The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861

The Other Side of Beekeeping

Phacelia as a Honey Plant

- October 1, 2015 - - (excerpt)

Some members of the Hydrophyllaceae or Borginaceae1 Phacelia, facelia, lacy phacelia, fiddle neck, scorpion weed, valley vervenia, blue tansy or purple tansy.

Scientific name:
 Phacelia tanacetifolia

Origin: North America, basically western North America and possibly to some extent south of the U. S. Southern border.

Plant description: Phacelia tanacetifolia is a 15-100 cm (5.9-39.4 in) annual. The stems are erect with no or only a few branches that are more or less covered with glandular short stiff hairs and are hirsute2 throughout. The leaves are 20-200 mm (~ 0. 0.79-7.9 in) more or less oblong to ovate3, generally compound with the leaflets toothed to lobed and with the leaf blade longer than the leaf stem. The inflorescence is generally two to four branched and has many flowers displayed in prominent dense cymes.4 The calyx lobes are mostly linear5, 6-8 mm (~0.24-0.31in) long and densely pubescent and hispid.6 The corolla is blue and broadly bell shaped and 6 to 9 mm (~0.24 to 0.35 in) long and quite persistent remaining even at times to the fruiting stage. The stamens are 1.5-2 times longer than the corolla7 and are glabrous.8 The styles9 are glabrous and deeply cleft. The fruit is an ovoid capsule10 3-4 mm (~0.12-0.16 in) long and pubescent at the end. There are usually two (sometimes 4) grayish brown seeds 2-3mm (~0.08-~0.12 in) long and convex on the outer surface and flattened on the inner surface and are pitted in transverse rows.[14]

Distribution: See Map. The U. S. distribution is native, but the Canadian distribution apparently for the most part represents introductions.[17] Because I do not find it in Grays Manual of Botany[5] or the Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada[6], I suspect that the Eastern locations shown on the map provided here are also introductions (from the western U.S.). Phacelia tanacetifolia has also apparently been distributed in Europe.[7 & 8]

In California the plant is largely distributed in sandy gravely and sandy soils below 2500 m (~8202ft), on gravely slopes and open areas[14], and open flats and slopes below 4000 ft (~1219m), and 6000 ft (~1829m) in desert areas.[11]

Blooming period: In California it blooms March to May.[14]

Importance as honey plant: I find the differential reputation of Phacelia tanacetifolia as a bee forage as found in the world literature to be quite interesting and even a little perplexing. While it is native to North America and where historically at times has been a good honey plant, there currently seems to be considerably more interest and information about the species coming from Europe than from North America.(See later).

Honey potential: From his extensive questionnaires used over a period of several years, Oertel[12] found Phacelia sp. to be …