James Vick responded to the popular interest in bee plants in this article from his Vick's Monthly Magazine, Volume 2 in 1879.
It starts out slightly off topic, discussing what attracts an insect to a plant. I wasn't sure if a seedsman correcting the poor science being aired in Popular Science Monthly would be of interest here, but then I remembered it was MY blog! I like the fact he felt the need to explore the idea.
Drop down below to the specie lists for a more seed-centric topic as Vick does go on to address bee plants here, a subject more in keeping with my theme...and I added his great flower illustrations from his catalogs for those plants.
BEE PLANTSIn a late number of the Popular Science Monthly a correspondent, Thomas D. Lilly, of Virginia, gives an account of his observation, the past summer, of the visits of bees and other insects to the flowers of Petunias and Morning Glories. As his account of the operations of the insects is so interesting, we here give the communication entire:
"During the summer I spent much of my time in a porch surrounded by Petunias and Morning Glories, of all shades of color from white to bright purple and dark violet. I first observed that the colored Petunias were torn to pieces every day before noon, while the white or pale ones escaped almost uninjured.
I soon discovered that the bees and butterflies were the mischief-makers, and that the damage was done with their sharp claws in struggling to get to the bottom of the flower-cup. I kept a close watch down to the present day—when the bees and butterflies are gone, and a few blossoms still remain, never molested—and my first impressions have been fully confirmed.
I have called the attention of others to the facts, and proved that the preference of the insects is determined by color alone. If there was any difference whatever in sweetness or fragrance, it was in favor of the rejected white flowers."
The statement of facts here is something new, and we do not offer an explanation of them.
There is a popular impression very prevalent that the white Petunia is obnoxious to insects; of the real truth of this, however, we are not prepared to state an opinion. This idea would seem to have some confirmation by Mr. L's observations, as, he remarks, after making the statement of the insects shunning the white Petunias, that he found the same to be true in a less degree, as regards the pale Morning Glories. That is, the insects visited them, more or less, but did not universally shun them as they did the white Petunias. Possibly the white Petunia may yet prove to be an insectifuge.
What we would more particularly notice is the deduction that "the preference of the insects is determined by color alone". If this conclusion was intended to apply merely to the flowers which were subject to these observations it might pass unnoticed, although it would not be difficult to show that even in this case it is not warranted by the facts. If, as already suggested, the white Petunia possesses some principle obnoxious to the insects, this would be the cause which determined them to visit the colored flowers, and not the bright colors; that some flowers do thus affect insects is well known, for instance, the Pyrethrums, carneum and roseum.
As previously remarked, we are not aware that the white Petunias possess any such obnoxious principle, but until it is shown that the color is the only difference between the white and the colored flowers we could not consider it logically proved that the preference of the insects is determined by color alone.
But in the statement of this conclusion in connection with that, "if there was any difference in sweetness or fragrance it was in favor of the neglected white flowers", some may be led to suppose that colored flowers are the most desirable for honey purposes for bees. To any such inference we would here oppose a statement of fact, that of the kinds of flowers from which bees gather their honey a large number of them are either white, greenish-white, yellowish-green or apetalous, that is, destitute of petals, and as such comparatively inconspicuous.
|Botanic Garden at Greifswald|
In evidence of this position and also as a practical guide to apiarists we here give two lists of bee plants. One of these lists was prepared a few years since by Dr. Muenter, Director of the Botanic Garden at Greifswald, Prussia. We suppose his knowledge of the value of these plants, for the use of the bees, was obtained by noticing their visits to the plants in the Garden.
|Vick's Convolvulous tricolor|
Rejecting from this list those kinds which produce white and colored flowers on different individual plants, such as Convolvulous tricolor and the Campanulas, &c., we find of the rest 121 with colored flowers and forty-four kinds with flowers that are either white or yellowish green, or, in a few cases, apetalous, that is, without petals. One-third of the whole number bear white flowers, and two-thirds colored flowers. Evidently it cannot be stated as a general principle that bees reject white flowers or those not highly colored.
Prof. A. J. Cook, of the Michigan Agricultural College, author of a valuable manual of the
apiary, recently published, gives a list of bee plants which, also, we copy. This list shows a still larger proportion of white, and inconspicuous flowers, amounting to about one half of the whole number. It must be borne in mind that we have now considered the relative proportion of colored flowers only in reference to the kinds of plants, and not to their quantity.
|A.J. Cook on right|
|Bulliard, P., Flora Parisiensis|
Caution - long sentence ahead! Our writing style today is so different. I've grown to enjoy the ride of long sentences after reading works from the 1800s all the time. Reading them is like you are being supported by a breeze of varying intensities that keeps you aloft within the idea as you glide up and down.
Then again, it sure is tempting to edit them for clarity!!!When we consider how universally the white clover ( Trifolium repens) is spread over the inhabited countries of the temperate zones, and how important a place it holds as a bee plant, when we bear in mind the extent of cultivation of the different members of the Rose family composing the list of our commonly cultivated fruits and their wild congeners, when we think of the millions of acres in the corn and cotton crops of this country, of the large extent of buckwheat annually raised, of the innumerable blooms of the wild and cultivated Maples, Willows, Poplars and Grape vines, having inconspicuous or apetalous flowers, we are able to form something of an idea of the vast excess of the amount of bloom of white and inconspicuous flowers over that of colored ones.
|Mignonette drawing by J. Sowerby|
It will be observed that most of our garden flowers are honey-producing, as well as many of our wild plants and weeds. The main question is, what can we plant to produce the most food for bees, at the least expense.
It would not be wise usually to raise crops of weeds, and it is, of course, best to cultivate plants of value for other purposes, and that the bees can feed on to their hearts' content without depreciating their value.
Perhaps no plant will furnish more bee honey to the acre than Mignonette, and yet it will possess no other value, except in the seed.
The Sweet Clover, Melilot, is a great favorite with bees, but it is a perennial weed and likely to become a great nuisance. The Alsike and White Clover are valuable plants, both for hay and pasturage. We have often been surprised to see the great love bees have for the Onion when in bloom.