Megachile, Leaf-Cutter Bees

A leaf-cutter bee removes a segment from a leaf of Rhododendron viscosum, swamp azalea, in my urban backyard native plant garden and wildlife habitat (National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat #141,173). You can see other segments – both completed and interrupted – on the same and adjacent leaves.

Like carpenter bees, Leaf-cutters are solitary bees that outfit their nests in tunnels in wood. Unlike carpenter bees, they’re unable to chew out their own tunnels, and so rely on existing ones. This year, I’ve observed a large leaf-cutter – yet to be identified – reusing a tunnel bored in previous years by the large Eastern carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica.

They use the leaf segments to line the tunnels. The leaves of every native woody plant in my garden has many of these arcs cut from the leaves. The sizes of the arcs range widely, from dine-sized down to pencil-points, reflecting the different sizes of the bee species responsible.

Tiny arcs cut from the leaves of Wisteria frutescens in my backyard.

I speculate that different species of bees associate with different species of plants in my gardens. The thickness and texture of the leaves, their moisture content, and their chemical composition must all play a part. I’ve yet to locate any research on this; research, that is, that’s not locked up behind a paywall by the scam that passes for most of scientific publishing.

Although I’ve observed the “damage” on leaves in my garden for years, this was the first time I witnessed the behavior. Even standing in the full sun, I got chills all over my body. I recognize now that the “bees with big green butts” I’ve seen flying around, but unable to observe closely, let alone capture in a photograph, have been leaf-cutter bees.

As a group, they’re most easily identified by another difference: they carry pollen on the underside of their abdomen. A bee that has pollen, or fuzzy hairs, there will be a leaf-cutter bee.

An unidentified Megachile, leaf-cutter bee, I found in my garden.

Another behavior I observe among the leaf-cutters in my garden is that they tend to hold their abdomens above the line of their body, rather than below, as with other bees. Perhaps this is a behavioral adaptation to protect the pollen they collect. In any case, when I see a “bee with a perky butt,” I know it’s a leaf-cutter bee.

When they’re not collecting leaves, they’re collecting pollen. Having patches of different plant species that bloom at different times of the year is crucial to providing a continuous supply of food for both the adults and their young.

An individual bee will visit different plant species (yes, I follow them to see what they’re doing). And different leaf-cutter species prefer different flowers. All the plants I’ve observed them visit share a common trait: they have tight clusters of flowers holding many small flowers; large, showy flowers hold no interest for the leaf-cutter bees.

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BugGuide: Genus Megachile

The Years Have Been Kind

This Spring has been a season of garden anniversaries for me. Six years ago, my partner and I bought our home in Flatbush. In the first month after closing, I began weeding, composting, and envisioning the gardens. Five years ago, I started this blog to document what I was doing and record my explorations.

It’s also been a season to celebrate the gardens. Last month, for New York City Wildflower Week (NYCWW), I opened my native plant garden for a garden tour for the first time. This Sunday, June 12, the gardens will be opened again, this time for the Victorian Flatbush House Tour, to benefit the Flatbush Development Corporation (FDC). And in May, I registered my garden as a Certified Wildlife Habitat (#141,173) with the National Wildlife Federation.

My original vision for the backyard native plant garden is largely realized. I’m close to completing development of the planting beds. The shrubs and perennials have grown and spread; there is little bare ground. Unlike me, the garden looks better than it did six years ago. Take a look, and let me know what you think.


By view of the garden

Entrance from the driveway.
Backyard, view along the back path
Arbor Entrance

View West, toward the back of the house.
Backyard, view toward the house
View West

View North, toward our next-door neighbor.
Backyard, view away from garage
View North

View East, toward our back neighbor.
Backyard, view away from the house
View East

View South, toward our garage. The entrance from the driveway is to the right.
Backyard, view toward the garage
View South

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My Garden


NYC Wildflower Week
Victorian Flatbush House Tour, Flatbush Development Corporation
Garden for Wildlife, National Wildlife Federation

Spring Cleaning on Cortelyou Road

The daffodils are pushing up along Cortelyou Road and they would be so much prettier if they don’t bloom in the midst of garbage! Join Sustainable Flatbush and your neighbors from the Beverley Square West Association to help clean up the tree beds.

When: Sunday, March 21st
Where: Meet up at 10am in front of the Library, near the Greenmarket tent, at the corner of Argyle and Cortelyou Roads.
If you miss the meet-up, look for us along Cortelyou Road between Coney Island Avenue and East 16th Street.

