Why We Need Bees (and How Japanese Knotweed Can Help)
A balanced eco-system means to have harmony between all plant species, where each gets its own opportunity to flourish. This in turn supports surrounding biodiversity of insects, spiders and birds. Flowers blossom at different times and rates, giving chance for various pollinators to feed and reproduce. Japanese knotweed (latin name: fallopia japonica or polygonum cuspidatum ) is a herbaceous perennial plant from the buckwheat family, that has no interest in a balanced eco-system.
The problem with Japanese knotweed is that it behaves rather like a dominant bully. The invasive species far outgrows and overbears all native plants, robbing them of soil, space and sunlight. This completely prevents them from even surviving, let alone thriving. In fact, the world conservation includes Japanese knotweed in their 100 most invasive plants list.
When plants that have been pushed out by Japanese knotweed die out, they take all the pollinators and wildlife that depended on them too. Only the creatures able to make use of Japanese knotweed can continue to live, the impact continuing up the food chain.
This ‘single species community’, means Japanese knotweed flowers are the only available food for pollinators and only when they decide to bloom. The result is a new, far less diverse ecosystem which impacts on our best insect ally, the bee.
Bee populations are in deep trouble, with overall native bee numbers down by a third. Some rarer species are in decline by more than 54% with one in ten bee species across Europe facing permanent extinction.
Why We Need Bees
Bees are responsible for the pollination of up to 90% of human consumed food crops. As they continually move among the flowers and plants, tiny particles of pollen are caught in the fine hairs over their heads and backs, and in the ‘pollen baskets’ on their back legs. These deposits of pollen are transferred between male and female plants and effectively fertilise all numbers of different plants. This process is a part of the natural cycle that creates and provides us with a rich and diverse tapestry of edible fruit, vegetables, berries, grain and nuts.
There are around 280 recorded species of bee found in the UK alone and each type has different talents. For instance, smaller more agile bees, such as the garden bumblebee, are best suited to pollinating flowers like honeysuckle because they have longer tongues. Natural pollination by the perfect bee for that particular plant, also means better crops for us all round too.
And it’s not just our food supply that bees influence.
Bees pollinate up to 80% of wildflowers all across Europe giving us not only a divine scenery to look at, but an underworld for other creatures too. Just imagine a world without such beauty, aroma and colour. Even some of our clothes come from pollination of sorts – cotton for instance is a plant derived material, which is pollinated by bees.
The world over, the presence of bees symbolise a healthy, sustainable environment, so when they’re in trouble – so are we.
The threat that our entire planet is under thanks to climate change, is becoming more and more of a focal point for governments, businesses and individuals. The loss of over two thirds of the natural world, means the delicate balance of our eco-systems is at risk of collapsing altogether.
One of the few good things to have come from the Covid19 pandemic is that bees have been allowed some recovery time.
What’s Causing Bee Decline
There is no definitive answer to what’s causing bee decline. Scientists have a good idea about the main causes and suggest a combination of four key things as doing most damage.
Habitat loss Wild flower meadows have declined by 97% since the 1930s which would certainly have an impact on the bee population, who rely upon that as a food source. Campaigns to grow more wildflowers on roundabouts, roadsides and sowing wildflower strips between farming lands are starting to show some improvements.
Pesticides and insecticides Research conducted by three European countries, including the UK, showed that exposing wild bees and honey bees to neonicotinoid pesticides reduces their ability to establish new populations for the following year. That combined with decreased production of flowers for pollinators was enough for the EU to place a band on widespread use of any insecticides containing neonicotinoids. As neonicotinoids also persist in soil and in waterways, which ultimately moves up the food chain this is no doubt good news.
Climate change Changes in temperatures with warmer spring and winter times, have confused both flowers and bees alike. Flowers emerging and bees waking too early from hibernation, puts both at risk of dying from cold snaps. Increased rainless summer months means no water for bees either, who fly further to find flowers are dying of thirst.
Mites The varroa mite is a deadly parasite that is proving a real challenge for bee keepers the world over. Originally found on the Asian bee, the mite jumped onto European bees around 50 years ago, and the problem has slowly but surely worsened.
Bees and Japanese Knotweed
So you may be thinking that the link between Japanese knotweed and bee decline is all negative. Not so.
As it happens, bees don’t mind it so much and have been busily producing Japanese knotweed honey for some time now.
Alongside being a plant that has finally outwitted the human race, perhaps this is another redeeming feature of Japanese knotweed; Japanese knotweed honey.
Why Do Bees Make Honey?
The honey bee makes honey from pollen and nectar that they collect from flowers. Primarily they make honey to store throughout the winter months, where they’ll use it as food.
