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March 20, 2011

Why Bees Collect Pollen in Baskets

by Val Reynolds

A visit to a local fifteenth century churchyard on the first sunny day that enticed us out of the house, reminded me of the uniqueness of pollen colours. For years I was completely unaware of how each plant produces a different pollen colour and that because honeybees collect pollen from only one source at a time it is easy to see the colours. The bee adds a tiny amount of nectar to the pollen as it collects it which makes the pollen stay on the bee’s pollen basket, which is in fact on just one strand on each rear leg.

For instance in this picture of a bee in the churchyard on a white anemone blanda – usually a purply/blue colour –  you can see the pollen is a creamy white. Snowdrops provide a red pollen and dandelions a reddish yellow. There is a fascinating page on the Bristol Beekeepers website showing pollen colours for a variety of plants.

This fantastic image by Dave – see his website –  is clearer, the bee is on plum blossom.

So why do bees collect pollen? It is a source of protein, fat, starch and vitamins and fed to bee larvae along with honey and a little of what is called queen jelly, a secretion from the glands in the heads of worker bees. A well written Wikipedia page gives more in depth information.

You might this website of artist Valerie Littlewood, interesting, she is fascinated by all things bee, who now lives in Florida.

You may wonder why bumblebees’ pollen baskets don’t have similar colours, it’s because they are gather pollen from a variety of plants so the colours are all mixed up.

Interestingly Anna Pavord writes in The Independent Magazine about the historical daffodils she has in her garden that were collected from churchyards and abandoned gardens by Alan Street of Avon Bulbs and are now available on their website. Sadly they are now completely sold out … but will be ready to order in May to plant in the autumn.

I’d quite like to grow some dwarf narcissi under the cherry trees and have made a another note in the diary to get in touch with the Yorkshire growers Miniature Bulbs later this year. I’ll have a hard job deciding on which ones to plant, they are all utterly gorgeous!

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

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