Until a few years ago I always assumed that bees only visited flowers for their nectar and that pollen collecting was secondary to it. So I was very surprised to learn that roses produce no nectar and only visit the flowers for their pollen. Both pollen and nectar are essential for bees, the nectar as a very ready source of energy and the pollen as a protein rich essential component for brood (baby bee) development.
Rich in pollen
The pollen is collected in different ways according to the bee species but on many bees it collects on their furry bodies as they visit the flowers and is then transferred in sticky masses onto their legs and from there into the cells of the honeycombs. The pollen is mixed with water and nectar from the bee’s mouth, made into bee bread and stored in the honey combs. Roses with single or semi-double flowers (between 5 and say 15 petals) produce the most pollen as the extra petals in the more double blooms are altered versions of the stamens. But even some seemingly very double flowers still produce plenty of stamens and so are well loved by bees.
The original wild or species roses seem to be most attractive to bees. I’m not sure why as their flowers are often quite small and so the number of stamens will be proportionally less than a bigger flower. You would have thought that fewer big flowers would be a more efficient way of collecting pollen as it would mean less travelling around, but then there are so many flowers on a big rose bush it is only a very short distance from one flower to the next and the more flowers there are the less likely you are to bump into a competitor. There is a bush of Rosa sweginzowii here in the main part of the David Austin Roses nursery garden where you can hear their activity long before seeing it. We have another separate garden dedicated to the true species roses, in which the bees abound when the plants are in flower.
Good roses for bees
A few of their (and my) favourite shrub roses for bees are three of the British native species – Rosa canina (dog rose), Rosa rubiginosa (sweet briar) and Rosa spinosissima (burnet or Scottish rose) as well as Rosa rugosa and Rosa rugosa Alba, Rosa moyesii Geranium, Rosa roxburghii, Rosa setipoda, Rosa sweginzowii, Rosa virginiana. Some of the wild roses like Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’, Rosa moschata and Rosa polyantha ‘Grandiflora’ grow as huge climbers reaching 10 or more metres up into trees and so produce vast numbers of flowers. There are also many hybrid roses that bees love visiting. Shrub roses like ‘Morning Mist’, Rosa officinalis, Rosa alba ‘Semi-Plena’, ‘Ballerina’, ‘Buttercup’, ‘The Lady’s Blush, ‘Scepter’d Isle’, ‘Grouse’, ‘Partridge’, ‘Kew Gardens’ and ‘Scarborough Fair’ and ramblers like ‘Kew Rambler’, ‘Francis E Lester’, ‘Rambling Rector’, ‘Bobbie James’, ‘Open Arms’ and ‘The Garland’.
The single and semi double roses have other advantages too, they will attract other insects into the garden some of which will help in the control of pests. Many of these roses will also set a wonderful crop of hips that will help keep wildlife going in the autumn and through the winter. And finally, and importantly, they are beautiful to our eyes too.