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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Paul Evans

Country diary: The dandelions should be crowded; instead, a solitary bee

A bee on a dandelion
A nomad bee visits a dandelion. Photograph: Maria Nunzia/@Varvera

Dandelion days. There is such wild energy in the air, the weather blows from hail, through showers, to bright sunshine, and dandelions pop up everywhere. There’s old “piss-a-bed” with its fang-root biting into an abandoned cemetery memorial: the white marble one with pillars, wreaths and adoring wives.

Anywhere dandelions grow they are local; antisocial Joneses there’s no keeping up with. This rude intrusion into a display of fortune – dressed up as the pride and grief of three generations – flowers in the homeland of the great war poet from Oswestry, Wilfred Owen, who speaks from over the edge of the precipice we’re all facing now and asks: “For this the clay grew tall?

Here they are, the symbolic solar weeds, Taraxacum officinale official flowers of the living sun. Roots follow a crack in the cemetery pavement to pierce the clay and draw up its secret histories from the glacial drift dumped by the ice age, where herds of horses and mammoths grazed, where poor sods came to put down their own roots and founded long-lost dynasties. This is the dandelion’s global empire.

Over the hedge in Cae Glas Park, a lone dandelion is visited by a solitary bee. It is fittingly spectacular: small, yellow-striped, with rusty antennae, legs and markings. It may be a painted nomad bee, Nomada fucata. It’s a species more widespread in southern England, but in recent years has wandered as far as Shropshire. This may be because its host species has also travelled here. Nomad bees are kleptoparasites. The female breaks into the nest of another bee species and lays an egg; the hatched grub kills the host grub and feeds on its food store.

The bee this nomad parasitises is Andrena flavipes, the yellow-legged mining bee that excavates tunnels in soil and sometimes plaster. Both the nomad and this mining bee are bivoltine, having spring and summer generations. Whatever their destiny, these spring bees are feeding on the same flowers, gathering energy for their macabre subterranean dramas.

Dandelions are in the top five flowers providing nectar and pollen at the moment, and they should be crowded with insect pollinators. But they’re not, and this is as sad an indictment of us that ever Owen could make. The dandelion remains powerfully undimmed: “Sweet is your antique body … for earlier suns than ours have lent you gold.”

• Country diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary

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