Honeybee in eglantineOur Sunday morning surprise was to see a few honeybees foraging among eglantine blossoms. Darting about, they quickly dismissed the older, lighter-pink blossoms and attended the more newly opened, redder blooms. In those they mostly (unlike the bee in the picture) ignored the center but would run in a circle, tightly circumscribing the yellow anthers. That suggests that they were after pollen rather than nectar, which roses do not produce in quantity despite having a pleasant scent.

Some report the sweet briar (another name for eglantine) to be an exception, while others dismiss the claim. For our part we note that while the blossoms have a faint rose scent, the leaves produce a much stronger one, particularly when wet, of apples. After a shower of rain most of the backyard is perfumed by this one plant to our delight and the indifference of the bees, who know that leaves will yield neither nectar nor pollen.

Even as a pollen source roses are often reported to be of no interest to bees but it is usually the modern roses with their compound blooms that is meant. They hide their parts under petal after petal tightly layered to discourage all but the most persistent bee. Older varieties of roses, owing more to nature and less to the breeder, have along with rambling vigor and fierce thorn, much simpler, open blossoms. Such is the ancient eglantine, which we have not meddlesomely changed but merely recognized, propagated, and praised.

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.

~ William Shakespeare A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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