Bees And Pollinators Visit Rosebay Willowherb - Chamaenerion angustifolium

Updated: 30th April 2021

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 (Chamaenerion angustifolium), 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.  It is easily pulled out of the flower border if necessary.

(I should mention however, in some locations in the world, it may be considered invasive, so I'm not actively encouraging people to deliberately cultivate it).  

Rosebay willowherb - popular with pollinators

Most of the photographs below 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. 

Rosebay willowherb is popular with bumble bees - a cuckoo bumble bee species feeds on pink the pink flowers. The deep pinkish-purple flowers hang from the tall spiked stemRosebay willowherb is popular with bumble bees

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.

gingery colored Common carder bumble bee, hangs upside down whilst foraging on Rosebay willowherbCommon carder bumble bee foraging on 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. 

Honey bee visiting Rosebay willowherb.  The flower has long white, exposed anthers laden with pollen at the endsHoney bees also visit Rosebay willowherb

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 strikingly beautiful 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 willowherb.  They are black moths with velvety antennae and with deep crimson red, elongated-spotty markings on the wingsSix-spot Burnet moths on Rosebay willowherb

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.

More wildflowers for bees