Bring gloves and rakes if you have them; we will also have some to share. Children are welcome to join us!

Cortelyou Daffodils

It Begins

Update, 2009-12-26: Holiday Lights 2009

The Wizard of Slocum Place does it again, with help from his next-door neighbor.

284 Stratford Road, Beverley Square West

For best effect, view this photo on a black background.

I took this snapshot last night with my little Nikon P&S while walking home from dinner at Mimi’s Hummus on Cortelyou Road with Blog Widow. Tonight’s snow will create an ideal wintery photo-op.

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Happy Holidays, 2008-12-19

Saturday, October 24: Meet the Trees

Fraxinus americana, White Ash, one of the street trees that will be on the tour.
Fraxinus americana, White Ash, 1216 Beverly Road

On Saturday, October 24, Sustainable Flatbush will host its first Fall Street Tree Walking Tour. And I’m looking forward to once again be one of the guides for the tour.


Brooklyn, NY October 16, 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009—Rain or Shine

Based on the success of the annual walking tour events in celebration of Arbor Day and spring in bloom, Sustainable Flatbush is now introducing the inaugural Fall Street Tree Walking Tour. The tour guides will be Tracey Hohman, professional gardener, and Chris Kreussling, aka Flatbush Gardener, both neighborhood residents.

Sustainable Flatbush Street Tree Walking Tour, Arbor Day 2009. That’s me in the middle, next to the tree. Photo by Keka

Throughout the tour, your street tree guide will:

  • identify trees and their characteristics
  • share interesting facts
  • explore local tree history
  • discuss the many ways street trees benefit the environment
  • explain how to obtain and care for street trees
  • and much more!

This free event is a perfect opportunity to visit Victorian Flatbush in the heart of Brooklyn and experience the neighborhood’s breathtaking street trees—including some that are more than 100 years old!

Tours start at Sacred Vibes Apothecary, 376 Argyle Road, just south of Cortelyou Road

View Sustainable Flatbush Fall 2009 Street Tree Walking Tour in a larger map


  • Take the Q train to Cortelyou Road Station and walk west after exiting the station toward Argyle Road.
  • Buses that stop on or near Cortelyou Road include the B23, B103, B68, and BM1,2,3,4 and x29 express busess.
  • As a reminder, check the MTA website for schedule and service advisories before you head out.

Tours depart at 11:00 AM and 12:00 NOON.
Tours take about 2 hours to complete and are 1 mile in length.
This is a rain or shine event – please dress for the weather!

For more information, please contact Sustainable Flatbush

Foliage Report

The New York State Fall Foliage Report for the week of October 14-20 is reporting that NYC is “just changing.”

FoliageMap 20091016

I can confirm that, with Dogwoods, White Ash and now Locust trees all in full color. Sweet Gum and Oaks are starting to turn. If cooler weather persists through the week, peak colors will probably arrive just in time for Halloween on the 31st. Still, there should be lots of color for us to enjoy on the 24th.

A Japanese Maple on Marlborough Rad in Prospect Park South, part of the tour, November 2007
196 Marlborough Road, Prospect Park South


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Fall Approaches, 2009-09-26


Fall Foliage Walking Tour October 24th!, Sustainable Flatbush

Plant Trees in Ditmas Park West, Sunday, 4/26

I helped plant this Zelkova serrata, Japanese Zelkova, last year.
Tamping in

Part of the Arbor Day weekend activities in Flatbush, on Sunday you can help plant 9 trees in Ditmas Park West, one of the neighborhoods of Victorian Flatbush.

Meet at 10am at 458 Rugby Road [GMAP]. Bring your own tools and gloves, if you have them. Wear sturdy work boots, and prepare to get dirty! No rain is predicated through the weekend, so you won’t have to deal with last year’s mud. Possibly record highs – temperatures in the upper 80s – are predicted for Sunday, so wear your sunscreen and bring lots of water to stay hydrated.

At the meeting place, they will form work crews which will fan out to different locations. Some will plant trees, some will do cleanups. At 1pm, folks meet up for lunch.

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2008 Ditmas Park West Tree Planting

Flatbush Tree Tour, Saturday, April 25

2009.04.23 IMPORTANT TRANSIT SERVICE ADVISORY: The Manhattan-bound Q train will only stop at Church Avenue between Kings Highway and Prospect Park this weekend. Coney Island bound trains will make all stops.