Typically, a beehive contains around 60,000 worker bees whose entire lives are dedicated to producing honey (and serving their queen of course). A worker honey bee will spend every living day collecting nectar that ultimately makes around one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey. That’s equivalent to 556 bees visiting 2 million flowers, to produce just one pound of liquid gold.
Nectar collected from flowers is passed from one bee to the next, as it’s mixed with bee enzyme in the bee’s mouth. The magic formula is then stored inside honeycomb wax cells within the hive. The bees then set about drying it off, by beating their wings over like a fan.
Once the honey is dry and ready, the honeycomb cell is sealed off using more wax and saved for winter. Unless it’s robbed by humans!
Beeswax can also be used to make candles, furniture polish, as a waterproof coating, and in the beauty industry for various lotions and potions. Incredibly, if honey is kept in a watertight sealed container, it will remain edible for your entire lifetime and beyond!
Japanese Knotweed Honey
Honey is nutritionally abundant and Japanese knotweed honey is no exception. Japanese knotweed honey has already been extremely popular in its native Japan for generations and has more recently been used all over the world. With a dark rich colour, antioxidant content is exceptionally high in Japanese knotweed honey.
Compared to refined sugar, which attacks the immune system, raw honey actually builds up a person’s immunity. Honey is also rich in vitamin B1, B3 and B6 to name but a few.
With antibacterial qualities, honey has been used as a medicinal support, by smearing over wounds to keep them sterile. Honey is known to kill bacteria, and helps to alleviate allergies.
Japanese Knotweed Health Benefits
In fact, when you look at the nutritional benefits of Japanese knotweed itself, it’s not surprising that it’s honey would be so incredible for health.
Health benefits include anti-bacterial, probiotic, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and cardio-protective amongst other things. The probiotics break down fructose within the honey making sugar absorption slower for the human body.
Japanese knotweed flowers contain plant polyphenols, which help it defend itself against invading insects, making it an excellent natural defence.
Japanese and people across Asia have long been using Japanese knotweed as a food source. Aside from the honey, it’s entirely safe and possible to eat the fresh stems of knotweed ), which are said to taste quite similar to British rhubarb. Stems have been used in stir-fry dishes as well as a vegetable accompaniment too.
Japanese Knotweed Flowers
When in bloom, Japanese knotweed offers an abundant spray of pretty creamy clustered flowers. It was this attractive floral display that first appealed to the Victorian botanist that brought it over to Britain. Little did he know what an impactful legacy he was leaving behind!
When does Japanese knotweed flower
Japanese knotweed flowers in late August to September, providing plenty of Autumnal food for bees and other pollinators as they begin to retreat for hibernation.
Identifying Japanese knotweed
There are a few plants that look like Japanese knotweed, so it’s important to make sure you know that you’re dealing with the correct plant. Japanese knotweed specialists offer a free Photo ID service, where you simply email us a picture of your suspected plant to us and we’ll have our experts take a look.
To help you get a good idea of what to look out for, here are a few pictures of Japanese knotweed through its lifecycle.
Another advantage to bees and Japanese knotweed is that the dried out hollow shoots of Japanese knotweed make perfect bee houses!
If you have a garden and would like to help out our stripy friends, here’s a great method to build a bee hotel:
Build Your Own Bee Hotel
Tunnel nesting bees such as leaf cutters and mason bees love to make homes in hollow tubular constructs and this is a super easy way to find use for Japanese knotweed stems if you’ve had an infestation
Start with a frame. A wooden box that’s open on the front side is a good place to start. Include a roof or cover to deflect rain. The frame should be about eight inches deep to fit long tubes.
The bee house should be closed on the back end (i.e. only one entrance). The holes should be two to ten mm in width to accommodate multiple species of native bees. Too big, you may attract predators like wasps and ultimately endanger the bees that you’ve invited into your garden.
Dead cut and dried Japanese knotweed stems are the perfect size for this job, but you could also use bamboo, or hollow reeds.
Your bee house should be able to stay put during rain or wind, so do make sure it’s firmly secured to a wall, a tree, or the ground.
Have your bee house facing south towards the sun so to get the morning warmth. During hotter months, try to have a small dish filled with water and pebbles above the surface of the water as a drinking source.
Japanese Knotweed Specialist parent company, the Grounds Care Group takes the environment seriously, and offers a wide range of ecological mitigation services, along with installing bee hives, bug hotels and wormery’s on commercial sites.
If you have any concerns about Japanese knotweed on your property or land, our experienced team can identify and put together a comprehensive plan to remove it. Contact us today for more information on 0800 031 8081 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our contact form.