The summer garden is made special by gorgeous flowers that attract birds and insects, and most noticeably, the industrious honeybee.

This honeybee is foraging on a flower of the beautiful blue squill in the mini grassland in our garden. As can be seen by the yellow blob on one its hind legs, its pollen baskets seem to be full, but despite that, it is also probing the flower to collect nectar. So on this foraging trip, this bee will be doubly loaded, collecting both nectar and pollen on one excursion.

Worker bees that bring such buzzing life to our gardens, are not collecting for their own satisfaction. When out foraging, they are fulfilling the task of collecting for the hive. This bee would have returned to the hive to offload the nectar stored in its crop, and the pollen that it has packed into the baskets on its hind legs. However, although collecting mainly for the hive, when hungry the bee can open a valve between the nectar crop and its own stomach, to feed its own energy needs. Amazingly, a bee can fly long distances carrying over half its own body weight in nectar, pollen or water.


Blue Squill in suburban garden South Africa

The blue squill is one of my favourite early summer flowers. With its faint honey-scented aroma it is a favourite with pollinators too.

This striking plant occurs naturally in a variety of habitats over much of the eastern region of South Africa. I associate it most with mountain grasslands, especially with summer holiday hikes in the Drakensberg. It is wonderful to have several of these plants in the grassland patch in our garden.

I still think of it by its older name, Scilla natalensis, but it has been renamed the Merwillia plumbea.  Its conservation status is classed as vulnerable, in part because its large bulbs are widely used in traditional medicine. It needs careful preparation when used medicinally, as in its raw state it is fatally poisonous. Its medicinal uses include treatment for internal tumours, and for boils, wounds and fractures. It has also been used to treat lung disease in cattle. Happily, it is available from plant nurseries, and it can be propagated from seed or bulb offsets. 

Of course there are other lovely flowers that make this time of year what it is, but the fact that the Blue Squill dies down to just the brown tops of its tubers during the winter months, sprouting forth in the spring amazing  circular tufts of long pointed leaves from which the long flower stalks eventually emerge, somehow makes it even more valued and impressive. ★ 

Posted by Carol at letting nature back in

Sources: Elsa Pooley. 1998. A Field Guide to Wild Flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region. Durban: Natal Flora Publications Trust; Australian Honey Bee Industry Council

Book cover A Field Guide to Wild Flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region

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