Do Bees Like Poppies?

Updated:  16th February 2021

A poppy is a flowering plant in the subfamily Papaveroideae of the family Papaveraceae.  Despite the fact that they lack inflorescences (meaning they don't produce sugary sweet nectar), bees love poppies because they provide lots of pollen.  Bumble bees, honey bees and a range of solitary bees will visit poppy flowers in shades of red, pink, yellow and orange.  The delicate petals of the Common Poppy are harvested by the Poppy Mason Bee, and used to line their nest burrows.

Why bees love poppies

Bees love poppies quite simply because, as stated, poppies are a fantastic source of pollen which is easily accessible on the long filaments and exposed pollen-laden anthers of the flower.

Look inside a poppy flower, and you’ll see there are many of these hairy filaments and anthers.  

a beautiful large pink opium poppy, with long filaments and pollen laden anthers.  A bumble bee is inside the flower, grasping at the filaments nd anthers.Bees and poppies go together! Poppies provide a rich source of pollen for bees.

The Poppy Mason Bees

The Poppy Mason bee, Hoplitis papaveris, uses the petals of the common poppy, Papaver rhoeas  to line its nest.  In the very short video below, you can see red poppy leaves lining and just poking out of the nest burrow of a Hoplitis papaveris:

Papaver somniferum
 – Opium Poppy

Out and about, I took some photographs of bumble bees foraging on
Papaver somniferum – Opium Poppy.  The poppies are growing wild among sand dunes close to my home, and are a beautiful sight on the sunny, sandy slope. 

poppies growing on a wild sandy slope in full sunshineThe poppies are growing wild among sand dunes, and are a beautiful sight on the sandy slope.

Although this poppy species can be found growing wild in the UK, and can also be cultivated from seed and grown in gardens, some countries have restrictions in place to prevent cultivation, whilst others will allow the cultivation of the opium poppy for ornamental use in the garden.

bumble bee foraging among pollen-laden anthers of a pink opium poppy flowerJust look at all those pollen-laden anthers inside the Papaver somniferum!

Other varieties

bumble bee on yellow Welsh poppy.  The filaments are shorter, but the anthers have lots of golden yellow pollen.Buff tailed bumble bee on Welsh poppy, Papaver cambricum

Poppies are a lovely flower to include in the border, with their delicate, papery petals.  
The yellow Welsh poppy, Papaver cambricum  grows in public gardens where I live, and is popular with bees.

Currently we have the oriental poppy -
Papaver orientale in our gardena pale pink, blousy variety, also enjoyed by bees, but we have also grown:

  • the California poppy - Eschscholzia californica, and 
  • the Common Garden poppy - Papaver rhoeas.  

honey bee on orangey yellow California poppy, which also has lots of pollen on the anthers.Honey bee on California poppy

Growing poppies for bees

Although some of the images above show poppies growing on sandy, coastal dunes in full sun, my oriental poppies  grow perfectly well in rich loam soil, and I have grown California poppies and Common Poppy in the same soil previously, always in full sun.  Therefore, I may try out the Opium Poppy in the same soil!

My method for sowing poppy seeds was very simple: seeds were sown quite thinly over the area (a sunny site) where they were intended to flower, then covered with soil, then watered.  That was about it!

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