Solitary bees in the garden – June

We had a rather cold spring and June was not much better than May but the weather is improving. The Mason bees look somewhat faded and their time is nearly over, now the summer bees will emerge.

Dasypoda hirtipes is a beautiful species and in my garden they feed on knapweed, scabious and chicory. Below are two males foraging on scabious (Knautia arvensis)

Dasypoda hirtipes males

The females look different and they have golden pollen-collecting hairs on the hind tibiae. This female was quite cold so I could pick her up gently and take some pictures.

Dasypoda hirtipes female 1

The Fork-tailed flower bee is a solitary bee with a very long tongue: they love woundworts, betony, wood sage, black horehound, all these plants are found in my garden. They are difficult to photograph as they fly very fast but this male was resting on a leaf, cleaning his tongue.

Anthophora furcata male


Anthophora furcata

Wool carder bees are fascinating creatures, the males are territorial, defending a patch of horehound, betony or woundwort. This male was using the bee hotel to sleep.

anthidium manicatum 1


anthidium manicatum 4

Leafcutter bees are summer bees, they cut disks from roses in my garden which they use for their nests. Picture below is a male Megachile willughbiella.

Megachile willughbiella

Another species which one can see in the garden is Megachile centuncularis

Below a female with a beautiful yellow scopa, which they use to collect pollen.

Megachile centuncularis

Of course, there are many bumblebees in the garden as well, as the garden has been designed to attract a variety of bees. Red clover is very popular with bumblebees and a good source of pollen with high levels of protein and essential amino acids. I can sit for hours and study these beautiful and fascinating insects.

Trifolium pratense pollen

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Brimstone butterflies in the garden

Brimstone male butterfly

I turned my garden into a habitat for bees and butterflies. Albeit on a small scale, it is a wildlife garden. I work mostly with native plants with a few exceptions  such as Butterfly bush and Lavender.

Butterflies regularly visit the garden but I wanted to encourage them to breed. I knew that the Brimstone butterfly,  Gonepteryx rhamni,  is present in this part of our country so I decided to grow the only foodplants this species of butterfly uses: alder buckthorns and purging buckthorns.

Below: alder buckthorn ~Rhamnus frangula / Frangula alnus

Alder buckthorn rhamnus frangula

It was a sunny day in April a few days ago when all of a sudden I saw a female near the alder buckhorn bushes and I could see her laying eggs!  Interesting to see that she preferred alder buckthorns and not purging buckthorn which is the other foodplant the Brimstone butterfly uses for her caterpillars.

Below: purging buckthorn ~ Rhamnus cathartica

Rhamnus cathartica flower buds

By the way, both species of buckthorns are good plants for many pollinators. The flowers are rather small but rich in nectar.

Below: Female Brimstone laying eggs on young shoots of alder buckthorns

Gonepteryx rhamni

Gonepteryx rhamni b

Gonepteryx rhamni egg

Photo above: the tiny little thing on the right hand side is an egg, difficult to photograph though.

This really proves that if you create the right conditions, butterflies will breed in the garden.

Brimstone butterfly

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White Bryony – a valuable plant for the pollinator garden

Since a few years, I have been growing White Bryony, Bryonia dioica, in my garden. It is a perennial and poisonous plant. The flowers are dioecious  which means that individual flowers are either male or female. The male flowers are much larger compared to the female ones. It climbs to about 4 metres high and in my garden it climbs over an old Weigelia and Wild privet. It likes calcareous soils. It flowers from May until September which makes it a very valuable plant.

Brynoya dioica - White bryony

In my garden, it is one of the best plants for attracting pollinators: Tree bumblebees, Buff-tailed bumblebees, Early bumblebees, honeybees and many species of solitary bee like this leafcutter bee visit the flowers.

Leafcutter bee on White bryony

The male flowers are more eye catching and I like the greenish/ white flowers. Bees seem to be collecting both pollen and nectar. Below a photograph of a solitary bee species called Lasioglossum sexnotatum female busy collecting pollen.

Lasioglossum sexnotatum

Honeybee gathering pollen

bee feeding on white bryony

Bombus pratorum nectaring

Picture 1533

It is a fascinating plant. On a warm summer’s day, I sat nearby and watched the various species of bee foraging on this plant. In this way, I am doing my bit to reverse the declining bee population and it feels good!

Andrena florea is a specialist bee: It is a monolectic bee which means that when it comes to collecting pollen, the female is restricted to a single plant species for pollen: Bryonya alba. Without the plant, the bee cannot survive. The plant will also benefit because this bee will transfer pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers.

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Aster cordifolius hybr. ‘Little Carlow’ – a bee and butterfly magnet

For some years, I have wanted to add colour to the autumn garden and it goes without saying that in a biodiversity garden, the plant of my choice had to be good for wildlife. There are huge number of plants available and I studied the Aster family. Now, with Asters that flower in autumn it has to be said that some Asters are not very attractive to butterflies at all, so please do some checking. Bombus pascuorum on Aster little carlow

Based on the colour of flowers and being highly recommended, I purchased several Aster Little Carlow, which is a hybrid of A.cordifolius and A.novi-belgii and in my garden it is a true bee magnet. As soon as the sun is out, there are tens of honeybees on this plant as well as several butterfly species, Hoverflies and Bombus pascuorum workers, the only species of Bumblebee still around apart from the queen bumblebees such as this queen Bombus hypnorum, the rapidly spreading Tree bumblebee. She is fattening up for the winter so she needs all the nectar she can gets.

