Bees are important and beneficial garden insects. They are responsible for pollinating a large array of garden plants. Particularly those with colorful flowers that produce pollen and nectar. Any garden grower will ask if Azalea bushes attract bees?
Azalea bushes do attract bees, especially by using their flowers. In particular, bees are more sensitive to the blue and violet flowers of azaleas.
Let’s find out why bees fall to the appeal of azalea flowers. What are the benefits and risks of such a partnership?
Are Bees Attracted To Azalea Bushes?
Look around in the garden and you’ll see that bee presence occurs in certain places only. This is around and inside flowers. Every flower that produces nectar or pollen appeals to insects, which also means bees.
The insects will either feed on or find a use for the substances. What are the two substances? What do they have to offer? Let’s find out why they are so special.
A single pollen grain is actually a mass of microspores that serve as the material that helps in pollination. Pollen is usually found on the anthers of a flower. This material is what helps in the pollination of another flower.
The pollen from one flower is carried by bees on their bodies. Eventually, it will make contact with the stigma of another flower. This is the process of pollination and many plants depend on it to further their existence.
Plants need pollination to occur to survive and reproduce. But, at the same time, they need bees to achieve this goal. You could almost say that pollen has a high protein value to entice and attract insects like bees.
Nectar is quite different from pollen in composition as well as in function! Read on to find out the main difference between these two substances.
This is a sugar-rich substance most plants create in an attempt to attract insects. Why would plants want to attract insects? Well, some insects are actually helpful, such as bees which act as pollinators.
The bees come and collect the nectar to make honey. At the same time pollen collects on their body. The bees will then travel to other flowers and pollinate them. Also, this activity can attract insects (including bees) for protection against herbivorous insects.
Bees need nectar to make honey. Nectar is basically a diluted sugar solution. Eventually, after time, the nectar undergoes conversion to the substance we know as honey.
Planning to plant your azaleas in full sun? Find out if you can first. Can you grow azalea in full sun?
Why Bees Are Attracted To Azalea Bushes?
If you really think about it, what really attracts bees to a particular plant? It’s definitely got something to do with flowers for sure, but what exactly?
Flowers are famous for two things. It’s either pollen or nectar as these two substances serve as food for these insects.
Azaleas like most other plants have attractive flowers, they even bear a pleasant fragrance. Almost every flower out there produces nectar or at least pollen, azaleas are no exception to the rule.
Pollen is a basic substance a plant needs to reproduce and lengthen its genetic lifespan. So, you can rest assured knowing that azaleas will produce pollen. Again, bees use pollen as a raw material for feeding their larvae.
Honey bees only have pollen as a protein source. Without this high-protein material, an entire colony of bees would die.
But, food is not the only reason why bees can be attracted to azalea plants. Bees have different eye sensitivity than most other insects. Their eyes are more sensitive to the violet end of the color spectrum. This is as opposed to the regular sensitivity to the red end of the spectrum.
Bees are more attracted to violet and blue azalea flowers because their eyes are more sensitive to these colors.
As a result, bees are very sensitive to azalea flowers that are violet or blue. Or even if the flowers have markings with these colors the bees will find them equally appealing!
Are Azalea Bushes Harmful To Bees?
Generally, azaleas are not the best plants for honey bees. This may come as a surprise for many but azalea flowers actually contain a toxin known as Grayanotoxin.
Grayanotoxin (previously known as Andromedotoxin, Acetylandromedol, and Rhodotoxin), and Arbutin glycoside are the toxins present in azaleas. It can be present in all parts including leaves, flower petals, stems, nectar, or even pollen.
Bees are sensitive and cannot tolerate this toxin and can even succumb to it. What’s even more dangerous is that bees can collect this nectar and make honey that contains Andromedotoxin. Honey with this toxin is dangerous to humans.
Why Would Azaleas Want To Poison Its Pollinators?
It is shocking to find out that azalea plants, a common garden plant, can possess toxic pollen/nectar. Why would an azalea bush want to kill bee pollinators? This is quite a perplexing question.
Scientific experts have weighed in on this question. Perhaps the azalea plants exhibit this characteristic because bees aren’t the best pollinator for them! This could very well be true! Evidence of this is that bumblebees can tolerate the toxins without any repercussions.
But, a pleasant thought is that bumblebee can help in pollinating azaleas. Also, they can possibly do it better than their smaller counterparts.
