Honeybees And Peonies, A Perfect Match
Most peonies grown for commercial production aren’t allowed to flower in the field. Instead, the peonies are harvested in bud form and held in a chiller until bloom time, which is one of the reasons peonies are such an amazing and versatile flower. But did you know that a peony doesn’t have to bloom in order for bees to collect peony nectar?
Peonies have extrafloral nectaries, which means that the nectar is produced on the outside of the bud. Have you ever touched a peony bud and found it to be a little sticky? That’s the sugary stuff that bees and ants absolutely love! There is no damage caused to the peony when bees or ants collect the nectar from the bud.
Both honey bees and wild bees love peony nectar. In our co-op, three of our farms operate apiaries and collect honey at their peony farms. Through the natural foraging processes of bees, the peony nectar that is brought back to the hive is blended with nectar foraged from Alaska’s wild forest understory, for example fireweed, elderberry, wild rose, wild raspberry and any other wild nectar that the bees find irresistible. Bees are also used to pollinate fruit orchards in Alaska, such as the thirty five year old apple orchard you see here.
Once a peony blooms, the bees may want to pursue the pollen that is buried deep within all of the fluffy petals. Navigating so many petals can be a lot of work for a bee, and only the largest bees may be successful. Here, we see a wild Alaska bee working hard to reach the pollen, which is a protein source for bees. You can see the pollen that the bee has collected is stored on its back legs, something bee keepers affectionately refer to as ‘pollen pants’.
The next time you see bees or ants on your peonies, take a moment to enjoy watching them work. It takes a dedicated team to reach a goal. The member-farms of the Alaska Peony Cooperative strive to work together like a well balanced hive to create the high quality peonies you’ve come to expect. Thanks for being a part of our team!
– Written by the member-farms of the Alaska Peony Cooperative