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.
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?
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!
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?)
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
Vernissage! A great evening at the Richmond Art Gallery with the opening of two exhibitions, Cameron Cartiere’s and mine. We heard a beautiful performance by members of the renowned musica intima ensemble. The music was amazing, such gorgeous voices, and Jacob Gramit’s arrangement of Charles Butler’s madrigal was perfect. A very cool section of the madrigal was the recreation of bee sounds for 4 voices! Thank you Caitlin Beaupre, Melanie Adams, Taka Shimojima and Alvin Carpintero for sharing this evening with us.
members of musica intima ensemble performing Charles Butler’s madrigal, “The Feminine Monarchie,” new arrangement by Jacob Gramit. Photo by Laurence Trepanier
photo by Laurence Trepanier
Detail of “not by chance alone”. Photo by Scott Massey
“thistle, rose, gilded, golden, glad: to Dorothy Hodges,” installation of pollen work. Photo by Scott Massey
This weekend, the Richmond Art Gallery and the Richmond Art Centre are presenting two days of Bee culture: Buzzworthy! On Saturday there will be a super variety of fun and interesting workshops for visitors to participate in. Just to mention a few: my bee buddy, Madame BeeSpeaker, Lori Weidenhammer, will be giving visitors tips on how to plant a pollinator garden in their backyard. Don’t miss that one. Lori is amazing! Master bee-keeper and all-around bee and garden expert, Brian Campbell and I will be presenting a pollen-based art-making workshop for visitors of all ages. On Sunday, the RAG is presenting a screening of the superb documentary on bees, “More than honey,” followed by a discussion led by Brian Campbell. (Yes, he gets around!).
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.
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. 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.
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.