako, has created an ionic liquid gel that, unlike water-based gels, can be reused, and can be attached to tiny horse-hair-covered drones in order to collect and transfer pollen in the way bees do. 

However, the gel is still in planning stages, and — among other serious inconveniences — the drones have to be controlled by humans with remote control devices. 

Dr. Hannah Honeywell (not “Honeybutter”) believes that the first priority is saving the bees that exist, and that it would require extraordinary sophistication for robot bees to be able to have the instinctive sense of timing and infallible discernment that real bees have, not to mention their rarified long-distance, lightning-quick vision in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum.  She believes tiny drones might possibly be useful for pollinating tomatoes, say, in a greenhouse, but she doesn’t see drones replacing bees. 

She is not in the least worried about them potentially becoming a threat to humans — at least not without human intervention. Dr. Honeywell points out that in order for any of these bee facsimiles to sting, someone human would have to attach teensy little stingers. She doubts that this is part of the plan.

Dr. Honeywell turned instead to a real and present horror in Ukraine, and told me how drones are actually going to help benefit bees and people in the upcoming growing season there. Ukraine has historically been the largest producer of honey in the world, but fields are now so filled with land mines that they are too dangerous for humans to enter and cultivate. The Minefields Honey project, a cooperative effort of the Ukrainian government with agrarian company Kernel, Saatchi & Saatchi Ukraine, Dronarium Ukraine and the Union of Beekeepers of Ukraine, has successfully developed drones programmed to fly over fields and drop wildflower seeds. When the flowers develop, real bees will collect pollen and nectar with which to feed larvae and make honey in hives placed in safe areas. 

Hopeful initiatives in our own country, not dependent on drones, include the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s development of Pol-line bees, which are resistant to the Varroa mite and winter cold. 

The United Kingdom has succeeded in nurturing its once nearly extinct native black bee back to healthy numbers. Overdevelopment had destroyed this bee’s habitat, a great misfortune because, as a native species, the black bee is resistant to diseases and problems inherent to the British climate.  

There are helpful things we in Hyattsville can do for bees, too. We can stop using poisons in our gardens, and we can grow the native plants bees love. 

My own favorite bee-attractor for spring is Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans), whose fluffy flowers of celestial blue make me stop and hover too.  

Though it’s admittedly a bit gangly, I also like spiderwort/Widow’s Tears (Tradescantia) because it comes in a number of lovely shades of twilight mauve, lavender and violet. 

There are lots of native summer flowers that attract bees, but since I’m playing favorites here, I must particularly recommend tickseed (Coreopsis), various coneflowers (Echinacea), and the Maryland state flower (Rudbeckia hirta), popularly known as the black-eyed Susan.

A sure draw in autumn are the various asters with goldenrod (Solidago), whose tones of topaz and amethyst harmonize so resplendently that they turn my prose purple. These all attract both our vitally important native bees, as well as the honeybees that a number of apiculturists in Hyattsville are harboring.

To acquire some of these and other plants, you might come to the next meeting and plant exchange of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society. It takes place on Saturday, April 20, at 10 a.m. at the home of Joe Buriel and Dave Roeder, 3909 Longfellow Street. 

Miss Floribunda writes about gardening for the Life & Times. You may email her at