menzies larkspur: an ode to May

Sometimes a blossom that I am studying has so many astounding structures that taking it apart and understanding its beautiful components becomes a total obsession for days.  And so it is with this little native wildflower, Menzies larkspur, Delphinium menziesii,  from the family Ranunculaceae. It produces nectar in its amazing little nectar spurs, and sheds pale creamy pollen from its numerous anthers.

 

 

And April in your face

This past week I have been looking back, returning to and re-encountering work that last year I had packed and stored, tucked away from visibility and memory. This image below is part of a much larger project on bees called “not by chance alone,” which was exhibited at the RAG in the fall of 2015. After the show came down, I started to rework parts of the project, turning the work’s initial impetus and focus away from honeybees, and solely towards native bees and pollinators. Although native bees were already a large part of the original project, I wanted to reconfigure the content with native pollinators as the dominant thematic.

I extracted this section from the motifs of the big project–it represents an interpretation and conflagration of several mythical figures: she is Flora, Persephone, Cloris,and Melissa.  Metaphorically, she is spring, abundance, fecundity and renewal. I based her face upon Botticelli’s Primavera.

“And April in your face,” relief printing on gampi, beeswax, ink, graphite., collage. 12’x13′. 2015-2017 jasna guy

She is composed entirely of tiny bee imprints created on 45 sheets of translucent gampi paper. Each individual sheet is 18×24,” making the completed work, 12’x13′. The warm tone of the paper is enhanced by dipping the sheets into melted, unrefined beeswax.

The text which surrounds her, celebrates the arrival of springtime. It is taken from a beautiful Italian madrigal, for 5 voices, called “Ride la Primavera,” . The first line is usually translated as “Spring is smiling,” although ridere in contemporary Italian means to laugh. But hey, the language gurus know their Renaissance stuff! The music was written by Heinrich Schütz in 1611; lyrics by Giambattista Marino.

A rough translation of the madrigal here:

“Spring is smiling, for beautiful Clori is returning,                                                                       Listen to the little swallow, look at the grasses and the flowers,                                             But you Clori, more lovely in this new season, Keep old winter,                                            for your heart is girded by eternal ice.  Will you, cruel Nymph,                                            for kindness, hold the sun in your eyes, And April in your face?”

 

for this one seed, Persephone

 

A little more than a week is left of this year–the end of one–the beginning of another.  Perhaps now, in the midst of cold winter when the queen bees are sleeping, it is the time to sit and reflect upon these months of silence and stillness.

The ancient Greeks have a touching myth to explain the changing seasons, the tale of Demeter, the earth-mother goddess and her daughter Persephone. Persephone was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld, and doomed to spend her entire life underground, in darkness with her captor. Demeter raged against her loss, and in her grief  plunged the entire earth into cold winter. Demeter demanded that Hades return her daughter to the world of sunlight, but alas, Hades had enticed Persephone into eating the seed of a pomegranate and for this act, she was destined to live a third of the year in the frigid darkness of Hades’ realm, and the earth doomed to remain cold and empty of flowers. (To read further, see the Homeric Hymn to Demeter: earlywomenmasters.net).

I’ll start with a flower that Demeter missed, apparently, and left on the earth despite the cold, the dark and the snow. This is the Winter Rose, or Christmas Rose, appropriately called thus for the season, although it does not belong to the rose family at all, but the Ranunculaceae.

The Hellebore has super cool petals that are tubular shaped, and which are actually nectar-holding structures, ie nectaries. The large colored structures that we think are petals, are not petals at all, but sepals.

None of the native bees are awake and out when most of the Hellebores bloom, but I’ve seen honeybees on them on warm sunny days in early spring. The amazing, complex structure of the blossom with its strange petal-nectaries, the multiply-pronged stigmas and abundant stamens absolutely enchant me!

Hellebore  10x15" archival print on gampi, beeswax

Hellebore 10×15″ archival print on gampi, beeswax

 

a beeessential plant

I’m loving the pollen collecting and because the season is short and there are a lot of flowers in bloom almost at the same time, my days quite literally fly by.  250,000 flowering plant species on this planet, and with only about 150 samples of pollen collected to date, that’s a miniscule dent in the grander scheme of pollen, eh? In all earnestness, my goal is not the 250,000, but the exploration of the flowers that are/might be useful forage resources for our native bee species.

Basically, each flower/plant requires some research – information about its flowering period, what pollinators visit, the structure of the flower; its pollen grain form and color; the food resources the plant offers: pollen, nectar, floral oils, wax, nest-building material etc.; and what the experts say about the plant.

Here’s a page of rough sketches and info. on Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale). I learn something new with each plant that I collect and dissect. Sneezeweed is in the Aster family. The blossom is actually composed of two kinds of  flowers called florets: the larger, outer ring of flowers, called ray florets, and the inner head, composed of fertile, bisexual (containing both male and female parts) disc florets The pollen grain (bottom right of page) is very cool – it’s covered in spikes, like a burred seed pod, and perhaps the spikes help the pollen to stick to the body of a pollinator, just like a spiky seed does?

