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

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

 

not by chance alone

September marks a special month for me—the project I have been working on for almost 3 years is on display at the Richmond Art Gallery. (The exhibition opens on September 12th). Well, about 2/3 of the entire project has been installed for this exhibition. It climbs 16′ in height, and we have placed a few pieces on the floor, not many, just to indicate that the work continues and the installation is partial. I am most grateful to the curator of the RAG, Nan Capogna. She’s wonderful to work with. She’s very knowledgeable, she’s got a keen eye, she’s considerate yet honest with her comments and critiques. It is a privilege to work with someone of her caliber. The Preparators at the gallery are also fantastic–sensitive, very capable and efficient. Thank god they know how to do math and grids!  Kathy, Hilary, Melanie and Paula, part of Nan’s educational, administrative and curatorial team at the gallery are super to work with too. What a great group, and what a great experience this installation has been.

I’m sharing the exhibition space with an artist from Vancouver, Cameron Cartiere, and although we are thematically connected–we are both exploring the subject of bees–our approaches, perspectives and modes of execution are different. Cameron’s installation is stunning.

install

Installing almost to the rafters with Darius!

gallery-front

Partially completed text in the large windows

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Detail of installation. Photo by Scott Massey.

perhaps a why

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This summer has been a busy one–completing the large bee project, (I feel like I should say this in capital letters and with arms waving); I have the great privilege of being part of an exhibition at the Richmond Art Gallery next month. So there are many things I have neglected in order to focus completely on preparations for this upcoming show.

But I’ve also been peering very closely at little blurs of bees in my immediate neighborhood. This project is with the Environmental Youth Alliance and the Citizen Science Bee Survey (which has been a fantastic experience). I’m learning more and more about our native bee species every day, and loving every minute of it. This project too, is soon coming to an end.

And I’ve been invading the private parts of wonderous flowers, anxiously looking for that lovely dust, pollen; and seeking out nectar-and-pollen rich bee plants with my friend and bee-master, Lori Weidenhammer. (And now that the flowering season is winding down, I realize just how little pollen I’ve managed to collect–ha, the work will have to wait for next spring). I’d make a shameful bee.

I know that many artists are able to reflect upon their work while in the process of working, (some are highly articulate) and yes, I have scribbled notes and scratched drawings in sketchbooks and in various other places, but to stop, to step back, and to consider what this bee project has really been for me these past 3 years is another matter altogether. It requires a sense of detachment which I do not have at the moment. Perhaps I will start with this then, the crux of the matter–that art is not detached–not from life, not from our relationships, not from our modes of being, of thinking and of doing.I am like the Harvester in the image above (detail from my bee project, not by chance alone). In the midst of activity, every encounter, (tiny or substantial) brushes against me, and I with it; and it leaves its mark.This is existence, this is art for me, not autonomous, but deeply relational (even though I do so much of my work alone). I recall Cheryl Meszaros, a beloved teacher and mentor, defining the work of the artist– she said the artist pulls, withdraws something from the social imaginary, transforms it, allows us to see it in a new way, and then puts it back into that imaginary. Each perspective adding to the ones already there. Cheryl was doubtless quoting the work of a philosopher, for she loved philosophy. My encounters with Cheryl are endless, despite her passing; her work has affected me deeply.

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.

a mother’s day feast

The rhodos and hawthorns were abuzz these last few days with a variety of pollinators:  flies, wasps, solitary bees, bumblebees and honeybees. A feast for the eyes! Could one say some of these busy visitors were mothers and others were workers foraging for their mothers? A little bit of anthropomorphization, yes.   Nontheless, such a delight to observe. I cannot identify them specifically–this will be a lifetime’s work, but some of the bees are easier to distinguish than others.

A little Megachilid mason bee (?) about to descend onto a cluster of hawthorn blooms.osmia-on-hawthorns A honeybee already partially loaded with creamy-white pollen.honeybee-on-hawthorns

A beautiful little mining bee,  rear legs and head covered in pollen about to move from one cluster of flowers to another inviting bloom.andrena-on-hawthorns Little worker bumblebee sisters with bright, fuzzy bottoms busy at work.7290-bumblebees-on-hawthorn

A pollen-loaded mining bee taking a break to clean off those important antenna. She carries pollen even high up on her rear legs and on the hind side of the thorax.
andrena-resting-on-hawthorn-leafA little bumblebee worker diving into a bluebell.
bumblebee-on-bluebell Look at the pollen load on the belly of this little bee. Her abdomen is upturned and she has a large head. Megachilid, but cannot be more precise.megachile-on-rhodoAnother view of the same bee. megachile-on-rhodo

And here’s a mystery bee. Is that the same bee as the one in the two images above?mystery-bee

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.

collecting magic dust

I am always surprised and completely taken aback by even the smallest encounter with the beauty and complexity of nature. Yes, it sounds rather excessive, but it’s true.  I am still dazzled by Dorothy Hodges’ book on the pollen loads of the honeybee, but I am now collecting anther pollen for myself. Experiencing pollen first-hand is incredible (despite the sneezes).  I can completely understand how an artist like Wolfgang Laib can spend decades patiently collecting pollen.The work that Laib creates with sifted pollen is extraordinary, breath-taking, genial. (Wolfgang Laib).

My undertaking with pollen is miniscule, but nontheless full of thrilling discoveries.This is Erica Carnea (Winter Heath) pollen shaken from the tiny flowers onto a black piece of paper. Only the top left corner of the sheet is still black, the rest has been lightened by the fine dusting of pollen. The amount is tiny actually, even though it seems like more in the photo.

Erica-Carnea-pollen-collected-2015

 

The pollen color looked warm and creamy on the black paper, but when I transferred it into an acetate envelope, the color looked far more peachy-beige. I’m attempting to match the pollen colors in pencil crayon here.

Erica-Carnea-pollen-2015-on-white

 

Siberian Squill: blue/green anthers and pollen and a rhapsody of blues in the petals!

6887-squill-anther-pollenAnd here, in this close-up, the pollen grains are visible on the anthers of the squill. The stigma has some pollen transfer,  probably the result of my having shaken the flower to release the pollen grains.

squill-pistil-with-pollen

A crocus, with the intensely golden pollen collected from the flowers:

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Profitable, laborious and chaste

I’m reading a book called Buzz: urban beekeeping and the power of the bee, by Lisa Moore and Mary Kosut (2013). The authors read the practices of beekeeping through a sociological lens, and call their study an “api-ethnography.” Yes, they have a sense of humour–bees can’t be interviewed or participate in the same way that human research subjects can, but the authors created their own research strategies to successfully manoeuver through the social territory of the honeybee.

One major area of exploration for the authors is our tendency to anthropomorphize honeybees–they are “cute and fuzzy” and lend themselves to cartoon-like renditions rather easily. These characterizations make bees less threatening and more accessible, but we also load heavier baggage onto bees: “Bees are described as industrious (“busy as a bee”), helpful, driven, purposeful, cooperative and smart.” (p.126) Certainly these attributions reflect our cultural expectations and values, and perhaps tell us more about ourselves than they really do about bees. When I read the above passage, I recalled a similar description in Charles Butler’s book of 1609, The Feminine Monarchie.  Last year, I used Butler’s bee proverbs in an art piece; I was so taken by his charming collection of phrases.  Interestingly, Butler’s descriptions of bees are: profitable, laborious and loyal, swift, bold, cunning…”   We haven’t changed that much apparently since the 1600’s in our relationship to bees, or at the very least, in our descriptions of them.Profitable-as-a-bee---Butler-copy