Tag Archives: bees on flowers

Flowers for the bees and the excitement of a swarm.

Over the past few weeks I have been watching for bees in our garden, wondering how their numbers would be affected by the poor winter and late spring. A few bees came to the blossom on our neighbour’s apple tree but about a week ago we had an influx of bees when the raspberries came in to flower. Although I love the fruit, I had never been very impressed by raspberry flowers. Honeybees don’t share my sentiments and for a short period the raspberry flowers were very popular with these bees. Here is a picture taken about a week ago.
honeybee on raspberries

The bumblebees also tried the raspberry blossom but once the patch of comfrey at the bottom of the garden was decorated with its pastel flowers, there was no contest. Especially in the recent warm sunshine there has been a steady stream of bumblebees buzzing very audibly around the flowers. Here are some pictures, also taken about a week ago.  The first two show Common Carder Bees on raspberries and on comfrey. I love the details of bee anatomy these pictures show.  There is also one of another bumblebee on comfrey, probably a Buff Tailed Bumblebee, although it is difficult to be sure.

[I have been told that it is actually a Garden Bumblebee, see Comments]

bumblebee on raspberry
Common Carder Bee on raspberry
bumblebee on comfrey 3
Common Carder Bee on comfrey
bumblebee on comfrey
Bumblebee on comfrey

The town where I live, Totnes, has a busy Friday market. With the new season’s early holidaymakers the market felt busier than ever but there were also visitors of a different kind this week. At the market last Friday, one of the traders asked me if I had seen “the bees”. They went on to tell me that, earlier that morning, a swarm of honeybees had appeared over the market like a cloud, turning the air black for a short time. The swarm was still there, but now high in a tree at the edge of the Market Square. I had never seen this phenomenon before; the swarm was now a “lump of bees” hanging from a branch with a few bees flying round it. I had no camera with me so I could not take photos but it looked very like the pictures I had seen. I wondered how the swarm would be collected as it was about 20 feet above ground but apparently later that day the bees decided to fly off somewhere else.

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.