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.

 

 

Process 2: flubs

A print of an enlarged dissection of a Cranesbill Geranium blossom.  One of the tricky aspects of printing on this thin gampi paper is that the printer does not like it, and the inkheads of the printer tend to clog and splotch, often resulting in a totally messed up and unusable print. You can see the bottom edge of the image has black spotches.

Cranesbill Geranium,  in process, 34

Cranesbill Geranium, in process, printed on gampi, 34″x 22″.

Close up detail of the bottom left section of the larger print (above). I’ve tried to rescue the print by creating little drawings around the ink splotches. Not sure if this is successful, but I am going to use the image anyway as evidence of this inevitable part of the printing process.

bottom edge of the  print, Cranesbill Geranium

bottom edge of the print, Cranesbill Geranium

Victory for Queen Lori and the bees

Wow, it’s mid June and I haven’t posted anything since April!  I’m deep into pollen collecting; it’s taking all my time and energy right now. Everything is early this year!

But now to other great news–my bee-buddy, Lori Weidenhammer (aka Madame Beespeaker, Queen Lori), has been on a grand tour, promoting her new, fabulous and informative book on bees, Victory Gardens for Bees. Check out her super blogsite for postings of her experiences. This is a great time of the year to be reading and learning about pollinators since many of the plants mentioned in Lori’s book are blooming right now. I find it such a delight  to read about a bee or a blossom and then actually see one in the flesh!  There is so much useful, practical information in this book–about our native bee species, about native and near-native plants, about gardens and garden design, about natural ways of controlling pests, about easy ways for all of us to help pollinators–and, it’s Canadian! Yay, Lori!!! Need a good summer read? This is it. Completely enjoyable and yet so informative!

Lori-Weidenhammer-book

more buzz and more cool pollen from the pollen path

This past weekend, I had the very great pleasure to be at a workshop given by artist, Lori Weidenhammer (the official “Madame Bee Speaker”) at the UBC Farm.  Lori was downright fabulous–informative, engaging (and entertaining). Her passion for bees is infectious, and I think that all the students left that afternoon with a wealth of new knowledge under their belts (as did I).

Lori gave me the opportunity to try my hand at sonic pollination in the field, with borage blossoms, but unfortunately, I was not successful.

When I got home though, I was determined to try again. I harvested a stem of borage from my garden, put it in water and waited for a bit for the plant to acclimatize to the new environment. Each blue blossom has stunning deep purple anthers. I held a blossom over black paper, and with my tuning fork (“C”) zapped the anthers with the vibrating fork. Presto! A lovely little puff of pollen fell onto the paper! What a thrill. Apparently there are several genera of bees that can buzz pollinate–bumblebees, sweat bees, carpenter bees and some stingless bees. Honeybees do not have this ability.

I don’t have enough borage pollen to make a good color sample yet, maybe later in the summer.
borage-buzz-pollination

I’ve also been collecting fireweed (Chamerion Angustifolium) and managed to get enough pollen to create a reasonable color sample. The fireweed pollen is sticky. It has viscin threads on each pollen grain, which makes it clump together and as a result, the pollen doesn’t come off the anthers easily.

Fieweed-pollen

In the image below, I’ve placed 2 fireweed anthers on the color samples in Dorothy Hodges’ book, The Pollen Loads of the Honey Bee, and got a reasonably close match to Hodges’ lightest Fireweed color. Fresh anther pollen is different in tonality from the pollen loads collected by honeybees and bumblebees, and it also varies in tonality from year to year and plant to plant, depending upon the environment in which the plant grows.

But look at those anthers–the filaments are pinky-purple. What a wonderful contrast to the blue/green pollen.

Fireweed-on-color-samples

Bluebells

Bluebells-comp Bluebells have appeared in my garden faithfully every spring since we first moved into our home. They came gratis. Originally I thought they were the native bluebells famous in English countrysides, but no, my bluebells, and white bluebells and pink bluebells are Spanish hybrids and therefore have no claim to fame. They are beautiful nontheless, and the bees enjoy them too. Apparently, the true English bluebell (Scilla nonscripta)  has creamy colored pollen.  You can see the yellow to creamy-yellow swatches on the bottom left of the image below. The swatches represent the various tones of pollen loads collected from honeybees that have foraged on English bluebells. Garden-Bluebell-with-pollen-colors-copy   The blue-green swatches on the right represent the colors of pollen loads collected from bees that have foraged on Spanish bluebells. Quite a difference! The blue-green dust in the image above is the anther pollen I collected from the Spanish bluebells in my garden. Although the pollen loads from honeybees will always be different in tonality from fresh anther pollen (because honeybees mix nectar or honey with the pollen thus resulting in tonal changes), there is still quite a similarity between the pollen dust and the lightest sample in the swatch.

pollen quest

A visit to the Van Dusen Botanical Gardens recently proved to be a real treat–my first honeybee sighting of 2015! The intrepid bees ventured out between downpours in search of nectar and pollen. This busy little worker was in the process of loading light yellow pollen onto her hind legs from a hybrid honeysuckle bush (lonicera purpursii).

lonicera-purpusii

In a different part of the Gardens, the scent of Sweet Box (Sarcococca) blossoms was intoxicating. Thought there’d be lots of bees there, but the skies darkened, the air became chilly as the sun disappeared behind the dense grey clouds. No bees, sadly.

I photographed my own Sarcococca ruscifolia plant, a small one, at home. No consolation for the disappointment at the Gardens, but a useful reference and resource for drawing, nontheless.  Here’s a close-up of the male flowers spilling creamy pollen over the leaves.

sarcococca-ruscifolia

The tiny amount of pollen provided me with the impetus to record this anther pollen color in a drawing, as part of my self-appointed work to explore and learn more about the plants that bees love. Dorothy Hodges (Pollen Loads of the Honeybee) lists 20 very early blooming plants and trees, but Sarcococca is not part of her record. So, although I could not use Hodges as a guide here, I started the pollen work with the Sarcococca.

detail-Sarcococca-rustifolia

Detail of pollen drawing in encaustic

Sarcococca-ruscifolia-drawing

Sarcococca ruscifolia 24″x 36″ graphite, soft pastel, encaustic on mylar