On a filthy February day like this, when the rain keeps coming down and you’re harbouring a horrible virus, spring seems a long way away. Summer even further, so lets pretend it’s July, the sun is slanting through the trees and the bees are spiralling out of their hives like little golden bullets – the limes are in bloom, there is work to do and the tree tops are buzzing…
The scientific name for Horse Chestnut is Aesculus hippocastanum but that’s a bit of a mouthful for the familiar conker tree. The common name came about for several reasons:
- The seeds or ‘conkers’ and the spikey seed pods are similar in appearance to those of the sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa). It should be noted that unlike chestnuts, conkers are not for human consumption;
- When the leaves fall in autumn the twigs bear a horseshoe-shaped scar including marks like nail holes where the tiny vessels in the leaf stem part company;
- At one time horse chestnuts were ground and fed to horses as a stimulant and to make their coats shine. The Turks used to believe conker-meal could cure broken-winded horses.
The Latin name Aesculus comes from a word that was originally applied to a type of oak but when Linnaeus the botanist drew up his original classification of species he gave it instead to the horse chestnut. ‘Hippo’ is Greek for horse, which also explains hippopotamus – meaning ‘river horse’. Meanwhile ‘kastanos‘ means chestnut. Continue reading Bee Trees – Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
The scientific name of the hawthorn is Crataegus monogyna, Crataegus comes from a Greek word meaning ‘strong’ while monogyna means ‘one ovary’ and the resulting single stone in the fruits, or haws, is a distinguishing feature. The hawthorn has many other names including Sceach Gheal, Whitethorn or Quickthorn and May, Maybush or Mayblossom. Continue reading Bee Trees – Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Willows (Salix spp.) bloom early in the year – February or March – and are very important and popular with the bees which can be seen thudding onto the landing board bearing very large loads of powder-yellow pollen. In an exceptionally warm spring the bees may even bring in a small crop of honey but this is very rare.
They are a complex group of many species ranging from ground hugging mountain shrubs, to graceful riverside trees. Despite their diversity of form and habitat, willows are often to be found in wet, boggy places or close to water. Continue reading Bee Trees – Willow (Salix spp)
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. Continue reading Blooming Gorse
The sycamore is a valuable tree for both bees and beekeepers. Flowering quite early in the season, late April / early May it provides copious quantities of nectar and pollen whenever the weather is good enough to allow the bees to fly. The flowers hang downwards beneath the canopy where they are protected from the rain. Sycamore honey is pale gold with a greenish tinge and pollen loads are a greenish grey. Click photo below for a close-up.
Otherwise, its rude health, profligate rate of reproduction and non-native status mean the sycamore tends to be scorned as a weed tree species and ecological disaster area. Continue reading Bee Trees – Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus)
Early spring bulbs are beginning to show in sheltered places. The first flower for the bees is usually the snowdrop. There are many species but the native in these parts is Gallanthus nivalis – coming into bloom perhaps as early as December but more commonly from January through to March. While not an important crop, the bees will visit snowdrops any mild or sunny day for a little nectar and of course pollen which is good for the bees but also cheering for the beekeeper to watch. Pollen loads are orange.
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The Latin name for hazel is Corylus avellana, Corylus from the Greek korys meaning helmet – a reference to the tough, helmet-shaped nutshell and avellana from the Italian town Avella where the nuts were once cultivated. Continue reading Bee Trees – Hazel (Corylus avellana)
Winter is coming but when the temperatures is up – 14 degrees C or so – the bees will continue to work the ivy (Hedera helix) especially in sunny intervals. It flowers between September and November – even December in a very mild year. They can take quite a crop from the ivy and it is great fodder for the winter. You will know if your bees are working it because there will be lots of yellow pollen going in which will give the bees a great boost Click here for a pollen load picture or click the photo below for a close up. Standing by the hives the reek of the ivy honey can be very strong. Continue reading Ivy Honey