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!

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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!

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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.

 

 

 

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.

 

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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

paddle-petalled ribes

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pollen grain drawing on the right from Dorothy Hodges’ book, Pollen Loads of the Honey bee.

Flowering now is Ribes sanguineum.  Its tiny, delicately fragrant  flowers form a small drooping cluster of blossoms with intensely rose-colored oval buds at the tips.  The 5 exterior petals (sepals?) of each blossom sport vivid tonalities of carmine/magenta/pink, and the interior corolla has 5 astounding, white, paddle-shaped petals that together with the stamens form a little circle around the single pale green pistil. The stamens have their backs right up against the spaces between the little petals, and they give the impression that their job is to hold up those floral walls.

This little structure is absolutely amazing on its own, but there’s another really cool feature of this plant–there are miniscule glandular hairs on the outside of the receptacle and the red petals.They look like miniature transparent, pink-tinged thumb tacks. They taste a bit sweet. Well, I think they do, but I could be wrong.

Flowering current offers both pollen and nectar to early native bees, and it is also a favorite of hummingbirds, thus it is an important plant in the pollinator food repertoire.

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blue scilla

The first blue pollen of the year!

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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

indian plum

Blooming now is Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis). It is one of the first native species to flower in spring, and according to one authority (USDA/NRCS Plant Fact Sheet), its flowering coincides with the arrival of the Rufous hummingbird to our northern regions. It is also an early season nectar source for moths, butterflies and native bees. To the native bee claim, I can attest to — I was thrilled to see 3 bumblebee queens recently, but was not swift enough to photograph them in focus. Lots of great (read: non-usable) very blurry shots though!

indian-plum

Cool thing about Indian Plum is that there are male trees (left image) and female trees (right). Apparently this sexual divide can vary, and at times, there can be trees with both male and female flowers on it. (So, is this tree evolving towards or away from insect pollination?)

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The male flowers have 15 stamens that produce lovely gold slightly-greenish pollen. The male plant has rather a weird odor to it – one writer suggested the descriptor: ” much like cat urine” (Radical Botany). The female plant, whose white flowers are slightly smaller than the male blossoms, produces little bitter fruits that are eaten by birds and other animals.  A fresh cucumber or watermelon-rind like fragrance emanates from the female plant.

This was a super plant to explore – lots of fun peering into tiny blossoms and sniffing for alleged tell-tale scents of girl and boy trees!

hazel

One of the earliest sources of pollen for honeybees comes from hazel trees. Hazel produces copious quantities of yellow pollen from its male catkins. The powdery shower is a delight to observe, but of course, not so delightful for those suffering from allergies.

The tree has both male and female flowers on each branch. The tiny crimson flowers (no petals, just red styles)  burst out of buds and await the wind-carried cloud of pollen to reach them from another tree. Since the tree is wind-pollinated, it does not have to invest in showy flowers like insect pollinated plants do.

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