Bombus hypnorum

If you have a spot in your garden, I can really recommend this easy-going,  lovely plant. The plant produces masses of small violet-blue flowers from late summer to mid-autumn. Grow to about a metre in hight so they may need staking.

Below: Hoverfly, which are also important pollinators, feeding on Asters.

Hoverfly on Aster

Below: Honeybees feeding on Asters, mostly for nectar but on this warm autumn day, I saw them collecting pollen.

Honeybee feeding on Aster little carlow


Can you see the pollen basket? Wonderful creatures, the honeybees.

Honeybee gathering pollen


The plants I bought from a nursery that uses no pesticides, an important consideration when purchasing bee plants.


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Crab apples ~ Malus sylvestris ~ The wildlife garden

Malus sylvestris is a deciduous tree growing to 10 m and they are part of the Rosaceae family. They flower in April – May and provide nectar and pollen.  The flowers are popular with solitary bees such as Mining bees (Andrena sp), Halictus bees, Mason bees (Osmia)

Malus sylvestris

but also with  Honeybees and Bumblebees.

The fruits are eating by Thrushes and the leaves support a huge number of insects: bugs, aphids, sawflies, micro moths, macro moths, beetles. As is the case with so many native trees: insects have had thousands of years to evolve with the trees. A great tree for the wildlife garden and beautiful to look at. Malus sylvestris in flower

Archeobotanical findings revealed that this tree has been growing in the Netherlands some 8000 years b.C. Fruits and seeds were found dating back to the Mesolithic so we can say that this truly is a native species.

Unfortunately, the real Malus sylvestris is quite rare, fewer than 250 individual trees remain in the Benelux. There are a lot of hybrids though.

Malus sylvestris

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Solitary bees in the garden: Wool carder bees – Anthidium manicatum.

It’s July and the striking black and yellow coloured Wool carder bees are emerging. The males are between 10-16mm whereas the females are smaller: 10-13mm. Below a male resting on a leaf.

In the field, the difference between the sexes is clearly visible.wool carder bee male

They live in Europe, Northern Africa and Asia and are often seen in urban areas nowadays.

In my garden, the males patrol patches of Black horehound – Ballota nigra and Spiny restharrow – Ononis spinosa. If a female bee arrives, the males often tries to copulate with the female. I have seen this in my garden but the copulation lasts less than a minute so not long enough for me to grab the camera and take a picture.Wool carder bee female

Above: photograph of the female

The males are quite territorial, defending their territory against other males and even other bees such as bumblebees which are often attacked. The tip of the male’s abdomen has some spines with which he can harm other insects.

Anthidium manicatum male

They seem to prefer plants that belong to the Mint family (labiates such as Black horehound, Hedge woundwort, and Lamb’s ear, the latter is particularly useful as the female uses the hairs of this plant to line her nest but they also use Verbascum for that purpose). They are also frequently seen on plants of the Pea family (Spiny restharrow, Bird’s-foot Trefoil), mostly for pollen.

I have not seen one of their nests yet but it is said that the females nest in cavities such as beetle holes. This species is another one which has become more common in urban areas.

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Hairy -footed flower bees – Anthophora plumipes and Lungwort

Lungwort – Pulmonaria officinalis  family Boraginaceae

Now that the Winter aconites have gone and most of the Crocus are gone, it is time for Lungwort to emerge. Lungwort is a lovely garden plant and very popular with queen bumblebees such as Bombus pascuorum, Bombus hortorum and Bombus terrestris. It is one of the few plants in flower during this period.

It’s not just bumblebees that come to nectar at this plant; when you see a bee with a darting flight, it could well be the hairy-footed Flower-bee (Anthophora plumipes).  This solitary bee has a massive tongue length of 14mm and can forage up to several km from their nest site. They are particularly fond of Lungwort and other plants with a high nectar reward such as Comfrey. The males are brown and the females are black with yellow hairs on the hind legs to collect pollen.Picture 1553 In our area, the females are more ginger coloured. You can easily recognize them as only the females have pollen baskets.

Anthophora plumipes

The flower-tube of Lungwort is too deep for honeybees so you will not see any of those drinking nectar; they may collect pollen though which they can reach.

The plant flowers from March to May and is always popular with long-tongued bumblebees and the solitary bee mentioned above.Picture 1554

Its flowers are beautiful as you can see from the pictures. I grow this plant underneath trees and shrubs where it thrives.  There are many members in the Borage plant family that are good for pollinators: Forget-me-not, Viper’s bugloss, Alkanet, Comfrey. All well worth planting. 

Females of the hairy-footed flower bee live between 5-7 weeks on average. The females prepare 3-8 nests and each nest takes about 4 hours to complete. The females leave behind a scent after they have visited each flower so that they know which one to visit. This is efficient as the bee cannot afford to lose time visiting flowers that offer no nectar. They breed in soft walls and studies have revealed that some nesting places have existed for over 50 years (O’Toole and Raw, 1991)

Hairy footed flower bee tongue

A fascinating species indeed.

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