August – Lavender
The first thing you notice about Lavender (Lavandula angustifola) is the aromatic smell that wafts through the air. In the Lavender family, sometimes referred to as Genus, there are 47 different species. The Genus includes annual (short lived) herbaceous perennial plants as well as shrub like perennials. In most species of lavender the leaf shape is simple whilst a select few species have toothed or pinnate (feather shaped) leaves. This variety is relative to the location where the plant natively grew and evolved to adapt to its surroundings.
Flowers form in whorls. This botany term means that the flowers radiate from a single point and then wrap around the stem. A whorl consists of at least 3 elements. The flowers can be blue, violet, lilac or blackish purple. Different varieties of lavender grow to different heights but they can be anywhere between small flowers to larger shrubs.
Bees absolutely love Lavender. A recent study that the University of Sussex recently undertook shows that Lavender is one of the top 5 flowers that bees like to visit. In particular bumblebees seemed particularly attracted to varieties of lavender including Grosso, Hidcote Giant and Gros blue.
It’s not just bees that use lavender, mankind have been using it for centuries. Ancient Egyptians used it in the mummification process as well as for a perfume. When Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened in 1922, the smell of lavender could still be faintly recognised, even after nearly 3000 years. Both the Greeks and the Romans exploited the flower for its antiseptic qualities but the Arabs were the first civilisation to actively farm it.
Another example of humans using lavender for health benefits is during the Black Plague in 17th Century England. Supposedly, the fresh smelling lavender could ward off the plague- but we now know this to be completely false.
The English world lavender is generally thought to have derived from the old French word “lavandre” which ultimately came from the Latin “larve” which means to wash. On the other hand, a few Latin specialists believe that is may be derived from the Latin “livere” meaning blueish. Different varieties of lavender also refer to different species like so:
May – Comfrey
This is a plant that I am not too familiar with so have had to do my research. However, that is one of the best parts about this article, you learn something new each time.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) can be found on river banks, near ponds and in other damp grassy places. They belong to the same family as Borage and Forget-me-nots. Just like these other flowers from its family, it has hairy stalks and long rough leaves. Between May and June, the flowers from drooping clusters of cream or blue-purple. The petals from a small but crisp shape of a bugle. You are most likely to find small plants around 5 to 15 centimetres (2-6 inches) high but it can grow into massive plants up to 1.5 metres (5 feet). There are quite a lot of different species of Comfrey including White, creeping and tuberous Comfrey.
Comfrey was introduced into England as a medicinal plant by Knights returning from the Crusades. Because of its wound healing properties, monks began to grow it for their apothecaries. The Latin officinale means “of the apothecary” and the “Symphytum” means growing together. There is actually science behind these ideas. Comfrey has been found to contain the alkaloid allantoin, which repairs and replaces cell of damaged connective tissue such as cartilage in bones and blood. It is also the only land plant to contain the vitamin B12 which means it is a useful food source for vegans.
With the Queen laying at maximum capacity this month to get the population increased in time for the honey flow in July, this flower blooms just at the correct time to help boost honey production. However, you may know that the flowers are too long for the shorter-tonged honey bees. One of the first bumblebees to wake up from hibernation, Bombus pratorum, bites into the base from the outside of the plant. Honeybees find these holes left in Comfrey flowers and exploit the damage by collecting the nectar.
April – Crocus
The Crocus (Crocus) can be seen all over the place currently. In the past few weeks, they have been pushing through the soil and springing out of the ground in large groups. It is one of the first group of flowers that always seem to be ready for the bees as they begin the pollen collecting season.
In total there are 75 different species of the Crocus family. The most common being (Crocus vernus). Their distinctive purple petals with the bright orange stamen. Unlike some familiar plants, Crocus have 3 stamen and only one style.
For those of you unaware, the style is the tube that connects the plants ovaries with the Stigma which receives the pollen. The Stamen are made up of the Anther, which contains male reproductive cells, and the Filament, which supports the Anther. They have medium sized petals that encircle the inner parts of the flower. These petals can come in many different colors including, purple, yellow and white. Most Crocuses have between 3 to 5 petals. Large patches of land are covered in them as they like to grow close together. Sometimes they grow densely, and a carpet of purple can be seen.
With every flower there is history behind how it got its name, but the Crocus truly is quite strange. In Ancient Greece, over 2000 years ago, there was a boy called Krokus. He was very unhappy with his love affair with his fiancée Smilax. The Gods of the time weren’t very happy with this so they “justly” decided to turn him into a plant bearing the same name.
As for the bees, they seem to love Crocuses. I recently went to Sir Harold Hiller’s Arboretum and they had lots of Crocuses out. Not only were they nice looking but they were covered with bees. There were plenty of honey bees out but also quite a few bumblebees. In particular, I spotted a Queen Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) which can be identified by the orange hairs on the end of her abdomen.
Overall, Crocuses are a pleasant flower to have in your gardens or apiaries. Let’s just hope they stay around for a while longer.
I don’t think I could go much longer without mentioning the daffodils. As they are the flower of March I think it’s time we shed some spring sunlight onto them. These have been springing up from the ground and flowering over the last month or so. Now we are in March they are in full bloom and their addition of colour to the ever greening hedgerows is unmissable. One of the amazing thigs with daffodils is that the time they flower is very temperature based. This gives a locality effect where you merely have to walk 1000 metres or so for there to be a change in whether they are in bloom or still in bud.
Their flowers can vary in colour from the lightest of yellows and even whites to dark orange. They have green leafless stems which are usually between 6-20 inches tall (15-50 cm). The petals form a trumpet shape. For those of you interested, the proper name for all the petals of a flower is called a corolla. Inside them, especially with daffodils, you will find the corona. This is like a second flower inside the first. It is commonly known that you can plant daffodils from bulbs but what some people don’t realise (including myself until I did some research) was that you can actually grow daffodils from seeds. My favourite sort of daffodils are the white ones with the orange centres.
Some daffodil fun facts:
Now you may be wondering why I am talking about Daffodils as honey bees don’t tend to like them. Well, native species of bumblebees adore the wide open flower heads and will happily collect pollen from them. It is important not to just care for our own honey bees but also the wild ones. Without them it would be a much less colourful world.