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 visit to the Van Dusen Botanical Gardens recently proved to be a real treat–my first honeybee sighting of 2015! The intrepid bees ventured out between downpours in search of nectar and pollen. This busy little worker was in the process of loading light yellow pollen onto her hind legs from a hybrid honeysuckle bush (lonicera purpursii).
In a different part of the Gardens, the scent of Sweet Box (Sarcococca) blossoms was intoxicating. Thought there’d be lots of bees there, but the skies darkened, the air became chilly as the sun disappeared behind the dense grey clouds. No bees, sadly.
I photographed my own Sarcococca ruscifolia plant, a small one, at home. No consolation for the disappointment at the Gardens, but a useful reference and resource for drawing, nontheless. Here’s a close-up of the male flowers spilling creamy pollen over the leaves.
The tiny amount of pollen provided me with the impetus to record this anther pollen color in a drawing, as part of my self-appointed work to explore and learn more about the plants that bees love. Dorothy Hodges (Pollen Loads of the Honeybee) lists 20 very early blooming plants and trees, but Sarcococca is not part of her record. So, although I could not use Hodges as a guide here, I started the pollen work with the Sarcococca.
Detail of pollen drawing in encaustic
Sarcococca ruscifolia 24″x 36″ graphite, soft pastel, encaustic on mylar
Between the downpours of rain, it’s wonderful to discover what February brings to light.
Along the roadside near our house, leafless trees reach out among the evergreens. I found several hazel trees there and brought home a small branch to examine more closely. To my delight, the male catkins opened a few days later and spilled out their lovely golden yellow pollen. The female flowers of the tree contain tiny, bright red stigmas which peek out from their bud-like ovary–no petals. Hazel, Corylus avellana, is on the early spring list in Dorothy Hodges book, The Pollen Loads of the Honeybee. I’m still obsessed with Hodges’ book and her work and continue to explore and learn more about the plants and the pollen she’s included in this amazing work.
My neighbors have a curly hazel in their yard, a Corylus avellana contorta, also known as Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick. The wonderful red female flowers are clearly visible here, along with the male catkins, still wet with raindrops.
I haven’t been able to do much of my own work these days, obligations and various issues have kept me out of my studio, but very recently, in the small moments of solitude I’ve managed to keep, I’ve started to explore the amazingly beautiful world of pollen and the pollen loads that honeybees collect, carry and store in their hives. Not too long ago, a new friend and colleague of mine, LW (that would be Lori Weidenhammer, the mistress of all things bee, ie. Madame Beespeaker) and I, feverishly examined (and drooled over) a rare book by Dorothy Hodges, the artist, beekeeper and researcher. Written in the 1950’s, it’s a collection of exquisite drawings of pollen grains, plus a 120-plant color chart of honeybee pollen loads. The color charts are so rich and enticing. Who knew that pollen came in so many colors? Lori did, but I didn’t. So for me, this book is proving to be yet another priceless learning experience. Hodges used Windsor Newton watercolors for her color charts; the swatches are hand-tipped and only 200 copies of the book were printed. This is a rare book and a delicious pleasure to explore!
I’m recreating the color swatches that Hodges made and I’ve tried a variety of different media, but so far, the buttery and rich Schminke soft pastels are my favorite.