Oh, what a wonderful thing to be,
A healthy grown up busy busy bee;
Whiling away all the passing hours
Pinching all the pollen from the cauliflowers.
I’d like to be a busy little bee,
Being as busy as a bee can be.
Flying around the garden brightest ever seen,
Taking back the honey to the dear old queen.
Of course Arthur Askey was singing about honey bees in 1938 and not bumble bees. But this frantic bee was making the most of the sunny spells yesterday when the crocus ‘Yalta’ , like drunken teenagers in Ibiza, threw caution to the wind and exposed all their rude bits to the sun.
Pulmonarias are rather more coy when it comes to pollination. Their flowers are, in most species, different colours as they age.
In most, they open pink, or with a pink flush, and mature to blue. The same pattern of colour change can be seen in related plants such as forget-me-nots (myosotis), brunnera, borage, echium and cynoglossum. Humans seem to have tried to breed forms that abandon this colour change and I confess that I covet true blue pulmonarias. But this colour change has given pulmonarias some of their common names such as the one that I used as a child – soldiers and sailors – though I never really knew why but I guess it was the blue and red uniforms.
Anyway, the colour change happens because the acidity of the sap in the flower changes from acid to alkaline, causing a change like litmus paper. The reason is supposed to be to tell the bees which flowers are ready for pollination and which have the most nectar. Bees are supposed to prefer blue flowers and they do not visit red flowers – unless they have markings that reflect ultra-violet, that we can’t see. But these are not scarlet ‘red’ flowers but pinkish and the colour change is subtle. I watched some plants for a while and the bee I was following definitely preferred the recently open reddish flowers. All very interesting but nothing very conclusive.