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Weeds for the Bees

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) provide one of the first pollen sources in the spring for bees and other pollinating insects. Barbara H. Smith, ©2020 HGIC, Clemson University

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) provide one of the first pollen sources in the spring for bees and other pollinating insects.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2020 HGIC, Clemson University

Are you frustrated because there are dandelions and other weeds in your lawn? Did you know that dandelion flowers provide one of the first springtime sources of pollen for bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects?

I live in the Upstate, and I have a “bee friendly” fescue and clover lawn. Every fall, when I core aerate my lawn to over-seed with fescue seed, I mix in Dutch white clover seed with my grass seed. When the clover blooms in May, my lawn is a haven for many different species of bees and butterflies, and it literally hums with insect activity. Clover is a good pollen and nectar source and is an excellent way to add greater food diversity in a landscape.

Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens) planted in with a fescue lawn. Barbara H. Smith, ©2020 HGIC, Clemson University

Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens) planted in with a fescue lawn.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2020 HGIC, Clemson University

Unless you live in a community that is regulated by strict homeowner association rules, consider providing a wide variety of plant material in your lawn that will offer a broad range of food sources. A healthy lawn will not be overrun with unwanted plants, and tolerating some wildflowers in the lawn will be one of the most helpful things you can do to protect native bee populations.

If you take time to watch a honey bee gather pollen, you might notice a dazzling array of colors. Different flowers produce different pollen colors. You can even identify which flowers the bees are visiting by the color of the pollen in the corbicula (the sacs located on the honey bee’s hind legs). Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), a winter annual “weed”, has reddish-purple pollen; therefore, the honey bee’s corbicula will be filled with bright purple pollen. Crimson red clover (Trifolium incarnatum) has dark red pollen that will make the bee’s pollen sacs a dark red.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) has reddish-purple pollen. When a honey bee has gathered pollen from henbit, the pollen corbicula will be filled with bright purple pollen. Barbara H. Smith, ©2020 HGIC, Clemson University

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) has reddish-purple pollen. When a honey bee has gathered pollen from henbit, the pollen corbicula will be filled with bright purple pollen.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2020 HGIC, Clemson University

This honey bee is gathering dark red pollen from crimson red clover (Trifolium incarnatum). Barbara H. Smith, ©2020 HGIC, Clemson University

This honey bee is gathering dark red pollen from crimson red clover (Trifolium incarnatum).
Barbara H. Smith, ©2020 HGIC, Clemson University

Without a healthy population of pollinating insects, the production of many fruits, vegetables, and nut crops would be severely affected. According to the Pollinator Partnership Organization (https://www.pollinator.org/pollinators), “birds, bats, bees, butterflies, beetles, and other small mammals that pollinate plants are responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food.” This does not even account for the food pollinators provide to wildlife.

For more information on pollinator gardening, please see HGIC 1727, Pollinator Gardening, and HGIC 1733, Native Pollinators.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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