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  • The Beekeeper

THE BEST PLANT FOR BEES. HERE'S WHY...


Echiums are one of, if not THE best plant for attracting ALL TYPES of bees to your garden. We’ve currently got 3 types of Echium growing up at Bee HQ to supply an abundance of both nectar and pollen later in the summer. 

 

Family: Borage

Echium Pininana : White, pink, blue or red flowers.

Echium Vulgare & Blue Bedder: Blue/purple flowers

Height: 0.2m – 4m depending on type

Growing conditions: Full sun, South facing, Free draining soil. 

Season : Annual, Perennial, Sometimes Triennial ***


HABITAT : Grassland, Heathland, Coastal

DISTRIBUTION: National but most common in the South.


SPECIES SUPPORTED: Honey bee, Buff tailed & Red Tailed Bumble bees, Red Mason bees, Large Skipper & Painted Lady butterflies.


 

 

WHY ARE ECHIUMS SO GOOD FOR BEES?


Echiums produce nectar throughout the day unlike most plants that have short windows of opportunity for the bees.   Echiums have an unusual feature where the nectar is protected inside the flower from either evaporating or being washed away.  


 It’s rare that one plant ‘caters’ for both long and short tongued bees and the pollen is dark blue, again fairly unusual.  


The nectar is high in fructose so the honey takes a while to granulate and the concentration of sugars in the nectar varies 22.6-48.3% depending on the quality of soil rather than the amount of rain, again -  an unusual characteristic and beneficial if we get a very dry summer. 



 

WHAT ARE THE BEST THREE VARIETIES OF ECHIUM FOR THE UK?


There's a case arguably for all 40 echiums but in our opinion you can't go wrong with the 3 types we're growing.


  • Echium Pininana - for an impressive display these giant 'tree echiums' will be a great talking point

  • Echium Vulgare - because we're all about encouraging native plants.

  • Echium Blue Bedder - for immediate colour and benefit to the bees.

The very tall non native Echium Pininana or ‘Bee Tower’ with its hundreds of tiny flowers on a central spike that grows from a grey-green rosette of hairy foliage can reach anywhere between 1- 4m tall.   As Echiums are biennial the seedlings have overwintered from last year and should hopefully flower this summer.   Pininana die after flowering, this is known as monocarpy.  They self-seed readily and grow well in Sussex’s mild climate.   There is some evidence that they have the potential to become invasive, so we’ll be cutting them back to prevent self-seeding.



We’ve also started Echium Vulgare (Viper's-bugloss) in seed trays in the greenhouse.   There is already a patch of existing bugloss but it wouldn't hurt to add more. Viper's-bugloss is a fairly common native wildflower in the South, so called because its seed looks like a snake’s head.  Or, because the spotted stem markings resemble those of a snake. Which ever version of its nomenclature origin you choose to believe just know the bees will thank you for it. This variety is significantly smaller than the Pininana at 0.5m high but it still packs a punch as far as the bees are concerned. 


Thirdly - because we’re impatient and couldn’t wait until next year -  we will also be growing Echium Blue Bedder’.    A dwarf variety and the only annual Echium, so we’ll sow the seeds direct in a few weeks time when we’ve finished some landscaping for some flowers this July. 


Echiums need plenty of sun which shouldn’t be a problem in the orchard in front of the Field Maple, I’m just hoping that the soil improvements made last year help as we’re on heavy clay.    They are drought tolerant which is a bonus as I’m not the greatest at remembering to water!!


 


*** the beekeepers mother testifies to this as Pininana in her garden resprouted several smaller spikes of flowers from the trunk in the third year after the initial spike died the previous autumn.


 

Beekeeping is a continuous learning journey, and there's only so much room in my head. If I've got something wrong please let me know. :)

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