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.




 

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

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

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.

 

 

 

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

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.

IMG_8368-copy

 

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

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?)

IMG_7998-copy

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.

new-comp-for-coylus

 

 

 

Yew

Another interesting discovery the other day – yew pollen! The conifer I found is a male (haven’t located a female plant yet). The tiny flowers that erupt from buds look like they have their own little pots or vases. They produce copious powdery, light pollen, as you can see from the image on the right. The tiny 3″ bit of twig which I broke off and took home produced all of that lovely creamy pollen.

According to Kirk (Plants for Bees), yew produces no nectar, although pollen is an early source of pollen for honeybees.

A note of interest perhaps, the poison “taxine” is found in all parts of the tree, and even though the poisonous fleshy red seeds that the female trees produce are eaten by birds, they aren’t adversely affected by the seeds. A chemotherapy drug, Taxol, used for the treatment of breast cancer,  was initially manufactured from the bark of Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia).

 

Yew--Taxus-sp