Our recent theme, “Feed Bees with Dandelions Please!” was thoroughly enjoyed by readers so we are continuing the theme with another much-loved food source for bees: clover.
What perfect timing, too.. Today is St. Patrick's Day and Ireland is associated with 3-leafed clovers known as shamrocks, and the occasional lucky 4-leafed clover caused by a genetic mutation. Only one in 10,000 clovers has 4 leaves, according to some sources. The shamrock is usually the species Lesser Clover (Trifolium dubium) (Irish: seamair bhuí) or White Clover (Trifolium repens) (Irish: seamair bhán). Other three-leaved plants can also be called shamrocks.
Back to the theme of bees and clover... a variety of clover is available in different colors around the world. Whether white, red or other colors, our precious bumbling pollinators love the sweet nectar that clover produces.
Sadly, the reputation of clover has gone downhill over the years in urban areas, much like the undervalued dandelion. White clover used to be sown along with the lawn because it provided nitrogen to turn the grass that beautiful shade of green. Now it is more likely to be considered a nuisance, not much more than a weed. What a misperception! Have we become so blinded by the manicured lawn look that we can't see beauty in a lawn of colorful clover flowers sprinkled across the green grass? Clover also exudes a sweet scent into the air.
The great irony is that white clover helps keep our lawns green. It is a natural nitrogen booster. Red clover, in some parts of the world, is considered a blood purifier, and pretty red clover flowers are dried and kept in jars for making into tea but shouldn't be stored in direct sunlight or they will fade.
In this 3:53-minute video you can watch as the bees are abuzz on the white clover flowers in this over-abundant clover lawn:
The best time of year to plant clover is spring or summer, so this blog post is timely. It’s a hardy flower, that lives all summer long and can survive the cold as long as it’s not too harsh an environment.
If you want easy, cheap and relatively low-engagement ways to Save The Bees, just plant some clover. That alone is a huge benefit to bees, costs pennies and takes almost no time. Clover takes care of itself for the most part. The only threat to clover besides drought is a destroyer bug known as clover root weevil, and this can be an uncontrollable wide-spread problem. The Irish wasp performs the best pest-management by eating these weevils.
The leaves of the many clovers are all trifoliate, which means they are three-bladed. Each leaf has a distinctive 'print' on it as well, visually similar to a shamrock legume. And if you take a magnifying glass to the multitudinous tiny pea-shaped flowers clustered tightly together, you’ll see that they resemble tiny sweet-peas. Clover roots, being part of the legume family, host bacteria that fix atmospheric nitrogen in nodules, and these are released into the soil to fertilize plants and grasses.
Crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) and red clover (Trifolium pratense) are two utterly different plants that don’t look similar in flower shape or color, but honeybees know the difference! Honeybees love crimson clover, which is almost fresh-blood-like in color. Incarnatum means blood red. The inflorescence in crimson clover is elongated but the individual flowers are shorter, so the honeybee ‘tongue’ fits to perfection.
Red clover has a different structure, and it is hard for a honeybee to get her tongue into the deep shape of the red clover flower. Other bees with longer tongues easily tap the red cover nectar and are probably delighted that there is a flower food source that honeybees are not interested in.
There’s plenty of clover for every bee, so to each her own... and don't forget to feed bees with clover please! So your honey pot will be a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow!