If you are only starting out as a beekeeper, one of the things that you might have heard or read about is to have lavender plants somewhere in close proximity so that your bees can forage from them. That’s because the belief is that bees love lavender. However, is there really any truth to that? And if bees really love lavender so much, what is the underlying reason why bees love lavender?
Bees love lavender because it comes with a bright color that is easy to spot and has a rich scent that they can smell for miles. As bees have a poor sense of sight but an amazing sense of smell, lavender becomes an easy plant for them to love. Moreover, lavender gives off plenty of nectar early in the morning.
Like humans and other animals, bees are actually pretty discriminative in the flowers they like and are attracted to. That said, they have their own preferences when it comes to where they want to take nectar and pollen from. And lavender tends to be high up on that list. Now, let’s look at why bees love lavender so much.
Do honey bees like lavender?
We live in a day and age where people are now finding ways to earn more money on the side while also learning more about how healthy organic products such as honey. That’s why apiculture or beekeeping has become quite popular for different people who are also maintaining their full-time jobs. Of course, the same people have also seen how important bees are to the environment on top of how they are able to provide a good profit on the side because of the high demand for honey and other bee products such as beeswax.
That said, one of the things you need to know when it comes to honey production is that your honey bees should be able to forage plants or flowers nearby. Honey bees are pollinators who collect nectar and pollen from one plant to another and then bring back to their hives the nectar and pollen they foraged so that they could use it as food and for producing honey. This means that having flowering plants nearby is very important when it comes to being a beekeeper, or else your bees won’t have anything to eat or to use to produce honey.
Another thing that you have to know is that, like most animals, bees also have their own preferences when it comes to the plants they like to collect nectar and pollen from. It’s similar to how humans have their own favorite foods depending on their personal preferences. The same can be said about honey bees because they also have their favorites when it comes to where they want to collect nectar from. Of course, the reasons why they prefer certain plants and flowers are different from why other animals prefer certain foods differ.
In that sense, it is often said that one of the favorite plants that bees prefer to get nectar and pollen from is lavender. And we can’t blame them because even we ourselves love lavender in terms of the way it looks and how it smells.
Lavender is actually a genus of 47 known species of flowering plants that is native to certain parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia. And there are many reasons why people grow lavender in their own gardens or for commercial purposes.
In gardens, the bright coloration that lavender has is quite extraordinary because of how its purplish hue can be attractive to any discerning eye. This makes lavender a great choice as ornamental plants for different houses and gardens all over the world. On top of that, lavender also has a unique scent that you cannot really compare to any kind of other plant or flower.
Lavender can also be used for culinary purposes, as there are some dishes that make use of it as a culinary herb due to its unique aroma. And, commercially speaking, the fact that lavender has therapeutic effects thanks to its aromatic oils has made it one of the most sought-after products in the world. That’s why lavender is often used commercially for the extraction of its essential oils, which is where its aroma comes from.
That said, lavender is beloved not only by humans but also by bees. It was found in a study conducted by the University of Sussex that plenty of bees visited a garden with 32 different flowering plants. These plants included different varieties of lavender, among other plants. Of course, the study showed that 85% of the insect visitors that came to the garden were bees.
Among the 85% of the bees that visited the garden, bumblebees were more abundant than the honey bees as bumblebees continue to be the world’s best pollinators. Still, honey bees ranked second behind their bumblebee cousins. The honey bees were also some of the frequent visitors that were attracted to lavender plants, even though the bumblebees were more likely to visit these flowers than the honey bees.
Still, what the study can conclude is that there is no doubt that bees enjoy and love lavender so much compared to all of the other plants. The study did show that there were some plants that, on average, attracted more bees than lavender. However, that doesn’t take away the fact that lavender is still beloved by many bees, as bumblebees and honey bees alike were more likely to visit these flowering plants than all of the other plants in that garden.
This is why there are some beekeepers who would recommend that you plant lavender in your garden because of how bees are so attracted to these plants. It becomes a win-win situation for all of the parties involved because the bees can help keep your garden healthy and thriving, all while having enough nectar and pollen to produce the honey they need.
Why are bees attracted to lavender?
Now that we have established that bees are attracted to lavender and that these insects are more likely to get attracted to lavender than a lot of other flowering plants, you may be wondering what makes lavender so attractive to bees. Before we get to that, it is important to note that it can be pretty puzzling why bees enjoy lavender so much and why they are more attracted to it compared to other flowering plants.
Let us get into the numbers regarding bees and lavender. In the same study conducted by the University of Sussex, it was found that bumblebees are more likely to get attracted to lavender compared to honey bees. However, bumblebees don’t spend a lot of time on lavender because they only spend an average of about 1.1 seconds there as opposed to honeybees, which spend 3.5 seconds per lavender. That is more than three times the amount of time that bumblebees spend on lavender.
So, first off, the reason why lavender is more attractive to bumblebees can be traced to the fact that bumblebees have longer tongues, which will allow them to reach the nectar of the lavender plant faster compared to honey bees.
Still, honeybees are very much attracted to lavender too, but the problem is that their shorter tongues make it difficult for them to be as efficient as their bumblebee cousins. This also explains why, according to that study, honey bees were more likely to jam their heads into the lavender so that they can reach the nectar. That is why they tend to stay longer on one lavender plant in comparison to how long a but bumblebee stays on the same plant.
