alien among us or beautiful invader

Purple-Loosestrife-_7718 This amazing plant is purple loosestrife (lythrum salicaria). It has a terrible reputation as an invasive species and is black-listed nation wide because like so many introduced species, it has no natural predators here, so it takes over and displaces the native plants in its environment. If you search purple loosestrife, you get headlines like “invasive species, weed alert” and even “aliens among us”–phrases with which cultural studies theorists would have a field day (sorry, no pun intended).

Yes, I do understand this concern over the damage an introduced species can cause, but before I diligently consign my pilfered roadside example to the flames, I have to admire the astounding beauty of this plant’s pollen-bearing blossoms. Each flower has BOTH brilliant green pollen AND golden pollen–two different pollen colors, two different stamen lengths, and even two different stamen colors. This brilliant palette is further enhanced by the purple-pink of the petals. Gorgeous visual cues to attract pollinators. Of course, this is one of the plants that Dorothy Hodges includes in the book I’ve been working with for some time now. When I first saw her sample (below) with the 2 different pollen colors in it, I couldn’t believe it. Yes, tonality of pollen changes from plant to plant and season to season depending upon environmental conditions, but this variation is astounding. So, yesterday’s discovery of the plant itself at a UBC roadside ditch has proved immensely informative. The blossoms actually do have two colors of pollen!  Moreover, purple loosestrife is trimorphic, that is, it has 3 types of flowers. (The variations have to do with the relative lengths of the stigma/style and anther/filament combinations). Adaptations, I presume, to aid the plant in ensuring pollination. DH-116-purple-loosestrife Whatever its reason for having such colorful pollen, I much prefer the epithet, “beautiful invader,” that Canadian photographer, Brian Johnson gives to purple loosestrife. You can read more great information in the article that Brian Johnson wrote for Microscopy UK. Brian’s floral photography (called “A Flower Garden of Macroscopic Delights) is astoundingly beautiful, and well worth checking out.

Collectors These


I recently discovered a poet, Ben Truesdale (as “distilled voice”) who writes beautiful, often lyrical poems on a variety of subjects. His poems on bees have captured my imagination especially. I couldn’t resist reblogging his work here. Collectors These.

via Collectors These.

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.

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.


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.