Local Pollen Guide

POLLEN A SOURCE OF PROTEIN

Comprising of protein, sugars, minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids, pollen is nutritionally important for bees.

You can often tell the what flowers the bees have been visiting by the colour of the pollen they are returning to the hive with.

Below is a colour guide matching the colour of the pollen with the flower.  Quite often, by matching the colour of the pollen with the month, you can identify what flowers the bees have been visiting.

Bees returning with pollen can indicate to the beekeeper that the queen is laying as the pollen is primarily used for feeding the brood (baby bees).

In early spring months, when the first flowers start to appear, the bees take every opportunity on warm dry days to go foraging.  Early spring flowers such as snowdrop, crocus and blackthorn are a valuable source of pollen so early in the year when sources are limited.

Returning to the hive, the bees process and store the pollen making what is called ‘bee bread’.  This is subsequently used to feed the brood, the next generation of bees.

More details about pollen is given after the colour chart at the end of this page.

SPRING POLLEN COLLECTED BY OUR BEES IN NORTH DEVON

The colour of the pollen from spring flowers vary in shades of pale cream to dark orange

Winter Heath

December/February

Winter Heath flowering in February in North Devon

Not within flying distance of Exmoor, the bees have access to Winter Heath in our garden and probably gardens near by.  Exhibiting masses of pendulous, vase shaped flowers, ranging from white to light pink to deep pink, this is probably one of the few plants that can supply pollen in December.

Snowdrop

January / February

Snowdrops in February North Devon

A dark orange pollen, similar in colour to Crocus pollen.  Since they both the bulbs flower at similar times, it is often not possible to identify what flowers the bees have been visiting by the colour of the pollen they are returning to the hive with.

Hazel

January/February

Hazel catkins a source of early pollen for the honey bee

Generally hazel is wind pollinated and on dry clear days in a gently breeze you can see wafts of the pollen blowing in clouds through the air.  However, it is a source of pollen for the honey bee.

Wood Anemone

January/February

Honey bee on anemone in spring

A very unassuming flower often found in woodland and shaded areas.  The bees seem to love it, I am not 100% certain if it is a brilliant pollen source, or better for nectar.  I haven’t had the chance to ask the bees.  Anyone know?

Yellow Crocus

February

Honey Bee on Crocus in spring

The pollen in the crocus is clearly visible in the centre of the flower.  Surrounded by the stigma, when the bee goes to collect the pollen bounty, the crocus hopes pollen on the bee will rub off on the surrounding stigma of the flower.

Blue Crocus

February

Honey Bee on crocus gathering pollen in early spring

The blue crocus adds a lovely splash of colour in the spring.  A valuable source of pollen, which is clearly visible when you look into the goblet flower.

Trailing Rosemary

February

Flowering Trailing Rosemary taken in February in North Devon UK

The prostate rosemary seems to flower very early in the year.  The bees seem to love it, again a source of valuable pollen.

Winter Box

February

Winter Box Flower taken in February in North Devon UK

Winter box has an absolutely amazing scent, and is one of the few winter flowers that on a warm spring day, can fill the air with the most delicious smell.  Another bonus is that it’s a great pollen source for the bee.

Plum & Cherry

March/April

Honey Bee flying toward cherry blossom in April, North Devon - Chilcotts Farm

The pollen on this bee can be clearly seen.  The pollen colour is indicative of Plum & Cherry blossom.  This can be collected from cultivated as well as wild plants in hedgerows.

Sloe or Blackthorne

February/March

Blackthorne blossom in a devon hedgerow, in February

Related to the plum, the Blackthorne or Sloe is one of the earliest flowering plants in our hedgerows.

Peach or Nectarine

February/March

Hand pollinating a nectarine

I have peach and nectarine trees growing in glass houses.  I wouldn’t expect the bees to get into pollinate these trees unless the doors are open on a warm day.  In order for the trees to produce fruit I normally pollinate the trees by hand.

Apricot

April

Apricot blossom on a tree in North Devon

On warm dry days, when in blossom, our apricot trees are covered in bees collecting the pollen.  In return, (no frost or rain) we get a bumper harvest of fruit later in the year.

What is the difference between pollen and nectar?

Bees visit flowers for two reasons, to collect pollen and nectar.  Different flowers offer varying ratios of pollen and nectar.  Some maybe a good source of nectar, but a poor resource for pollen and vica versa.  The bee is however, visiting the flower for one of these highly valuable foods.

The flower typically produces nectar to attract the insects, such as the honey bee, and in return hopes that some of it’s  pollen will be passed to related flowers assisting in cross pollination and genetic diversity.  In turn the receiving plant will produce seed for the next plant generation.

Plant for Bees

I would like to think that this guide, not only acts as a reminder for beekeepers and naturalists but illustrates to gardeners and those interested in helping the bees, what flowers are contributing to the bee’s diet.  The more plants producing pollen available to bees at different times of year, not only brightens up our environment but delivers direct benefits to wildlife.

As a note, the month(s) shown when the pollen and flower is available, is for North Devon.  This will vary depending on where you are in the United Kingdom and the weather conditions for the season.