Honey bee gorse pollination of Ulex europaea

Blooming Gorse

The gorse is in bloom early this year, although what is it they say – ‘When gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of fashion’ – is that it?

Look out for orange/brown pollen loads – along with the brighter orange from the snowdrops.

In fact, when the weather does warm up and the bees are active and bringing in that brown pollen it is worth going out to watch them working the gorse because the flower is specially designed to  make best use of the bees for pollination. Enjoy the strong coconut scent of the flowers while you’re at it.

The flowers each have a keel (lower part) and a banner (upper part). The banner is as the name suggests – a brightly coloured flag to lure insects. The keel is the boat-shaped lower part which offers itself as an insect landing pad. But all is not what it seems. The first bee to land on a freshly opened flower triggers the keel to burst apart releasing the spring-loaded reproductive paraphernalia which shoots forth like a boxing glove on a spring. The unsuspecting bee is hoisted into the air and a bunch of stamens, like a paint brush, dusts its abdomen with pollen.  At the same time, the style (female bit) jabs the bee in the belly and picks up gorse pollen from a previous floral heist. In fact here’s a photo I took – click it for a close up:

Gorse Pollination
Pollinating bee hoisted aloft on gorse flower pollination paraphernalia

They say that the bees only get pollen from the gorse but if you watch them, they battle their way past the stamens and strive to get to the very throat of the flower. I think there must be a little smear of fresh nectar down there to draw them in – not enough for a crop of course but enough to act as a lure to a poor creature that’s struggled through winter on reconstituted and regurgitated honey.

Gorse is also under threat from the strangely named ‘Heritage Bill’ which came before the Seanad in 2017. If this bill is passed then among other acts of environmental vandalism we will have to watch out lovely gorse grubbed out and burned in full March bloom.

Click here for more about the Heritage Bill

Click here for more on gorse pollination

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6 thoughts on “Blooming Gorse”

  1. Thanks for this very illuminating and interesting post. I live in the north of Scotland, next to a dunes system that is abundant with gorse. Each year we get a spectacular “yellow season” when the gorse is in bloom. I am curious where you are based – it looks like maybe New Zealand, but I am not sure, as Ireland is mentioned in another post?

    1. Hello Lisa,
      I’d be interested to know which months your ‘yellow season’ occurs? There are two species of gorse Ulex europaeus and U.gallii – the former flowers from March to June and the latter flowers from July to September. U. europaeus also flowers sporadically during mild winters. But you probably know this already!
      Ireland is the answer to your question.

    1. Hello Debbie and thank you for your interest!
      Here are a couple of questions for you:
      Is there gorse in New Zealand and do beekeepers get a crop of honey from Corydyline australis?

      1. Gorse was brought to NZ for some reason or other by settlers. It is prolific in NZ and much vilifiled, sprayed and pulled out by farmers ever since. It is however so prolific it is everywhere in the north island and FANTASTIC for bees. However, I have never heard of it generating a crop of honey. Generally the native bush has not evolved with/for honeybees, so it tends to shut off in winter. Many hives are brought back to town.

        1. Thankyou Chris,
          That’s very interesting and you’d wonder why introduce a weed?
          Coincidentally, there was mention on the radio of goats and their liking for gorse which triggered a memory of how the goats used to love the gorse flowers way back when in the west of Ireland.
          Which is the sort of thing that sets you Googling!
          It seems that the gorse was introduced to New Zealand as fodder for sheep, probably goats as well, on soils that were too poor to support anything else. You tend to think of gorse as too tough and woody – let alone prickly – to be edible at all but if it is managed, the young shoots are less prickly and very nutritious.
          “… For furze, writes Lucas, although regarded as little better than a troublesome weed, formerly played a considerable role in the rural economy of large areas of Ireland, first as a hedging plant, much as we now use hawthorn.
          In 1835 a travel writer going from New Ross to Enniscorthy found the route uninteresting; and “it would have been entirely bare, had it not been for the gorse or whin hedges of dark green.” Furze was also a crop. If sown thickly the plant does not branch, it throws up long succulent shoots with few or no spines and the scythe can reap it easily.
          Enormous claims are made for the number of animals fed from one acre and ten perches. And there is a picture of a machine for cutting the more branchy stuff. Bit like a turnipslicer.” …

          The book he is talking about is ‘Furze’ by A.T.Lucas and published by the National Museum of Ireland

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