Bees Foraging On Eryngium

Updated: 1st May 2021


I love the jewel blue of Eryngium flowers, and I especially love to watch bees foraging on Eryngium, not to mention the other insects that are attracted to this flowering plant, including hoverflies and butterflies.

At least some Eryngium varieties are commonly referred to as ‘sea holly’.  Indeed, my favourite place of all to observe bees foraging on Eryngium is around the coast, where the sea holly adds lovely splashes of blue against the grasses and the sand. 

There are plenty of cultivated varieties.  In the photograph at the top of this page, the Eryngium is a cultivated variety (although I'm not sure of the name).  It's growing in a public garden.  It had smaller flower heads than that growing by the coast in the two pictures above, but was very popular with bees and hoverflies.
  

Growing Eryngium for bees

Bombus lucorum - white-tailed bumble bee - foraging on spikey blue Eryngium. flowerBombus lucorum - white-tailed bumble bee - foraging on Eryngium.

This lovely plant is very pretty, and can tolerate exposed sites, fairly severe winters, and dry conditions.  It likes full sun though.  It also likes sandy soil, but will also thrive in loam or chalk (check the variety for suitability in your garden).  You can grow it from seed.  I don’t have any experience with this, but my sister certainly has grown it, with great success.  Once the flowers have gone over, she cuts some of the stems, dries them, and sprays them silver for decorations at Christmas time. 

Bombus terrestris - buff-tailed bumble bee on sea holly - Eryngium maritimum.Bombus terrestris - buff-tailed bumble bee on sea holly - Eryngium maritimum.


If you wish to grow it in your garden, some varieties may be less susceptible to pests and diseases than others, so it’s worth checking.

Although I do not grow it myself currently, this is primarily down to lack of space in my garden, and since it grows in abundance locally I prefer to focus on growing other beneficial plants.  Nevertheless, it is a plant I would recommend for bees.


A clump of jewel blue sea holly among the clumps of grass along the scrubby grasses along a coastline.I love to see jewel blue sea holly among the clumps of grass along the coast. Bees like the sea holly too!


Which types of bees forage on Eryngium?


In my experience, this plant really has broad appeal for pollinators generally.  

On this clump of eryngium, there are 2 honey bees (to the left), a bumble bee in the foreground, and a hoverfly at the top right of the plant, all foraging on different flower heads of one plant.On this photograph there are 2 honey bees (to the left), a bumble bee in the foreground, and a hoverfly at the top right of the image (in flight).


This one plant has 7 pollinators feeding in total, including bees and flies.  Movement of some of the insects make it difficult to identify which is which (hoverfly or a solitary or honey bee).Cultivated varieties of Eryngium are available, and are attractive to bees and other pollinators. On this image alone there are 7 bees and flies.

I have seen plenty of bumble bee species foraging on eryngium, as well as honey bees and various solitary species, such as the coastal leafcutter bee.


Which varieties of Eryngium are best for bees?

I could be wrong, but believe most are great.

However, I list a few here for your consideration.  They are taken from the RHS list of Eryngium earmarked as being attractive to bees.  I have added Eryngium maritimum myself to this list, as this appears to be the specimen I see growing wild along the coast. 

However, I cannot say for sure which of these varieties is the most attractive to pollinators.

  • Eryngium maritimum 
  • Eryngium 'Cobalt Star' 
  • Eryngium × tripartitum
  • Eryngium planum 'Bethlehem' 
  • Eryngium planum 'Blue Hobbit' 
  • Eryngium 'Blue Jackpot' 
  • Eryngium planum 'Blaukappe' 
  • Eryngium alpinum

For something a little different you could even try Eryngium giganteum 'Silver Ghost', which is a pale, whitish variety, and is quite tall.










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