Look closely at the pollen baskets on the bee above. Can you see it? I watched this bee for a long time, and she was definitely collecting blue pollen. You should have heard me hollering at Tom across the yard, “PURPLE POLLEN!” He came running, worried that I was having a medical emergency. I have NEVER seen blue pollen before, either on a bee coming into the hive, or in the hive, or on a bee foraging. It’s very exciting and is worth hollering about. I mean, orange, yellow, white pollen - a common, everyday occurrence. Pink? Less common, and means there is cilantro blooming in the neighborhood.But blue? Never!
Turns out, we have lots of flowers growing at Poppy Corners that produce blue pollen, so it’s somewhat strange that I’ve never seen it before. This flower above is Phacelia tanacetafolia, or tansy-leafed phacelia. I have several different kinds of phacelia growing, and apparently they all have purple/blue pollen. Other plants that produce it? Chicory (growing here). Caryopteris “Bluebeard” (growing here). Siberian Squill, a bulb better known as Scilla (not growing here, but maybe soon!).
The color of the pollen hasn’t been really studied in terms of affecting honeybee health, although a simple question such as “what makes blue pollen BLUE?” can yield some interesting correlations. What makes blueberries blue, for instance? It’s anthocyanin. This is the same compound that makes leaves turn red in the autumn. There’s been a lot of research about these compounds and how they help keep humans healthy. So it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to imagine that blue pollen is rich in anthocyanins, and perhaps helpful to the bees’ health. But again, I had trouble finding any proof of that. The simplest explanation for why the bees eat pollen is that it’s protein-rich, whereas nectar is carbohydrate-rich. Bees need both to live, though the larvae get the lion’s share of pollen to aid in development. Pollen is stored in the frames with brood (eggs and larvae) for ease of convenience, one would imagine. Sometimes it is fermented and capped for later use. It’s fun to look at pollen storage in the hive and note all the different colors. But blue. I mean. Cool, right?