Attracting pollinators and keeping our bees happy is essential to ensuring a healthy garden and beehive. However, since bees and flowers communicate differently than us, it’s important to know what flowers to plant to communicate the right message to your bees.
Bees are usually attracted to yellow, blue, green and ultraviolet flowers. To understand why, let’s take a look into how their vision works.
Bees see on a very different scale than humans. Unlike humans who see red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple, bees can’t see red and can actually see another part of the wavelength spectrum instead. The wavelength portion is called ultraviolet, and it’s composed of shorter wavelengths than blues and purples.
On the other hand, since the bee’s vision does not include red, that color appears black to them.
Another way their vision differs from ours is that they have five eyes. Three of these eyes are called “simple” and allow them to measure light intensity. Using polarized light from the sun, they can navigate to flowers and back to their hive without a problem.
They can also communicate this pathway to the other worker bees in their hive. Their two other eyes, called “compound” eyes, allow bees to see shapes and colors like those mentioned above.
What Colors are Bees Attracted to?
As briefly mentioned, bees are attracted to yellow, blue, green, or ultraviolet flowers.
This is likely because of their altered vision, but they may have also adapted to this behavior over time. Studies have shown that flowers in the violet-blue range of colors produce the most nectar, so it’s likely that bees can see these flowers best for that reason.
Bees are also attracted to flowers with ultraviolet patterns called “honey guides” or “nectar guides.” These color patterns guide the bees to their nectar using ultraviolet color variations, which are invisible to humans and other non-pollinating animals.
Other Indicators for Bee Attraction
On top of their vision, bees also use their antenna to communicate with the world. They use these devices to sense touch, taste, smell, temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, wind, and speed.
Because of these two small data collection tools, bees are also attracted to flowers based on smell, shape, and taste. Studies have shown that bees prefer flowers with symmetrical patterns, singular shallow flowers, tubular shapes, and ones that contain a landing platform.
It’s also known that they prefer sweet, not-overbearing smells. Their sense of smell is the main reason why they become attracted to humans, as we often wear perfumes and sweat while we’re in the garden.
Our sweat actually smells sweet to some bees and can cause them to buzz around us to investigate. However, their other intelligent senses can quickly distinguish between a flower and a human.
Bees are also surprisingly attracted to sugar, even though their primary source of food comes from honey. Scientists have found that bees live longer if they consume sucrose, which is why they buzz around sweet fruit and our other sugar-filled drinks and foods.
What Flowers to Attract Bees
Because of their steady population decline, many scientists and farmers have dedicated time to finding which flowers are best to attract bees and other pollinators. In fact, many gardening stores now have seed packets named “pollinator-friendly” or “pollinator assortment,” which contain different flowers that attract pollinators to your space.
What flowers your bees collect honey from will determine your honey’s taste, texture, and medicinal or culinary properties. So, what flowers you choose to plant is an important consideration to take into account.
Below is a list of the most popular pollinator-friendly flowers to plant in your garden:
- Cat-mint: Blue flowers that provide foliage all season long. Very pleasant, strong smell.
- Calendula: An edible, yellow flower that reseeds itself. It also thrives in cooler temperatures.
- Bee Balm: Fragrant, pink flower that attracts bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. Reseeds itself and is used in herbal remedies.
- Sedum: Pink flowers that are heat tolerant. It has varieties that bloom in either summer or fall.
- Lavender: Blue-purple, fragrant flower that persists in mild winters. Deters deer and rabbits and is commonly used for relaxation.
- Borage: Blue, star-shaped flower that is drought-tolerant and reseeds itself. Leaves can also be consumed.
- Foxglove: Purple, bell-shaped flowers that bloom in late spring or early summer. Great in shady spaces and moist soils.
- Crocus: tubular-shaped, purple and yellow flowers. Bloom in early spring and thrive in full sun or partial shade.
- Anise Hyssop: Native North American plant with blue flowers that bloom in late summer. Also commonly used in teas.
- Sunflower: Yellow flower that is favored by many bees. Easy to grow and harvestable for their seeds.
- Coneflower: Native purple wildflower that has high nectar value. It is also used in teas and syrups for its medicinal properties.
What Flowers to Plant to Avoid Bees
If you are allergic to bee stings or do not prefer the company of bees, there are some flowers to plant to deter bees from your space.
- Red flowers: because these flowers appear black to bees, they aren’t commonly sourced for nectar.
- Strong-smelling herbs: herbs like mint, thyme, rosemary, and feverfew have strong smells that deter bees and other animals.
- Non-inviting shapes: Flowers that don’t have inviting or easily-reachable shapes are deterrents for bees, who want to be able to go in and out of a flower as quickly and easily as possible. Some flowers that aren’t conducive to pollinating because of their shape are marigolds, tulips, daylilies, impatiens, carnations, roses, and peonies.
It’s important to consider how bees’ vision differs from ours because their senses determine what flowers they are attracted to. Because of their inability to see red and their ability to see ultraviolet, bees prefer flowers that are yellow, green, blue, purple, and ultraviolet in color. They also use shape, smell, and taste to determine which flowers to collect nectar from.
Popular flowers to plant for bees include sunflowers, coneflowers, lavender, bee balm, and others. Flowers that deter bees will be ones of red color, strong herbal smells, and non-conducive shapes.