Lurking by lungwort and the spring’s first bee.

Here is a short piece I wrote after a visit to the Lamb Garden in Totnes on March 9th together with a poem by Thomas Hardy.

It’s that time of year when I spend more time than I should peering at patches of lungwort.   The wild variety (Pulmonaria officinalis) has been flowering for several weeks here in Devon and now has a mixture of pinkish-red and purplish-blue trumpet-shaped flowers above fleshy, white-spotted green leaves.   The weather has kept most insects away but this morning, there is a hint of warmth in the air and finally, I see what I have been anticipating. 

It’s one of the first bees to emerge each year, and I get that first time thrill again.  I don’t see it arrive but suddenly it’s there hovering by the lungwort, hanging in the air as if working out which flower to sample.  As it hovers, I notice the mostly buff-haired abdomen and thorax, also the pale yellow mask-like face and is that the tongue hanging in readiness?  This chunky insect might be mistaken for a bumblebee but is a very fresh male hairy-footed flower bee (Anthophora plumipes), usually the first solitary bee species to appear in Totnes each spring.

Having chosen a flower, he settles down to feed, pushing his head in deeply to access nectar.  His legs are splayed out gripping either side of the corolla, displaying the silky hairs that decorate them, celebrated in his common name.  He doesn’t stay long, darting to another flower with a brief hover in between, buzzing loudly. 

Lungwort flowers start out red and acquire the blue colour as they age.  Red flowers contain more nectar than blue and the Anthophora feed preferentially from these red, higher forage flowers.  This colour code means they don’t waste time visiting low-nectar blooms and may visit several plants looking for high nectar flowers, increasing the chance of cross pollination.

The male then notices me and hovers, buzzing loudly and aggressively in my direction before departing in a huff.  Other males appear and occasionally two find themselves together on the flowers. This also doesn’t go down well and they depart, carving circles in the air around one another.

………………………………………………………….

I wanted to include a poem to go with these spring observations so here is Thomas Hardy meditating on the topic in “The Year’s Awakening” .

How do you know that the pilgrim track

Along the belting zodiac

Swept by the sun in his seeming rounds

Is traced by now to the Fishes’ bounds

And into the Ram, when weeks of cloud

Have wrapt the sky in a clammy shroud,

And never as yet a tinct of spring

Has shown in the Earth’s apparelling;

     O vespering bird, how do you know,

          How do you know?

How do you know, deep underground,

Hid in your bed from sight and sound,

Without a turn in temperature,

With weather life can scarce endure,

That light has won a fraction’s strength,

And day put on some moments’ length,

Whereof in merest rote will come,

Weeks hence, mild airs that do not numb;

     O crocus root, how do you know,

          How do you know?

6 thoughts on “Lurking by lungwort and the spring’s first bee.”

  1. I’ve been thinking the same thoughts as Thomas Hardy recently without knowing it! I understand the spring when it is warm and sunny but this year I have wondered at the awakening through the grey, cold weather. I have seen an Anthophora on the red dead-nettle but I have not tried for a photograph yet. You have inspired me to try. Amelia

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    1. Thanks Amelia. Spring has struggled to get going here too and it clearly did for Hardy that year. Finally, today we have some sunshine which feels good. I look forward to seeing your Anthophora photos.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have Lungwort in the garden, it is a joy to see the flowers this time of year especially the blue ones. I also like the leaf markings later in the year. I must look out to see bees feeding on them.

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  3. I think you’re the only person I have ever known who lurks by the lungwort, Philip! I don’t even know lungwort, but I can see why you’re so interested. And the poem is perfect. Welcome spring!

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