Lime Trees and Bees

I only really got to recognise and truly see Lime Trees two years ago. One of my bee clients has an ancient Lime tree with wild bees living in it. There aren’t any living there at the moment, having died out earlier this Spring, but I’m hoping when the weather warms up a new swarm will move in.

Last Summer, I witnessed an incredible blossoming, where the tree was full of blossoms, and they had in turn attracted thousands of bees. I didn’t see any honey bees on it, despite visiting at various times of the day and evening. Apparently Lime tree nectar rises before noon, or in the evenings, preferring a warm overcast day.

Hot mid Summer

2018 was an extremely hot and dry summer, and so perhaps the nectar didn’t rise sufficiently for the honey bees. The Limes were blossoming from 19th June. So many species of bumble and solitary were covering it, at all times of the day and it was magical to stand beneath the buzzing tree.

At the same time as Lime trees blossom, bramble also bursts into flower and so I wondered if that is their preferred source?


In my area I have been collecting samples of the leaves from Lime trees, some have slightly furrier leaves, the two main species in the UK are Tilia platyphyllos (large leaved lime) and Tilia cordata (small-leaved lime). The latter can be identified by smaller leaves with red-brown tufts of hair on the veins with stalks as long as the leaf itself.

An infusion of limeflower (also known as Linden tea) can offer gentle support in times of need. As Peter Conway writes in his book, Tree Medicine, “if you are stressed, tense or overworked, you need limeflowers”. Perhaps the calming effect of tilia has on humans also works on bees? Reports of piles of dead bees beneath the trees could actually be of sleepy bees?

Poisonous trees

This year I have been more curious about blossoms that are supposedly poisonous to bees. The Rhododendron ponticum is well known for producing ‘mad honey’. The earliest reference is of King Mithridates VI of Pontus who left the toxic honey in combs along the road side ready for the approaching Roman army of Pompey the Great. Believing the honeycomb was a gift from the gods, the army gorged themselves and were then slaughtered by Mithridate’s army whilst in a toxic stupor.

I collected a sample of Rhododendron honey from my recent visit to Bhutan, but as far as I’m aware it didn’t produce any hallucinogenic effects!

Woodland communication

Plants are known to produce toxins in their nectar and leaves to ward off pests. A tree attacked in a woodland can signal to other trees who then can produce bitter or poisonous secretions which kill or put off further insects attacking.

Could this affect bees?

In the mean time, the limes are ready to bloom, awaiting a few more days of sunshine, so if you have a lime tree near you, do go and take a closer look, watch the bees on it, take note of the time of day and if you spot any honey bees, then let me know!

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