A study did show that even butterflies act as better azalea pollinators than bees! Scientists have shown that butterflies can carry more pollen on their wings than in their bodies.
In turn, their wide wingspan has the greatest chances of touching the stamens and stigma of two different azalea plants. Bumble bees are larger than bees and closer to the size of a butterfly. Thus, they have higher pollinating tendencies just like butterflies.
What Happens If Bees Collect Azalea Pollen/Nectar?
Azalea foliage can possibly have a few toxins in it. What does this mean for bees and especially beekeepers that keep bees for honey? Well, it means that in the honey, the toxin will accumulate. This is not good as the toxins are potentially fatal for humans.
Beekeepers can mix honey from several sources to dilute and lower the concentrations of such toxins. However, this is not a trusted method and no one should rely on it! So, what is a better solution?
How to Avoid Azalea Toxins In Honey?
Honey that possesses the dreaded Andromedotoxin is commonly called ‘Mad Honey’. There are a few ways that professional beekeepers can keep their honey free from this toxin.
- Usually the timing of bees looking for flowers and the azalea flowering seasons do not coincide with each other.
- Beekeepers can take care to plant azalea plants that are not poisonous and do not develop the toxin. These are usually the ‘Encore Azalea’ variant.
- Make sure there are more pollinator-friendly flowers in the nearby vicinity of the bees. Plant toxic azalea far away, or don’t plant them at all!
- Don’t collect honey from hives near toxic azalea plants during the azalea planting season.
- Dilute honey collected from various sites. This can be an extra precaution to avoid any risks.
Do Azalea Bushes Attract Other Insects?
Azalea flowers have a pretty appearance and a deceivingly innocent fragrance. So, many insects will see them as an attractive food option.
Here are a few insects that are attracted to azalea bushes and the reasons why they are:
- Bees – for pollen and nectar and the color scale of the azalea flowers
- Mosquitos – can take a liking to the shady, dark, and moist conditions within the azalea bush
- Bumble bees– attracted to pollen and they naturally act as the pollinator of choice
- Butterflies – attracted to certain flower colors (red, orange, purple, yellow, and pink) and their sweet scent. Also, Swallowtail and Gray Comma butterflies are especially attracted towards these azalea flowers.
Birds such as hummingbirds can even be attracted to azalea plants for their colorful and scented flowers. Their long beaks help them retrieve the nectar that is embedded in the azalea flower.
Are Azaleas Harmful To Other Insects?
A common question you may now be asking is if azalea bushes are harmful to other insects, that is besides bees.
We know one thing, azaleas are not harmful to Bumble bees. These insects happen to be the plant’s main pollinator. These insects are not sensitive to the otherwise harmful toxins present in the azalea plants.
Wondering what to plant next to or near your azaleas? Check out our list of Best (and worst) Azalea Plant Companions.
Mosquitoes just look for shelter among azalea bush leaves. They do not actually consume any of its products or parts.
Thus, the plants are not harmful to them in any way. To get rid of mosquitoes in your azalea bush, prune them so that they get enough sunlight and air circulation.
Also, try to place your azalea in a semi-open area to avoid creating a dark and damp environment in which mosquitoes thrive.
Azaleas are undoubtedly a great addition to your garden. They produce greenery and a splash of shades when they flower.
Bees are attracted to azaleas for their pollen and nectar. However, their flowers and leaves contain a toxin. This can be lethal to bees and even dogs! The toxin in the nectar can concentrate and harm humans that consume it.
Beekeepers and commercial honey producers should avoid planting azaleas near their bees. Or they can opt to plant a non-toxic variant of the azalea plant.
Are things going bad with your azalea plants and are they changing color?
Yes, honeybees like azalea, particularly their blue and violet flowers. However, they are not aware of the toxins that the pollen and nectar may contain. The colors of the flower and its alluring scent are what draw the bees to them and the pollen/nectar it produces.
Azaleas possess a toxin. This toxin is bad, especially when it becomes highly concentrated in honey. This honey (a.ka. Mad honey) is poisonous to human beings as well. When ingested by humans, this toxin can behave and cause symptoms of a narcotic substance.
Azalea plants attract quite a few bugs, as would any other plant with flowers. When talking about the beneficial insects, bees, butterflies, and bumblebee bees are attracted to azalea plants.
But, some detrimental insects azaleas attract are lace bugs and azalea caterpillars. Both insects feed on azalea plants and can stunt growth and decrease flowering.