bee forage

Honey bee forage: Siberian squill

I am fascinated by blue pollen: it seems so over-the-top. Nature provides cool things, but to me, blue pollen is gratuitous, an act of sheer beauty. Although I’ve posted photos of it before, they’ve been provided by other beekeepers, and I so wanted to see it myself.

So about three years ago I set out to grow it, and I tried several different things. Last year I planted bird’s eyes, Gilia tricolor, but it was a disappointment. The pollen was certainly blue, but the bees didn’t seem to care.

So last fall, on a cold, miserable, and muddy day in October, my husband and I braved the elements and planted several hundred bulbs of Siberian squill, Scilla siberica, also known as wood squill. I already had a few of them, but they were limping by in the shade and not doing well, so I decided to plant them in a big way.

They are small plants with bright blue bell-shaped flowers that pop out of the soil along with the crocuses. Soon after we planted them, we had a deep freeze that lasted for days; I was afraid they weren’t deep enough and I was sure I had ruined the entire planting. But by the first of March they were poking through the straw mulch.

On the first few days of bloom I saw nothing but flies—pretty flies, but flies nonetheless. But when the sun came out, the bees came in droves. In the past three days I have photographed three species of bumble bees, male mason bees, and of course honey bees, all frolicking in the Siberian squill.

The plants die back by the time the lawn starts to grow, so they can be mowed over with no problem. New plants come up from both bulbs and seed, yielding thick stands in just a few years.



This one has her pollen neatly packed away. © Rusty Burlew


This one has it on her eyes, face, legs, thorax—just about everywhere. © Rusty Burlew

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  • I love this post- blue pollen is the best! I grow an Echium wildpretii that the bees love and it has fantastic blue pollen. I need to get a good picture to share. The blooms spiral up huge spires and sometime you can get amazing shots with only blue sky as the background. If I get a good one I’ll try to send it along.

  • I live in North-central PA and I’m always looking for something to plant that comes up early for the bees. I will definitely be ordering a bunch of these next fall!

  • Fascinating creatures . . . great pics Rusty . . . I may give the Siberian squill a shot here in East Tn. I have cream-colored pollen coming in by the loads right now . . . 3/15/2014

  • When we moved into our house 25 years ago there was a patch of squill along the fence line. I commenced renovating the garden the following spring with a focus on shade plants including spring ephemerals like Hepatica. Over the years the squill spread relentlessly and outcompeting/killing every plant that grew at the same time and was less than a foot in height. I gave up trying to fight it and moved my wildflower efforts to the front garden were I rogue it out ruthlessly and gave the back over to squill and mostly hostas. Now I look on it as a mixed blessing since the bees really do love it and it blooms so early. If anyone is considering planting it, please do not do so near an existing natural area. I don’t have any evidence beyond my own experience, but I can’t help but think it would be devastating to the smaller spring wildflowers in a woodland area.

    • Mark,

      True, some people think it has invasive tendencies while other people can’t get it to grow. The consensus among gardeners seems to be that, if conditions are right, it can spread aggressively.

  • Please do not plant this highly invasive bulb, especially in wooded land that is not yours. This plant spreads like wild fire and will take over native species’ land.

    • Yvonne,

      I plant hundreds of these year after year, but it never survives. It might be invasive in some areas, but certainly not all.

  • These are taking over the yards in my Wisconsin town. Their prettiness does not outweigh their damage to our woodlands and native spring ephemerals. They are very invasive. Do native bees like them? Or is it just honey bees?

    • Cat,

      I find they attract the very early spring bees, including Osmia and Andrena species. The extent of invasiveness varies with the region. Here, I’ve never been able to get them to overwinter.

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