writing and blogging

Blog review | Botanical Accuracy

You know what it’s like. You’re reading an article about honey bees, but the photo shows a yellowjacket. You’re reading a story about saving the bumble bees, but the photo shows a hover fly. You’re reading about mason bees, but you see a portrait of a bumble bee. What gives?

Botanical Accuracy logo

Logo © Lena Struwe

It turns out that bee lovers are not the only ones besieged by errors of identification. Botanist Dr. Lena Struwe writes an entire blog about botanical inaccuracies that she finds in advertising, on products, in editorial content, and—well—just about everywhere. She collects these findings and tries to get them straightened out. Her sidebar content sounds a lot like me when I’m pleading for people to use the right words so that we can actually communicate with each other.

A blog that’s fun to read

I’ve been following Lena’s blog, Botanical Accuracy, for about a year, and I find her posts delightful. For example, her Christmas post was about mistletoe. She provides photos of the actual plants, and then shows multiple examples where the word “mistletoe” is accompanied by illustrations of holly.

I loved her post on flowering ferns. Say what? People actually sell these but, of course, they are not ferns at all because no fern has flowers. In fact, the plants for sale are Incarvillea delavayi, a member of the Bignoniaceae family.

My absolutely favorite post was about chamomile tea and the different flowers shown on the boxes of these teas. She writes, “Stash’s non-organic chamomile tea unfortunately shows a fleabane plant. Fleabane has been used for, you guessed it, removing fleas and other parasites on our bodies and clothes.” Wow, how appetizing is that?

The importance to beekeepers

Botanical accuracy is important to beekeepers—at least, it should be. An example that comes to mind is the confusion between red clover and crimson clover. Honey bees are not fond of red clover and will generally ignore it. When those same bees encounter crimson clover, however, they think they’ve died and gone to heaven.

These two plants don’t even look alike. Red clover, Trifolium pratense, has a spherical dark pink inflorescensce. Crimson clover, Trifolium incarnatum L, has a pine-tree shaped inflorescence that is comprised of 75-125 blood red florets. People tend to refer to both species as red clover, but red clover isn’t actually red.

Back in 2011, I reported finding this statement in one of the popular bee journals: “Red clover (crimson clover) is generally considered poor bee forage.” Whoa! Make up your mind: which is it, red or crimson? Which bees? If you seed red clover for honey bees you will be sorely disappointed. Seed crimson clover and you may get some awesome honey.

The difference to bees has to do with the length of the corolla. Although honey bees are known as long-tongued bees, their tongues are on the short end of the long-tongued spectrum. They just can’t quite reach all the way down into the corolla of a red clover flower, but crimson clover flowers are a perfect fit. Bee species with longer tongues, including most bumble bees, do fine with either flower.

Put this blog on your reading list

Whether you keep honey bees or encourage your local native bees to dine in your garden, I urge you to take a look at Botanical Accuracy. I guarantee you will learn something. The posts are irregular—sometimes they are weeks apart, other times they are close together—but they are always enlightening.

Okay, just one more tidbit before I go. Did you ever wonder what part of the celery plant is fashioned into a stick, the kind that lies peaceably beside the carrots sticks? Turns out, those celery sticks are made from the leaf petiole, not the stem or some other nondescript part. Yes, those stringy, long, and rib-like green parts are actually leaves. If you don’t believe me, go have a look!

And thanks, Lena, for a great site.


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  • Rusty,

    This is one of my biggest pet peeves and I actually take steps to educate the poster that the fly just labeled a bee, is not.


  • A well-known cereal manufacturer ran a TV commercial showing the bees arriving at the factory gates & then entering the factory, where they poured the honey over the cereal. The film was beautifully shot & the computer generated bees were very realistic. Unfortunately, the bees were bumble bees! I wrote to the manufacturers (“We welcome comments about our products”) and did not receive a reply. I then contacted every beekeeper I knew & asked them to write. I eventually received a reply & the commercial disappeared from our screens!

    I also received a bottle of Honey Ale from my daughter for Father’s Day. Yes, you’ve guessed – the label showed a bumble bee! I wrote to the manufacturer who argued the bee was ‘generic’. Trading Standards said that the public couldn’t tell the difference. I replied that the reason for this was fairly obvious.

    • Brian,

      Good job getting the cereal ad pulled. But why does this have to be such a fight? And you’re right, of course: people will be misinformed if you feed them misinformation!

  • Rusty,

    I did NOT know that a celery stalk is a petiole: but when I looked at the “leafy” leaf part, it made total sense! So a “bunch” of celery is in fact a basal rosette! Cool!

    I will most certainly follow Lena’s blog, and most probably send grist for her mill. You two must be related. Thanks so much for spreading exactitude!

    Shady Grove Farm
    Corinth, Kentucky

  • I wish I could investigate the blog further but I work for the government and somehow her blog has been blocked due to being categorized as “cult or occult”. I always knew botanists could be eccentric and maybe even cultish, but, really?

    Happy New Year, Rusty!

  • Thanks for the suggestion, Rusty. I usually don’t have time to read blogs. In fact, there are only two that I like enough to follow. However, I really want to increase my botanical knowledge, so I’ll check this one out.

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