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.

 

 

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

 

native bees 101

Glorious wildflower meadow - a real field day!

Glorious wildflower meadow – a real field day!

Just returned from a fantastic week of bees and flowers and study and wine touring in the stunning interior of B.C. What an enriching experience it was to peer at bees in the lab, to learn more about our native bee species and then to go out into the field (literally) amidst the flowers that are the nutritional resources for the bees. (Ahem, the wine touring was not part of the course).

Our native bee ID course was led by super-star bee expert, Lincoln Best. We were at Thompson River University in sunny Kamloops; hosted by the Master Gardener’s Association and organized by master gardener and artist, Elaine Sedgmen.

Our instructor, Lincoln Best demonstrating how to "tumble dry" bees

Our instructor, Lincoln Best, demonstrating how to “tumble dry” bees

I must say that one of the funniest highlights of our course was watching our fearless instructor, Lincoln Best, demonstrate how to “tumble dry” bees in preparation for pinning. Fluffing up wet bee fuzz is hard work! And listening to him describe how he had to shave the hair off a tiny bee’s face in order to find those oh-so-important identifiers, the “subantennal sutures,” was hilarious! Yup, that must have been one tiny razor!

Just a few of the stars I had the pleasure of photographing:

Andrena-on-gumweed

A bee from the Andrenidae family (I think) with a super load of golden pollen she collected from gumweed (Grindelia).

Andrena-on-gumweed-2

The thrill for me is always seeing how different bees collect pollen. This little bee has pollen right up into her armpits, all along her hind legs and even some on her abdomen.

Lori-at-the-Knudsford-Meadow-copy

Madame Beespeaker aka Lori Weidenhammer of “Victory Gardens for Bees” fame, glorying in the bee search amidst the vast, stunningingly beautiful meadow  near Kamloops. The afternoon was astounding – payne’s grey menacing clouds and gold and siena fields. Unforgettable!

male-megachididae-on-Mariposa-lilly

A very wet male bee from the Megachilidae family, waiting to dry out on the lovely petals of a Mariposa Lily. He’s got highly specialized front legs that he uses to cover the female bee’s eyes during mating. Kinky, blind-folded sex; who would have thought it?

Melissodes-and-aphid-Copperhead

A long-horned male bee (a Melissodes from the Apidae family, I think), and an aphid in discussion on a gumweed blossom. Hmmm, was the topic climate change or the vintage of nectar?

Bombus-huntii-on-gumweed

Perched on its forelegs and midlegs, a brilliantly striped bombus huntii (again, I think) purveys the surrounding territory.

Bombus-huntii-on-Melilotis

Another bombus huntii foraging on Melilotis. Look at those beautiful orange pollen loads!

bombus-on-chicory-2-at-Old-Grist-Mill

Bumblebee (possibly bombus bifarius?) deep into the nectar of chicory, and already powdered with the off-white pollen from the anthers.

Andrena-sp-on-cinquefoil-at-Old-Grist

A mining bee busily foraging on potentilla.

bombus-and-mining-bee-on-veronica-at-Summerland

The Veronica buffet – speedwell is a favorite of many different types of bees. Here, a large bumble bee and a smaller mining bee enjoy the sweet nectar.

Leaf-cutter-on-Trefoil

A leaf-cutter bee with some orange pollen on her abdomen sinks her head into the throat of a Trefoil blossom.

honey-bee-on-chicory-at-Old-Grist-Mill

Honey bee with amazing pollen loads she collected from chicory blossoms. How can she fly with such a heavy weight to carry?

Mystery-bombus-on-solidago-2

A rather blurry shot of a mystery bumble bee on solidago. More bee ID work needed here!

Bombus-on-spirea-with-rainbow-pollen-loads

This bumble bee foraging on spirea has a stunning two-toned pollen load

bombus-on-vetch-with-rainbow-pollen-load

Look at this amazing multicolored pollen load on this Bombus vosnesenskii! She’s got her head deep into a vetch blossom.

 

 

Nevadensis-queen-butt

My all-time favorite newly recognized bee was this stunningly gorgeous bombus nevadensis queen I discovered foraging on thistle. She was huge!  I’ve used an image of her as the header to my blog site.




 

celebrating pollen with Lori Weidenhammer and Artstarts

I had the great honor and pleasure of sharing 4 workshops on pollen this past weekend with artist and author, Lori Weidenhammer.  Lori gave me a copy of her new book, Victory Gardens for Bees, which I was thrilled to share with workshop participants. This beautiful and timely book will be on the shelves very soon. It is a fantastic compendium of gardening  information with the express aim of helping our native pollinators. The book is lushly illustrated with stunning photos, and it is a delight to hear Lori’s voice come through in the text.

 

Lori-Weidenhammer-book

The free weekend workshops Lori and I facilitated were offered through Artstarts at the New Westminster Quay location and at Artstarts downtown Vancouver.  We drew, stamped, collaged and embellished bees and flowers and made postcards and matching buttons.  Not only did we celebrate flowers, bees and pollen but we even got to celebrate the 20th birthday of ArtStarts four times!!!!

Looking at flower parts and pollen with a loupe. Photo: Lori Weidenhammer

Dark purple pollen of anemone.   Photo: Lori Weidenhammer

 

Peering at the stamens and pistil of a cherry blossom. Photo: Lori Weidenhammer

Hairy-belly bee postcard. Photo: Lori Weidenhammer

 

Artists of all ages participated – even Moms and Dads! Here’s a beautiful bee and flower themed postcard and button made by a Dad working along side his children. Photo: Lori Weidenhammer

 

Beautiful bee, flower and sunshine postcard and button made by a young participant. Photo: Lori Weidenhammer

 

Young artist proudly shows off her queen bee postcard, with golden finger-print pollen!  Photo: Lori Weidenhammer

 

Lots of food for bees in this garden postcard. Photo: Lori Weidenhammer

 

A beautiful button of a native bee made by a young artist. Photo: Lori Weidenhammer

Dissected cherry blossom postcard and button. Photo: Lori Weidenhammer

Working on honey comb-themed button! Photo: Lori Weidenhammer

For exploration and drawing, a selection of flowers in bloom right now . Photo: Lori Weidenhammer

Pink pollen and bees! Photo: Lori Weidenhammer

Self-portrait with super bees and flowers! There’s even a butterfly in this garden postcard. Photo: Lori Weidenhammer

It’s great to see parents participate in the workshop. Here’s a beautifully drawn card and button made by a Mom working along side her own young artists. Photo: Lori Weidenhammer

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