Bees And Pollinators Visit Rosebay Willowherb

7th April  2020

Rosebay willowherb is popular with bumble beesRosebay willowherb is popular with bumble bees

As I write, it's April and young Rosebay willowherb plants are sprouting along the country lanes where I live, and in my garden.  At the moment we're in lock down due to Covid-19, but fortunately we are allowed to go for walks, as long as we stay within our local neighbourhood, and observe social distancing guidance. 

Seeing the young plants, I was reminded of photographs I took last year.  Bees and other pollinators love Rosebay willowherb, and although it's generally frowned upon by most gardeners, I have tended not to stress about it.  Instead, it grows along a sunny wall behind the raspberries, and attracts different bee species and other pollinators.  (I should mention though, in some locations in the world, it may be considered invasive, so I'm not actively encouraging people to deliberately cultivate it).

Common carder bumble bee foraging on Rosebay willowherbCommon carder bumble bee foraging on Rosebay willowherb

Most of these photographs were taken of plants on wild scrub land, and others on a rocky coast with limited soil.  In fact, Rosebay willowherb is what is known as a 'pioneer plant' - one that can colonize areas where little else will grow.  As the plant declines and its leaves, flowers and stems rot away, it eventually contributes nutrients to an otherwise barren piece of land, allowing seeds from other plants to take root and grow in the same location. 

In North America, it is also sometimes called 'Fireweed', owing to the fact that it is one of the plants that will grow in soil that has been scorched by forest fires.  In the UK, it is sometimes called 'Bombweed', thanks to its ability to colonize areas of London that had been damaged by bombing during the second world war.

Honey bees also visit Rosebay willowherbHoney bees also visit Rosebay willowherb

Honey bees and bumble bees visit the flowers which offer both nectar and pollen.  These tall wildflowers self-seed very easily and bloom late in the summer, when honey bee colonies have plenty of mouths to feed, and newly emerged bumble bee queens need nourishment in preparation for their winter snooze. 

Interestingly, Rosebay willowherb nectar is said to produce a distinctive honey (I have never tried it) if it is the primary source of nectar for the honey bees, although as a nectar plant, it cannot necessarily be relied upon by beekeepers for successive years. 

It is also very attractive to the Burnet moth.  In this coastal location where I took the photographs below, the Six-spot Burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae) is commonly seen.

Six-spot Burnet moths on Rosebay willowherbSix-spot Burnet moths on Rosebay willowherb
Rosebay willow herb growing in a coastal grassland area close to my homeRosebay willow herb growing in a coastal grassland area close to my home

Other uses for Rosebay willowherb

Rosebay willowherb can be used to make tea.  The young shoots can apparently be added to various culinary dishes, and the plant is sometimes used in various herbal remedies.

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