What’s flowering now: early August

After a couple of weeks of heavy rain sunshine is back in Britain again. The flowers are changing outside, the days are shortening and honey bee queens are gradually laying less eggs as the hive emphasis changes from increasing numbers to storing honey for winter. During August honey bee population numbers will fall from a July peak of 50,000-60,000 adults and 40,000-50,000 eggs/brood larvae in a typical hive to around 45,000 adults and 30,000 eggs/brood larvae. The drop will be even more dramatic come September.

In the bumble bee world, towards the end of the summer the queen produces some sons, along with new queens. After mating, the males die off, as do the old queen and workers. Only the new, fertilised queens survive to hibernate through the winter, ready to start nests of their own the following spring.

Walking through the park I found these pretty pink flowers with elaborately curled white anthers. Their name is unknown to me, can anyone help identify what they are?

EDIT: The pink flowers have been identified by Ashley below as possibly “willow herb family (fireweed) but it’s not the most common one (rosebay willow herb) as the flowers are too large and too round.”

This month’s BBKA News has a great article by Adrian Davis, Canterbury BKA, on bee-friendly plants which mentions Rosebay willow herb as a late summer flowering plant with “stunning rose-purple flowers”. It is a tall, perennial herb found on wasteland, railway embankments and woods, rapidly colonising open areas and much loved by bees. One of my favourite bloggers, Theresa Green, has produced a fascinating post on the biology and history of the plant: Rosebay willowherb.

The field also contained a sea of yellow flowers. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know what they were either. EDIT: Liz Chapman and Nigel Clark have both identified it as ragwort. Nigel mentions that it is highly toxic to horses. Luckily I didn’t see any horses about, but then maybe the ragwort killed them all already… Ted Hooper’s classic ‘Guide to Bees and Honey’ says “Honey from ragwort is extremely offensive in smell, but once crystallised this is lost and it is as acceptable as any other honey.” It gives the bees both nectar and bright yellow pollen.

The bumble however looks like a Buff-tail, a very common species.

And this golden madam is a honey bee hanging out with a shiny beetle. She’s much paler than the black-striped honey bee above on the pink flower.

Everyone knows clover…

And what I’m assuming is a species of thistle, which Ted Hooper says can produce quite large quantities of nectar and pollen. Dave agrees with me below that it’s a thistle, Ashley thinks a type of knapweed and Nigel thinks burdock, a type of thistle used to make the traditional drink Dandelion and Burdock.

The rain followed by sunny weather is good news as nectar secretion in many flowers, such as clover and heather, is boosted on a sunny day. Below certain temperatures plants will not secrete nectar, e.g. below 8C in wild cherry. Hawthorn only secretes well when the temperature is unusually high for a British summer, at least 25C. A few species, such as brambles, are not influenced by temperature and will continue flowering until cold weather and frosts.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust lists some of the flowers important for bumbles in July-September on their website at http://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/gardening_for_bumblebees.htm. They include brambles, mints, heathers, red clover, thistles and lavenders.

I’m off on holiday in San Diego for most of August. By the time I get back at the beginning of September there may be very few foraging bumbles left to photograph. I’ll miss you, pretty furry fuzzy bumbles.

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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14 Responses to What’s flowering now: early August

  1. Ashley says:

    I can’t positively identify any of those species, but this is what I’ve got…
    The first one looks like it’s in the willow herb family (fireweed) but it’s not the most common one (rosebay willow herb) as the flowers are too large and too round. It looks a lot like this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NorwayWildflower.jpg which has been used I think erroneously to illustrate fireweed on wikipedia.
    The second one reminds me a little of groundsel but again the flowers are too large and the plant in general is too big – there’s loads of stuff that looks similar to this, it’s quite a complex area.
    Your thistle is probably a knapweed (prickleless leaves) but again it isn’t the same as what I’m used to looking at… possibly a less common knapweed?
    That’s the best I’ve got.


    • Emily Heath says:

      Thank you Ashley, I have edited the post to mention your willow herb info. This month’s BBKA News mentions that “some botanists will classify rose bay willow herb wrongly as the larger genus Epilobium. However, C. anguisifolium (rose bay willow herb) is unique in that all leaves are alternate, and the flowers are held horizontally, rather than erect.”

      Looking at Wikipedia, I think one of these larger members of the willow herb family is what I photographed, maybe the great willow herb: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Willowherb.


  2. Liz C says:

    I think the yellow one might be ragwort.


  3. Nigel Clark says:

    The yellow plant is Ragwort, much loved by the Cinnabar moth as well as bees, but considered highly toxic to horses, even once it has died. Living near Newmarket with all its racing stables, it is regularly pulled up and removed from roadside verges.
    The thistle like plant is Burdock, a giant plant that gave someone the idea for velcro. Walk past it again in a couple of months and you will see why.


  4. daveloveless says:

    Have fun in SD! Love the pictures as usual.

    And you are right on the thistle. We have a boat load of thistles in our area, and the pollen and nectar flows thick and happy. Well, at least for a few weeks.


  5. ceciliag says:

    Emily, thanks to you popping in to visit my wee blog I have found you. Excellent. I shall pop in more often to keep up with the British Bees! I have so much to learn but am having a lovely time learning it. Thank you for your correction. c


  6. Love Lucy x says:

    Hi Emily,

    I’m a garden writer (www.greenfingersguides.co.uk) and it’s definitely burdock. Great bee nectar plant, growing in a tall candelabra fashion up to 2m with attractive heart-shaped mid-green leaves and the (i think) very pretty thistle-like flowers the colour of mulled wine. Bees love ’em. Love your blog, lots of info, humour and if it doesn’t inspire a few new beekeepers, I’ll eat my trowel! Apologies, I’ve bit of self interest here as I’ve got a ‘Bee in my Bonnet” week on my own blog, trying to encourage everybody to plant one new nectar giving plant this week, to help restore the bee colonies. Would appreciate any help you can offer in getting the message out there, which of course your site does admirably. Love Lucy x


    • Emily Heath says:

      Hello Lucy, thanks for providing expert confirmation that it’s burdock! I couldn’t find the bit about the ‘Bee in my Bonnet’ week on your blog, do you have a link to it so I can tweet about it? Thanks!


  7. theresagreen says:

    Hi Emily – Lovely post, I love learning about your bees’ behaviour. I hope your own bees are enjoying the late sunshine, there are still lots of flowers around for them so hopefully they’ll be stuffing their larders for the winter. Thanks for the link to my blog about Rosebay Willow Herb. The one you have photographed is a Willowherb, so same family but possibly Greater Willowherb – I have pics of my own in my ‘summer backlog’, so will be mentionong it sometime soon!


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