Flowers for bumblebees – the long and short of it
Different bumblebee species have different length tongues and this affects the kinds of flowers they can visit for nectar.
Bumblebees with shorter tongues need short, open flowers with nectar within easy reach. This includes flowers from the daisy family, and those like alliums, which have a number of small flowers on one stalk. This type of flower offers a small reward for each probe, unlike the deeper flowers, which have significantly more nectar per flower. Some bee species have resorted to ‘robbing’ the nectar by cutting a hole in the base of the flower and getting at the nectar that way. The flower loses out because this means its pollen is not transported to other flowers nearby.
Some bumblebee flower preferences
- Bombus terrestris and Bombus lucorum bees prefer short open flowers e.g white clover, comfrey. Both are hole-biting ‘nectar robbers’. Bombus terrestris rarely visits pendulous flowers as its large size means it is not agile enough to so.
- Bombus hortorum bees have a long tongue so they can visit flowers with petals that form long tubes such as honeysuckle, delphiniums and catmint.
- Bombus lapidaries bees are large bee and like to land on flowers with ’platforms’ e.g. daisy family, especially knapweeds.
- Bombus pratorum bees are a small agile size with a medium-length tongue that means it can probe a range of flower depths and is able to visit upside-down and drooping flowers such as comfrey and viper’s bugloss.
- Bombus pascuorum bees are long-tongued, and able to get nectar from long-tubed flowers, especially late flowers of white deadnettle, but also visits a wide variety of flowers. Male bees seem to visit compound daisy-like flowers (e.g marsh thistle) more than females.
30 Plants popular with bumblebees
As with any planting for nectar, having some early and late flowers in the mix will prolong the nectar season for bumblebees. Planting them in drifts will help bees recognise them and allows them to visit repeatedly.
- Agastache Agastache sp
- Alkanet Agastache sp
- Betony Stachys officianlis
- Borage Borago officianalis
- Broad bean Vicia g faba
- Buddleia Buddleia davidii
- Bugle Ajuga reptans
- Catmint Nepeta
- Chives Allium schoenoprasum
- Clovers Trifolium
- Comfrey Spymphytum officianale
- Cranesbill Geranium
- Curry plant Helichrysum angustifolium
- Figwort Scrophularia nodosa
- Foxglove Digitalis purpurea
- Honeysuckle Lonicera
- Heather Calluna, Erica
- Knapweed Centaurea
- Lavender Lavandula angustifolia
- Marjoram Origanum vulgare
- Mints Mentha
- Nasturium Tropaeolum majus
- Poached Egg plant Limnanthes douglasii
- Rosemary Rosmarinus officianalis
- Sage Salvia officianalis
- Single Larkspur Delphinium
- Snapdragon Antirrhinum
- Thistles Cirsium
- Toadflax Linaria vulgaris
- Verbascum Verbascum
- Viper’s Bugloss Echium vulgare
- Woundworts Stachys arvensis
- Aubretia Aubretia
- Dandelion Taraxacum
- English Bluebells Hyancynthiodes non-scripta
- Flowering currant Ribes sanguinium
- Forget-me-not Myosotis arvensis
- Hazel Corylus avellana
- Primrose Primula vulgaris
- Pussy willow Salix caprea
- Single Crocus Crocus
- Wallflower Erysimum cheiri
- White Deadnettle Lamium album
- Buddleia Buddleia davidii
- Ceanothus Ceonothus
- Cone flower Echinacea
- Escallonia Escallonia
- Goldenrod Solidago candensis
- Ivy Hedera helix
- Lavender Lavandula
- Michaelmas daisies Aster
- Red Valerian Centranthus rubra
- Sedum Sedum spectabile