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Botanist's Lens: You See Yellow, They See UV!

In the spirit of 'National Pollinator Week' and a wonderful 'Pollination Exploration' workshop being held at London Town tomorrow (Sat. June 22nd 10am-12pm), I thought of speaking to you today about, colors as pollinators, such as bees, see it.

Did you know that bees see colors totally differently than humans can? Humans normally see colors between the wavelengths of 390-750nm (nanometers) and bees can see approximately between 300-650 nm. Simply put, bees can see Ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths. Bees see patterns very differently than humans.

"Biologists working with ultraviolet patterns in the flowers of temperate species have shown that the flowers of about 33 percent of all species strongly reflect ultraviolet light. About seven percent of all flowers show floral patterns in ultraviolet light that are not evident in visible light. For example, in the black-eyed Susan (Rudbechia hirta) there is an ultraviolet-absorbing region caused by the presence of flavonols, a class of chemical pigments (Thompson et al., 1972). Flavonol-containing flowers are usually yellow in the visible spectrum, a tendency perhaps due to the fact that many flavonol pigments found in petals both absorb ultraviolet light and reflect yellow light.

"Cornus florida, which appears to be one large four-petaled flower but is really composed of four bracts surrounding many small flowers. In both this species and the Korean dogwood (Cornus kousa) the bracts appear white and the small central flowers are yellowish green in visible light. However, in ultraviolet light the pattern is reversed: the central flowers appear highly reflective and the large bracts dark." You can read more information in the following link.

So how do you create a color pallet for bees in your garden? Should you? Most botanists and researchers would say to add as many patterns and colors in your pollinator garden as possible. Planting flowers in clumps is a good approach for a pollinator garden. Bees usually get attracted to blue, purple, yellow, white and violet, but plant as many patterns and color combination as your can. Because flowers are usually pollinator generalist.

"Pollinator colour preferences seem to condition plant–pollinator interactions, the selective force behind these preferences has not been strong enough to mediate the appearance and maintenance of tight colour-based plant–pollinator associations." You can read more information on the following links:

The pictures are part of a pallet I am planting for a small bee garden at London Town. Mix patterns and colors, add heights and give your bees ample choices. Note that the purple-blue flower below is a mophead hydrangea. As gorgeous as it is, it will do no good to your bees since most mophead hydrangeas are sterile. Here is a another neat link about what bees like.

'Bee' a resourceful gardener and most of all, teach kids about bees. Because...bees matter!

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