In a case of mistaken identity, people often believe honey bees don’t like crimson clover. And the myth persists. I hear this multiple times every year, even from experienced beekeepers. And recently, one of the bee journals printed this odd statement, “Red clover (crimson clover) is generally considered poor bee forage.”
The problem with that sentence is that the author couldn’t decide if he meant red clover (Trifolium pratense) or crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum). Furthermore, he didn’t say which bees. Did he mean honey bees or some other bees? No wonder people are confused.
The two clovers look very different
Red clover and crimson clover do not look alike. And it’s not just their color—the shapes of the plants, especially the flowers, are entirely different. But if you want to base your identification on color, red clover flowers don’t come close to being crimson. Instead, they are pink.
On the other hand, crimson clover flowers are strikingly, unmistakably blood-like. In fact, the species name, T. incarnatum, means “blood red.”
Red clover is not attractive to honey bees
It’s actually the red variety that is not a great honey bee plant. This is because it has long tubular flowers that honey bees have trouble reaching into. Other bees—those with longer tongues—have no trouble dipping into red clover. So while honey bees may not prefer red clover, other bees think it’s the cat’s meow.
Contrary to rumor, crimson clover is an excellent honey plant that can produce a crop of quality honey. While the entire inflorescence is more elongated in this clover, each individual flower is shorter—just the right size for a honey bee tongue.
Honey Bee Suite
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