Natives vs. Non-natives
You might wonder what the difference between native and non-native plants are to a bee? A flower is a flower, right? Not necessarily, but why might that be? Native bees have evolved over thousands of years with native plants and thus formed tight relationships with these plants. Some plants have become so specialized that they rely on one or only a few types of bees to pollinate them. Bees even time the emergence from their nests with the bloom of their preferred host flowers. At different times of year, different bees will be flying, as they are seasonal. Some bees emerge in early spring when the first plants begin to bloom as the temperature warms, while others come out later in the summer and even into the fall.
Have you noticed though, that most of plants available at nurseries and stores are exotic, not locally native plants? People have become fascinated with showy flowers from far off places and have bred plants to look more beautiful and interesting, but bees don't always appreciate this. Most non-native plants are not attractive to bees because they are not familiar with them, as they did not evolve together. There are always exceptions, but for the most part bees will stick to native plants when they are out foraging. Dr. Frankie at the University of California, Berkeley surveyed the urban city of Berkeley and recorded over a thousand different plant types planted in people's yards. A majority of the plants he found were non-native, with only a small percentage of them being native. He then monitored the plants to discover their level of attractiveness and found that although non-native plants made up the majority of plant material, they were found to be attractive to bees at a very low level. The small number of native plants however, were largely attractive to bees, even though they were found in small numbers.
CA poppies, African blue basil, and tansy-leaf phacelia
We recommend researching native plants in your area when selecting plants for your garden. Native plants are adapted to the local climate and don't usually require much maintenance after they become established. Some exceptions do exist, and a small number of non-native plants were found to be measurably attractive to native bees (California study). Trial and error is the best way to see if some of your favorite non-natives are attractive to bees. Start with a large patch of flowers (at least 1 meter squared) and when the plants are in full bloom on a warm, sunny day, make observations on what you see. Are bees visiting your flowers and collecting nectar and pollen regularly, or do they stop by, but leave quickly without foraging? Many bees are generalists and will "check out" all different types of flowers, but that doesn't mean they stick around to collect the sweet nectar or brightly colored pollen. A few attractive non-native plants that work well in this area of Florida include, Salvia 'Mystic Spires', tansy leaf phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia), African blue basil, cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus and C. sulphureus) and sky flower (Duranta erecta).