Another view of the woodland garden in the Parc Floral. The orange azaleas contrast beautifully with the fresh green of the shuttlecock ferns. It’s a bright and lovely picture, providing you don’t turn your head a bit to the left. The large rhododendron smothered in magenta flowers offers a dramatic contrast that could be described as ‘lively’. When you add in the pastel pink and scarlet rhododendrons the contrast becomes indescribable.
The bees and other pollinating insects in the park have a huge range of flowers to chose from at present. The most popular choice seemed to be apple blossom yesterday and few bees had found their way to the rhododendrons, even in the sunniest clearings. I came across one bumblebee making it’s way erratically across a vast mound of brilliant flowers – three large plants of a magenta rhododendron, so thoroughly covered in flowers that no other colour was visible. The bee, dragging full pollen bags and liberally dusted with pollen all over, was buzzing frantically from one flower to another, looking as if it was overwhelmed by the riches on offer and couldn’t choose where to feed next.
Reading up on bees and rhododendrons I’ve found out that this bee wasn’t just suffering from too much of a good thing. Rhododendron nectar is toxic to honey bees, so they stay well clear of it if there’s any other source of nectar on offer. Bumblebees are generally less affected but the (naturally occurring) chemical in question is a neurotoxin; it can affect both the behavior and the memory of bees, so this bumblebee may not learn to stay clear of eye-watering magenta flowers in future.
It is fortunate for bee keepers that honey bees generally avoid rhododendrons. If they do stock up on nectar from the flowers, the resulting honey can have unpleasant and potentially dangerous effects on humans who eat it. Bizarrely some farmers in the Black Sea region of Turkey deliberately move their bee hives to flowering stands of wild rhododendrons, a practise dating back to antiquity. In small doses the resulting ‘mad honey’ is said to give a feeling of euphoria. Overdosing can lead to lead to hallucinations, vomiting and seizures. Some people attribute medicinal benefits to the ‘mad honey’, others use it as a recreational drug. Rhododendron honey was even used as a weapon of war in 67BC, when the retreating army of Persian king Mithridates left pots of honey as a ‘peace offering’ for the troops of the Roman general Pompey. Mithridates’ soldiers had the advantage the next day.