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Bees’ Favorite Colors are Blue and Yellow

by Fern on January 29, 2010

in Birds Bees & Butterflies

Post image for Bees’ Favorite Colors are Blue and Yellow

A lot of people are interested in planting flower gardens that will support bees. And there is no reason why container gardeners can’t do their part to support bees. In fact, urban gardeners should help “re-green” their surroundings as much as possible to help support wildlife that was displaced by development. In my master gardener class yesterday, I learned three interesting things about the flowers that attract bees that I thought I would pass along if you’d like to help out one of the hardest working insects in your garden.

So, let’s say that you have decided to help bees out this year, either because you’re very altruistic, or because you want bees to come and pollinate your fruit and vegetable plants. How do you know what flowers bees like? Of course, you’ll want to make sure that you don’t pick a “pollen-less” hybrid, by there are three good things to look for in a flower if you’re trying to woo a bee.

Look for Honey Spots

Do you see the little dots in the interior of the foxglove flower pictured above, on the left? Those are called “honey spots,” and for good reason. They act as a landing guide for bees. Now that you’re aware of what they are, you’ll start noticing them on all sorts of flowers. The mahogany colored ring around the center of the coreopsis on the top right is also a type of honey spot. It acts as a giant bull’s eye for the bee, telling it right where to go.

Choose Colors Wisely

Bees can’t see the same spectrum of colors as we do. For example, yellow flowers appear blue to bees. And bees seem particularly attracted to blue flowers (and the yellow flowers that appear blue to them). So they’re a good bet. Of course, bees do go to other colors of flowers, but just as hummingbirds really like red flowers, bees really like yellow and blue flowers.

Provide a Landing Pad

Flowers that have evolved with bees have somewhere for bees to land. Teeny tiny flowers that are not in a cluster of other teeny-tiny flowers are either pollinated by some method other than bees, or have been hybridized by people and are not suitable for bees anymore. Same thing with long, tubular, extremely narrow flowers. Not suitable for bees.

Bees and flowers have a symbiotic relationship, so bees want to go to the flowers that want bees. And flowers that want bees put out a welcome mat in the form of a landing pad. Interestingly enough, we learned in the class that members of the pea family have their flower petals ever so slightly glued together, creating the perfect place for bees to land. And when they do, the petals separate, and dab the bee with pollen on its belly. Then, when the bee lands on a female pea flower, the pollen receptor (stigma) is in the exact right place to brush against the part of the bee’s belly with the pollen on it!

Do you plan on including flowers bees like in your garden this year?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Megan January 29, 2010 at 7:53 am

Interesting! I never realized blue was attractive to bees. My blooming rosemary is covered in bees right now, and it makes more sense :)

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melanie watts January 29, 2010 at 8:22 am

I didn’t know bees were attracted to the colour blue either. I also didn’t know about honey spots. Interesting post Fern.

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shari January 29, 2010 at 8:44 am

Hi Fern. Most flowers have some sort of nectar guides, many of which humans cannot see. All sorts of insects use these guides and nectar guides are visible under ultraviolet light. Some are amazing and look exactly like airport runways. It’s very trippy. Also the colors bees see are totally different and they cannot see true red. There’s a great picture of what a bee sees versus what we see here: http://howplantswork.wordpress.com/2008/11/30/flowers-what-you-see-versus-what-the-bees-see/ (This blog has some great general botanical information for those who lean towards scientific minutiae in their gardening endeavors.) Bees are really fascinating little creatures and their relationship with flowers is absolutely amazing, maybe even more so than their often remarked upon social dynamics.

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rebecca Sweet January 29, 2010 at 9:20 am

Honeyspots? Very cute name – thanks for teaching me something new!!

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Mary C. January 29, 2010 at 10:35 am

Hehehehe, I’m actually planning on putting alot of bee-attracting flowers in my parents yard (well away from the front door) and will of course play dumb when mom realizes they have more of those scary little critters around than ever before…

And I’m going to put yellow marigolds all around my tomato plants, and dill nearby in separate containers. Also going to grow my favorite autumn colored sunflowers that brought us bees like crazy last year. I have so many seed from their last harvest that I sowed a few dozen in paper cups to offer at my upcoming yardsale.

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MrBrownThumb January 29, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Good post Fern.

One thing I’ve learned tagging along with urban beekeepers in Chicago is that bees are very efficient. They seek out blooms that are A) in abundance and B) near the hive. That’s something those of us gardeners who plant for bees should keep in mind too.

Love the pics.

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meryemilymay January 30, 2010 at 6:21 am

hi fern thanks for the wonderfull and very interesting informationwill follow it

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Daffodil Planter January 30, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Thanks for taking us along to your class. This is so interesting!

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Suz Lipman February 11, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Thank you so much for this! It’s great information. Anything that brings bees, birds and butterflies to my deck garden makes me especially happy.

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Eyvette March 28, 2010 at 9:15 am

I love, love, love! this post and Yes! Yes! Yes! I intend to garden to help out our little bee friends this year.

The bee Crisis is my current topic on my blog spot page at: http://Vetysview.blogspot.com.. I have included this web page along with other informative web pages about our bees.

I am so happy that you added some tips to help the container gardener such as myself, to help woo the bee, for I’m a novice gardener and appreciate all the help I can find!

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Helen May 19, 2010 at 1:04 am

I have been stung by bees 4 times in the past year and each time I was wearing a dark blue Shirt. Guess who does not wear Blue in the garden any more

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Judy Young March 13, 2011 at 9:59 am

Fern, thanks for reposting this link. It’s just what I mentioned in response to your recent Etsy post. Guess I missed it last January. I’ve learned much, just by observing the bees this past summer, and fully intend to do my share to help the little workers! Love the local honey, which is good for the local allergies!

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Grant Gilmer September 7, 2013 at 5:43 pm

I’m a dreamer how one day will be bee keeper , I,ve got a tattoo of a bee on my arm,70 hives at home need more like 1000…steping stones to get their .Thinking of maybe having ,hiring bee hives in houses in town here in Tauranga ,New Zealand to bring more bees into the city.
I love doing bees , and love the insect themselves …

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