The flowers and the bees

Here, I have been inspired by Emily Heath’s post on her Adventuresinbeeland’s blog.  Emily posted some pictures of bees foraging in Elthorne Park, west London and asked “What flowers are out near you?  Are you seeing plenty of wild bees out and about?”

Accordingly, I have taken some pictures of bees foraging in our south Devon garden and in locations nearby.

One of the favourites of bees all summer has been a patch of Comfrey which grows at the bottom of our garden.  I have the impression that it is favoured by bumblebees and here is a recent picture of a Common Carder Bee (?).

Common Carder Bumblebee on Comfrey

Another long term favourite, but this time apparently preferred by the honey bees (although not exclusively), has been the hardy geranium (probably Wargrave Pink) that occurs in patches in our garden.

Honeybee on Hardy Geranium

The striking orange Montbretia are currently in flower and here is a bumblebee (buff tailed?) foraging.

Bumblebee on Montbretia

Lavender, when it is still in flower, continues to be popular especially with honeybees.

Honeybees and Lavender

I also found bumblees enjoying Bergamot growing in a local community garden.

Bumblebee on Bergamot

The current star-turn, however, is a patch of of Purple-loosestrife growing by our pond.  This is a native wild flower of the UK and grows at the margins of streams, ponds and rivers.

Purple-loosestrife

The plants shown here are about six feet tall and, whenever the weather allows, are covered with honey bees.

Honeybees on Purple-loosestrife

In the UK, preserving the plant is seen as an important part of conserving wetland habitats.  Exactly the opposite view is taken in the US where the plant is viewed as an agressive invader and referred to in the same terms as the triffids in John Wyndham’s novel.  Purple-loosestrife was brought to the US by settlers early in the 19th century.  It rapidly colonised rivers overgrowing native species and destroying wetland habitats.

Let’s finish with an artistic depiction of the plant.  Millais, the 19th century pre-Raphaelite artist, painted a notable picture of Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Ophelia by Millais

If you look carefully on the right of the picture you can see the tall stems of Purple-loosestrife.  It seems that Millais chose to include these flowers because “long purples” was a traditional name for this plant and because of Shakespeare’s apparent use of this name in describing Ophelia’s death garland:

….. long purples,

That liberal shepherds do give a grosser name,

but our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them.

Richard Mabey in Flora Britannica suggests that Shakespeare was more likely referring to Early Purple Orchids and the “grosser name” was “dog-stones” meaning “dog’s testicles”.  This was all a bit too strong for Victorian sensibilities so Millais chose the seemlier interpretation.

Another of my bee-related articles can be read here.

6 thoughts on “The flowers and the bees”

    1. One of mine too. Apparently the background was painted on location and Ophelia herself was painted in the studio. Millais searched for a suitable location and eventually found a site by a river at Ewell in Surrey which provided “the exact composition of arboreal and floral richness he had dreamed of”.

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