Why do bees need flowers and plants?

Why do bees need flowers?
Pictured:  Bumble bee gathering pollen from the anthers of a rose flower.Bumble bee gathering pollen from the anthers of a rose flower.

Bees need flowers and plants primarily for food.  In particular, they gather nectar and pollen from the flowers with which to provide the nutrients they need to feed themselves and their young. 

Pollen contains essential protein and fats, whilst nectar contains sugar (carbohydrate) which provides bees with lots of energy.  You can read more about this topic on my page: 'Why do bees need nectar and pollen?'.

However, it may surprise people to learn that depending on the species of bee, flowers and plants may have other uses for bees too!

Some bees use petals and leaves


Some species  use segments of leaf or petal for creating nest cells - leafcutter bees are well known for this activity.  In the very short video below, you can watch a leafcutter bee returning to its nest cell with a segment of leaf.

Some bees need plant hairs

It's not only the flowers that are of interest to bees.  Some species are also interested in the plant hairs found on some leaves and stems. For example, wool carder bees collect hairs for their nests from leaves and stems of plants - typically Lamb's ear - Stachys byzantina.

Wool carder bees gather hairs from plants such as Lamb's ear.Wool carder bees gather hairs from plants such as Lamb's ear.


Some bees need floral oils

For some species of bee, floral oils are very important, in particular to Macropis - or oil-collecting bees.  These bees have extra long, specially adapted hairs on their hind legs which they use to gather the floral oils. The floral oils are used to line and waterproof their nest, and are mixed with flower pollen to feed their young. 

Not just any floral oils will do, however.  These bees forage on loosestrife flowers which somewhat results in this species being restricted to locations where the flower can be found.  In the USA there are 4 known species, in the UK just 1.

Some bees need shelter or a place to rest

It's not uncommon to see bees resting, or even apparently snoozing inside or on a flower - particularly where bumble bees are concerned.  This was the case with the Bombus barbutellus male below.

It's not uncommon to see a bumble bee apparently resting or snoozing on a flower - like this <I>Bombus barbutellus</I> male.It's not uncommon to see a bumble bee apparently resting or snoozing on a flower - like this Bombus barbutellus male.

Some bees need hollow plant stems

It is also well known that some bees shelter or create their nests in hollow plant stems.  For this reason, I advise against cutting and burning dry plant stems.  Instead, put them in a pile at the back of the garden out of view.  



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