Somehow I missed it. All of those innumerable hours poured over gardening books and I am pretty sure Phacelia tanacetifolia, or Bee’s Friend, was never in them. Did I just miss it? Maybe. But it is such an interesting looking flower. And I have a bit of a thing for blue flowers. Even when I became a beekeeper I don’t recall Phacelia being among the list of recommended flowers for honey bees. This despite the fact that it is a well-known bee plant in Europe. Its classification as a wildflower, herb, and/or cover crop might also have something to do with its obscurity. Or it could be that if I lived in California (Phacelia is native to CA), I would know it well.
Whatever the reason, I think it is time to shine the light on Bee’s Friend, and make it a common garden plant. It is a beautiful bee plant, with spiky flowers and ferny foliage. Terrifically high in nectar and a good source of pollen, Bee’s Friend will feed all kinds of bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects. It can be grown in most areas of the United States and tolerates tougher conditions, such as dry soil and sand.
Phacelia is a genus of about 200 plants. Phacelia tanacetifolia is an annual and grows to about 2 feet tall. In addition to Bee’s Friend, Phacelia t. has several common names, such as Scorpionweed, Fiddleweed, Lacy Phacelia, and Blue Tansey. It is related to Borage.
Though I can’t speak to its durability as a cut flower, I bet Bee’s Friend would look amazing in a vase with its “spiky” flowers.
Bee’s Friend is hard to find. I have not seen plants available. Seed Savers Exchange is one of the few online sources to offer Phacelia tanacetifolia seeds and claims Bee’s Friend is the “best plant for attracting bees to your garden.” There you go. I bought a 4 oz. package and will plant the seeds this spring in my wildflower bed and vegetable garden. I will let you know how it does.
There are other Phacelia varieties worth mentioning as well, such as Phacelia grandiflora and campanularia. They have beautiful bell-shaped flowers and are also good for bees.
How to Grow Bee’s Friend
Sow the seeds of Bee’s Friend in full sun. It should do fine in a variety of soils. You can plant seeds outdoors as early as early spring when there is still a chance of frost. They will bloom from spring through summer. Plant seeds 1/8 inch deep in full sun. The seeds need to be covered to germinate. Keep the soil damp until the plants are well-established. The seeds will germinate in 7-12 days and should be thinned to 4-12 inches apart as they grow. Once established the plant is drought tolerant.
In addition to being a pollinator-friendly flower, Bee’s Friend can be grown as a cover crop, to protect and enrich the soil. Use it in your vegetable garden to attract the “good” bugs that will eat the “bad” bugs. Once planted, Phacelia is a self-seeder, but is not invasive.
The tiny hairs on Phacelia can cause skin dermatitis for some people so it is recommended to wear long sleeves and gloves when gardening around them.
I look forward to growing this beauty.
So do you know Bee’s Friend? Have you grown it? Would you grow it?