Sneezeweed offers both pollen and nectar to visiting bees, and it also provides a good landing platform for pollinators to stand on as they work their way through the numerous, closely packed tiny disc florets. Lori Weidenhammer, in her new book, Victory Gardens for Bees, considers it a bee-garden essential plant not only because it offers good resources for bees during the high season, but more importantly, it is a much-needed pollen and nectar source later on when resources are scarce. A bee-utiful flower with beautiful golden orange pollen!

sneezeweed234-copy

I’ll either photograph or scan the flower that I’m working on, as a further means of documentation. Below is one of my new “try-outs” in terms of producing a body of work based upon the flower/pollen research I’m engaged in presently. In this case, I’ve scanned the sneezeweed blossom. I love the way the petals look like wings, or a flouncy skirt. I’ve printed this on a translucent gampi paper, in archival pigment ink. I’ve also added the pollen color in a band, to the bottom of the image. The medium is powdery soft pastel, the same medium I’ve been using to document pollen colors these past 3 years. I like the thinness and delicate quality of the gampi – it feels ephemeral, like the flower that sit on its surface.

Sneezeweed-with-pollen-tryout-copy

Helenium autumnale, archival pigment ink on gampi. Total dimension: 34″ x 22″ jasna guy 2016

All in the family: 2 cherries, a plum, a pear and a quince

As March progressed and passed, and April followed–our city in full bloom with the flowers of thousands of ornamental trees– already tiny white and pink petals swirl in the wind and gather in the gutters–still a delight.

I’ve selected a few samples from those multitudes of glamorous, ephemeral blooms to peer at and study: 2 cherries, an ornamental plum, a pear (I believe) and a Japanese flowering quince. These plants all belong to the Rosaceae family which has more than 3,000 species under its wing, including representatives from some of our favorite food crops, like pears, apples, peaches, almonds and strawberries.

Kirk & Howes in their book, Plants for Bees, state that cherry is considered second only to apple trees as a nectar producer, and as such, is an important food resource for pollinators. The authors are, of course, speaking of the fruit-producing orchard trees. However, they state that even the ornamental trees are of similar value as bee plants, both for their nectar and for pollen.

Ornamental-cherry

Ornamental cherry. This particular cherry has a delicious sweet nectar in the cup of each blossom. The tiny drops taste almost of cherry liqueur. Quite amazing!

 

This sample below is from a wild cherry from my neighborhood. The leaves of the cherry have tiny red extra-floral nectaries on their stems that look like little bugs at first glance, but they are not, and their purpose has to do with defense against the plant’s enemies, herbivores. Apparently this sweet substance attracts ants, and they in turn, protect the plant from other insects in return for the sweet payment. An interesting symbiotic relationship!

cherry

Wild cherry (Prunus avium) The leaves have tiny extra-floral nectaries on the petioles.

 

The blossoms of this tree are very fragrant. I think it’s a plum tree – the leaves are coppery purple, and there are no horizontal lines on the trunk, like cherry trees have.  Kirk and Howes state that bumblebees, honey bees and mason bees gather the plum’s nectar and pollen.

plum

Very fragrant blossoms. Ornamental plum, I think!

The white blossoms of this tree are pungent indeed, and not favorably. Quite smelly actually. I think this might be a Pyrus calleryana? The anthers are a beautiful magenta/purple, but as they mature and dehisce their pale golden pollen, the anthers become dark little ragged ends.

pear-blossoms

Strong smell, described by one author as akin to rotting fish, but I didn’t find it quite that obnoxious.

 

Gorgeous red/salmon tones of Japanese flowering quince (Chaenomeles japonica). Apparently bumblebees, honey bees and early solitary bees harvest pollen and some nectar from this shrub.

quince-blossoms

Amazing number of stamens: 40-60 stamens in each flower, and 5 partially fused styles with 5 stigmas.

 

 

 

blue scilla

The first blue pollen of the year!

scilla-siberica-2

The petals of this flower have the most extraordinary coloring. Really, Scilla siberica out does herself in terms of beauty. I know that early queen bumblebees and honey bees will collect this pollen, but Scilla is too early for most other native bee species. Well, she’s not a native, so I guess that is why?

scilla-siberica

muscari

A late start to the new year’s postings, but the pollen has been on my radar since December. I’ve collected several samples of winter flowering plants, and am beginning this documentation with the latest one, muscari (sp), which I purchased today from a local nursery just because I couldn’t wait for the muscari in my garden to bloom.

According to Kirk (Plants for Bees), these tiny cobalt-blue bells with the white scalloped collars offer both pollen and nectar to bees. Honeybees benefit from the early pollen source, but bumble bees and solitary bees also visit. Muscari is a fragrant delight.

 

MUSCARI-2

I’ve attempted to dissect one of the miniature blooms.  6 dark anthers that appear to be attached to the walls of the corolla,  dehisce a creamy yellow pollen. Sonicating the blossoms helped with the process of pollen harvesting.

muscari-1