To give you a perspective, Grosso lavender flowers are about 7.5mm deep. Meanwhile, bumblebees have tongues that are 7.5 to 9mm long. In comparison, honey bees need to exert a lot of effort to make up for their lack of tongue length because they only have tongues that are about 6 to 7mm long. This alone makes it odd and fascinating that honey bees still love lavender plants.
However, the most glaring reason why it can be odd that bees love lavender so much is that lavender doesn’t even contain a ton of nectar. Scientists state that lavender only contains a minuscule amount of nectar to the point that it would take a single bee an entire week and 300,000 lavender plants just to collect a teaspoon of lavender nectar. Those numbers are very counterproductive considering that bees are supposed to be creatures that tend to go for the most efficient way to collect nectar as opposed to putting so much effort just to collect a small amount of nectar from a lavender plant.
The numbers also showed that one lavender plant contains 0.02 microliters of nectar. So, if a single honey bee can fill its stomach up with 50 microliters of nectar, it would take 2,500 flowers for it to fill its stomach with lavender nectar. That can take several hours, which doesn’t make sense considering that this goes against the nature of bees as efficient foragers.
In comparison to that, on average, a honey bee should be able to visit 5,000 flowers in a single day and should be able to make at least 12 trips back and forth from its hive after filling up its stomach. So, if honey bees lived on a diet of lavender nectar during a single season, it would be extremely difficult for them to reach their quota in terms of nectar collection. In short, this could hamper their ability to produce a ton of honey or even have enough food for the entire hive.
So, with all that said and done, why do bees even enjoy lavender so much? After all, if they are supposed to be efficient workers, shouldn’t they look for other flowering plants that have more nectar they could collect and are easier to collect nectar from?
Basically, the reason why lavender is so attractive to honeybees can be traced back to their overall nature as creatures that rely mostly on their sense of scent than on their common sense. In a way, they enjoy lavender so much because it is easier for them to love lavender compared to other flowering plants.
Bees, in general, have a very poor sense of sight, which can easily make it more difficult for them to spot the best flowers to collect nectar from if they mostly relied on their sense of sight. As such, bees will only go out to forage when the sun is shining brightly because of how they won’t be able to see well during low-light situations.
Considering that bees have a poor sense of sight, what they rely on to look for flowers they can forage nectar from is their sense of smell. Honey bees have 170 odorant receptors found in their antenna. To make it clear, they have a sense of smell 50 times greater than that of a dog’s. Since dogs have a sense of smell 40 times better than that of what humans have, this means that a single bee can have a sense of smell that is far better than a human’s. This allows them to be able to smell nectar from a very far distance as bees can travel more than 6 miles away from their hive just so they can forage from flower beds that are far from the apiary.
Let us now summarize all of those facts. Bees tend to have a poor sense of sight that makes it difficult for them to see in low-light conditions, and they would rather go for brighter colors that can be easy for them to spot. Meanwhile, they have some of the most powerful odor receptors in the world, as these insects can easily smell nectar from flowers that are 6 miles away from their hives. So, how does that relate to why bees love lavender so much?
Well, the answer is easy. Lavender, despite having minuscule amounts of nectar, becomes attractive for honey bees precisely because they are just naturally built to be attractive to the sense of a bee. The bright purple coloration that lavender has, along with its strong and appealing scent, is simply irresistible for any honey bee that is looking for flowers to forage. So, even though lavender isn’t the most abundant in terms of its nectar, it still is more attractive to bees compared to other plants that may be more generous nectar-wise but are naturally not as appealing to these flying insects in terms of their appearance and scent.
To recap, lavender may not be the most efficient plant for bees to take nectar from, but it still is near the top of their list of preferences primarily due to how lavender comes with the bright coloration and strong scent that will instantly attract any bee. And if bees were to forage from lavender plants early in the day, they may be lucky enough to maximize their nectar collection.
As you can see, bees aren’t that different from us when it comes to why they love lavender. They love it because lavender plants come with the color and scent that can appeal to a bee’s natural instincts. Meanwhile, we love lavender plants for the same reason as they can be very appealing to the eyes and have a relaxing scent that can help make us feel better.
Which lavender do bees prefer?
According to the same study that the University of Sussex conducted, it was found that bees are quite discriminating when it comes to the type of lavender they prefer to go to. The study showed that the higher-quality lavender plants such as Grosso, Hidcote giant, and Gros blue were the ones that bees preferred to visit the most regardless of whether they may be bumblebees or honey bees.
There is no certainty as to why bees prefer Grosso, Hidcote giant, and gross blue the most out of all of the different lavender plants in the study. However, what we can be sure of is that their most preferred isn’t necessarily the best for them.
As such, when you want to grow lavender plants in your garden to attract bees, the best lavender you should go for are Lavandula angustifolia or Lavandin x intermedia cultivars. The reason why Lavandula angustifolia is great for bees is that is a continuously blooming flower that may even bloom multiple times in a single year. This means that you will be able to provide a constant diet of lavender nectar to bees all year long. Meanwhile, Lavandin x intermedia, which is a hybrid plant, is great for attracting bees because of how it is the strongest-scented lavender plant, which is great if you want bees to be able to easily spot the plant.
That said, any kind of lavender plant will do well for bees as these creatures are just naturally attracted to them. On top of that, lavender will always be a good addition to any garden because of its ornamental appeal.
However, it still is best to provide a steady diet of different flowering plants for your bees, even though they prefer lavender. The reason is that, again, lavender is not the most generous plant nectar-wise. So, if you want to have beehives that will give you a pretty generous flow of honey every time you harvest them, it would be a good idea to have different flowering plants that are richer in terms of nectar compared to lavender.