Blue (and Violet and Purple) for Bees

Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens' (Honeywort)
The common name of Cerinthe is ‘Honeywort’ and bees love it.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed that blues and purples are my favourite colours in the garden.

Some of the darker flowers have a lovely velvety look – petunias and the deep purple morning glory ‘Grandpa Otts’ spring to mind. They just ask you to stroke them! And at the lighter end of the range, soft violets and lilac-blues are delicately beautiful.

So I’m delighted to read that bees share my attraction to these colours and often prefer blue and violet flowers.

Scientists studying bees’ vision have discovered that, unlike us, bees can see ultraviolet light. This allows bees to see the ultraviolet patterns that flowers use to show them where to find nectar.

(There’s even a colour named ‘bee’s purple’, which is a mixture of yellow and ultraviolet light and is visible to bees but not to us.)

Blue Olearia-1064
This blue daisy bush (Olearia) looks like an aster but flowers in spring and early summer.

A German scientificΒ studyΒ  of bumblebees also found that (in an area where violet flowers produced the most nectar), they preferred violet over blue. This allowed the bees to collect more nectar than bees that didn’t show a preference.

Apparently the world bees see is a mixture of mostly blue, green and ultraviolet, also yellow and some orange, but no red. Red just looks like a black to bees, but bees have an excellent sense of smell, so that flowers in the red colour range can attract them by scent.

There are already a number of bee-friendly plants in blues and purples in my garden.

Cerinthe (top photo) is a marvelous plant for pollinators because it is especially rich in nectar, giving it the common name of ‘Honeywort’.Β (This cerinthe was photographed in a garden I was visiting in the spring. The cooler temperatures at that time gave it a much darker colouring than my own plants had in the warmth of summer.)

Flowers of Geranium 'Rozanne' with lavender.
Flowers of Geranium ‘Rozanne’ with lavender – a combination sure to attract bees!

The geranium ‘Rozanne’ is now lazily flopping into the lavender bushes beside it, creating a partnership that pleases both me and the bees. This geranium flowers over a long period, so it really earns its place in a bee-border.

Another flower that is popular with bees and that self-sows around my garden is Centaurea montana – the perennial cornflower. It also attracts butterflies and moths, which means it works well as a pollinator magnet. The unusual flower shape and the combination of blue and magenta make it a lovely garden plant.

The daisy bush (Olearia) was photographed in a garden I visited in spring. Apparently it attracts both bees and butterflies – and I’m wondering if I can find a suitable space for one in my own garden…

As you might expect, I’m looking forward to checking out what violet, purple and blue flowers are best for bees. There will, of course, be plenty of other colours too. But, hey, I’m really pleased that my buzzy little friends share my colour preferences!

Flower of Centaurea montana
Centaurea montana is a very easy-to-grow plant that attracts bees, butterflies and moths.

26 thoughts on “Blue (and Violet and Purple) for Bees

  1. You’re an absolute whizz with flower photography Ann! I’m familiar with all these except the blue olearia. We have native olearias very popular with insects. We inherited honeywort in one of our gardens much to my delight – yours is the best photo of it (by far) that I’ve ever seen. Rozanne with lavender is genius!

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    1. Aw, thank you Liz! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ I thought you would probably recognise the olearia…hoping to find a nice sheltered spot in the garden to grow one. I love the honeywort and recently read that you get darker colours in them if the temperatures are low, so must try them a bit earlier or later in the year. (My own were quite pale.)

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      1. The honeywort we inherited were in a dry, hot area so they weren’t wonderful but I still loved them. I imagine they’d do well where we are now – will have to see if the OH is interested!

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  2. Lovely images and a really useful post Ann. I have a small garden bed featuring purple and yellow plants and flowers with some of the bee friendly plants featured here so it’s good to know what to augment them with next year. The cerinthe image is gorgeous, I love that plant, although it doesn’t love me [or my garden] so I’ll have to work harder with that one, especially as it’s so good for the bees.

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    1. Thank you Stephanie – I’m glad you found the post useful! πŸ™‚ Cerinthe likes good drainage and plenty of sun – hope you have better luck with it in future!

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    1. Thank you Phao – I’m glad you like my photos! It’s interesting to watch where the bees go and sometimes to see that the honey bees and the bumblebees are going to different plants.

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  3. The dark blue flowers are stunning! I am not sure I have ever seen anything like them. And I did not know all that about bees and what they see. I was trying to figure out how things would look if red was actually black in our colorful world – hum!

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    1. Thanks Syd! It’s interesting to see flowers on blogs because you get to see all sorts that you’ve never come across before. (And I see things I’d love to grow but would probably not survive here.) I’m glad we can see red – what a lot we would miss out on!

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