Argyle Road in my neighborhood of Beverley Square West in Flatbush, Brooklyn, one of the blocks that will be on Saturday’s tour.
364 (left), 358, and 352 Argyle Road, Beverley Square West

This Saturday, April 25, join Sustainable Flatbush in our second year of celebrating Arbor Day and the magnificent street trees of Brooklyn’s Victorian Flatbush. The Sustainable Flatbush Arbor Day 2009 Street Tree Walking Tour reprises last year’s route, visiting the Victorian Flatbush neighborhoods of Beverley Square West and Prospect Park South.

Tours will depart at 11am and 12noon from Third Root Community Health Center at 380 Marlborough Road, just south of Cortelyou Road. [GMAP] Take the Q train to Cortelyou Road and walk one block west (left) to Marlborough Road after exiting the station.

View Sustainable Flatbush Arbor Day 2009 Street Tree Walking Tour in a larger map

Your tour guides will be my neighbor, Tracey Hohman, a professional gardener, and yours truly. Throughout the tour, we will:

  • identify trees and their characteristics
  • share interesting facts
  • explore local tree history
  • discuss the many ways street trees benefit the environment
  • explain how to obtain and care for street trees
  • and more

This FREE tour is a little over a mile in length and lasts approximately 90 minutes. Tours will take place rain or shine. Please gear appropriately for the weather and walk: sunscreen, comfortable walking shoes, water, and so on.

The area boasts a rich variety of both street trees and ornamental trees and shrubs. On the tour, you will see:

  • Acer platanoides, Norway Maple
  • Aesculus hippocastanum, Horsechestnut
  • Amelancier, Serviceberry
  • Betula nigra, River Birch
  • Cercis canadensis, Redbud
  • Cornus florida, Flowering Dogwood
  • Cryptomeria japonica, Japanese Red Cedar
  • Ginkgo biloba, Ginkgo
  • Gleditsia triacanthos, Honey Locust
  • Liquidambar styraciflua, Sweetgum
  • Metasequoia glyptostroboides, Dawn Redwood
  • Pinus strobus, White Pine
  • Platanus x acerifolia, London Plane
  • Pyrus calleryana, Flowering Pear, Callery Pear
  • Quercus palustris, Pin Oak
  • Quercus robur ‘Fastigiata’, Columnar English Oak
  • Sophora japonica, Japanese Pagoda Tree, Scholar Tree
  • Tsuga canadensis, Eastern Hemlock
  • Ulmus americana, American Elm
  • … and many more

For more information about the tour, please email garden AT sustainableflatbush DOT org.

Sustainable Flatbush brings neighbors together to discuss, educate, and advocate for sustainable living in our Brooklyn neighborhood and beyond.


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Arbor Day posts


Sustainable Flatbush



To request a free street tree, fill out the form at

Million Trees NYC
Trees New York

Online Tree ID Guide, Arbor Day Foundation


Dirr, Michael A. Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Timber Press. ISBN-13: 9780881924046

Happy Holidays

The MTA thwarted our plans to attend a concert of a women’s choir this evening. So Blog Widow and I turned back and walked around our neighborhood, taking in the snow-beings and holiday lights.

Enjoy this slideshow of my Flickr set of photos from the evening. For best viewing, click the play button, then click the icon with four arrows in the lower-right to view it full-screen on a black background.

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Flickr set

Upcoming local events

It’s a busy season for tours and such. Here is a highly selective (ie: things I would go to, if I have the time and/or my schedule permits) list of (mostly) local events. Details for all these as I know them are in my Google Calendar in the sidebar.

  • Wednesday, May 21, 6pm, Prospect Park Audubon Center: Bee Watchers 2008 Orientation
  • Thursday, May 22, 3pm: Cortelyou Road Streetscape Project Ribbon Cutting & Opening Ceremony
  • Sunday, June 1, 12noon: Prospect Lefferts Gardens House Tour
  • Saturday, June 7 and Sunday, June 8: The 1st Annual Flatbush Artists Studio Tour (FAST)
  • Sunday, June 8, 11am: Brownstone Brooklyn Garden Walk (not Flatbush, but not to be missed if you’re interested in urban gardens and gardening)
  • Sunday, June 8, 1pm: Victorian Flatbush House Tour
  • Thursday, June 12, 7pm: City Planning Commission presents proposed zoning changes for Victorian Flatbush (northern half of CB14)
  • Saturday, June 21, 11am: Newkirk Avenue Block Party

I am always on the lookout for opportunities to visit and promote gardens in Brooklyn. If you are organizing or know of any garden walks or tours in Brooklyn and would like me to publicize it, please email me the details. My email address is in my profile, available in the sidebar.