Which plants are best for bees?

10 July 2018

Question

What are the best and worst plants to help out bees?

Answer

Chris Smith was all a buzz with this question for Cambridge Unviersity's Howard Griffiths...

Howard - Bees feed primarily on pollen which has lots of proteins and lots of all of the other components that are needed to feed the larvae and they also feed on nectar. So we heard about the pollen earlier which causes problems through causing hay fever but we also have lots of plants that have co-evolved with insects to produce beautiful flowers and attract insects which then spread the pollen and so those are the sorts of plants that you’d want to plant in your garden. You’d also want to plant some that are going to flower throughout the season early spring through the summer through autumn and just make sure you've got a continuous supply of pollen and nectar.

Chris - So Howard, those are the good guys. But flipping it around a bit then. Are there any things that are particularly bad for pollinators things that look great but they're nice and far but far from nice.
Howard - Well there are some early plants like ferns and conifers that again aren't very good for bees but there are some plants that actually have their own neurotoxins, and rhododendron that invasive plant that causes so much trouble in some of our forests and uplands actually has its own psychoactive neurotoxins called grayanotoxins. They have their very own Novichok which are able to poison, well, people who eat honey that has been made by the bees from rhododendron.

Chris -  So it doesn't poison the bees?

Howard - Some bees are able to tolerate it although it does affect some bees a little bit.

Chris - It seems a bit counterintuitive that plants should seek to poison their pollinators.

Howard - Well it's probably an accident, it's probably that the poison spread through all of the plant to stop animals grazing and also accidentally gets incorporated into the nectar.


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