Apricot Blossom, how do the bees know where to find it?

Apricot blossoming in March sunshine
Apricot blossoming in March sunshine

 

I absolutely adore apricots, and whilst poorly, one of my treats was rustling up the energy to make an apricot ‘tart tatin’.  Raymond  Blanc has a fab recipe that I  would  adapt  to  gluten  and  sugar  free.

Greg bought me my very own apricot tree three years ago, to plant against our kitchen wall. Looking forward to a harvest of our very own organic apricots would be worth the wait.

March Blossom

When I learned that apricots blossom very early in Spring, I feared that my bees wouldn’t know that I had planted a blossom filled tree in our garden, especially as it would most likely be in bloom when the bees were only flying briefly on cleansing or foraging flights.

As it was not on a usual flight path from hive to field or garden, how would they find it? The weather would be too cold for scout bees to just travel around ‘in case’ of a blossoming plant.

A mission began then on learning about how plants communicate with bees to attract them to their blossoms when they need pollinating.

“…one of my treats was rustling up the energy to make an apricot

‘tart tatin’ using  the recipe  from Raymond  Blanc.”

 

Blossoming

Now in its third year,  just after the mini heat wave, our apricot tree has been blossoming profusely. I have been concerned as almost immediately as the petals burst open, the temperature dropped and the heavens opened. I had spotted flies investigating the flowers but not until today did I notice any of my honey bees.

Apricot Blossom March 2019
Apricot Blossom March 2019

So how did they know where the apricot was, and that it needed a visit?

Electricity

In 2013, Bristol University Professor Daniel Robert and Dr Heather Whitney discovered that bumblebees were able to find and distinguish electric signals given out by flowers.

It was already known that plants often produce bright colours, patterns and enticing fragrances to attract their pollinators. Using electrical signals communicating information to attract, or repel pollinators was an exciting new discovery.

 

Buzzing and waggle dancing

Plants are usually charged negatively, and emit weak electrical fields. Bees acquire a positive charge as they fly through the air. When bee and flower connect, the small electric force can potentially pass information between the two. This means that bees can tell which flowers need pollinating, and which flowers have already been visited by other bees.

The Song of Increase

Jacqueline Freeman in her book ‘The Song of increase’ discusses how the buzz that the bees make is a song taken from the plants. It’s carried back to the hive to communicate the properties and locations of the plants they have visited each day. Imagine the bees bussing whilst performing their waggle dance at the end of a foraging flight.

Bees sharing which plants have which particular vitamins or minerals. I love this idea, and it makes perfect sense, just as I tell my friends where to buy organic veg!

EMF Pollution

It is still not yet known how bees detect the electric fields, but it does make me think about how our increasing electromagnetic smog is affecting the communication between plants and flowers.

Today, however, I was so relieved to see the bees on my apricot blossom, they found the tree, although it was ‘hidden’ at the other side of our house to the bee hives.

Maybe this year I will have enough of my very own apricots to make my favourite tart tatin!

 

Honey bee visiting apricot blossom
Honey bee visiting apricot blossom

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