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

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

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, a video

As the exhibition at the Richmond Art Gallery draws to a close (January 3, 2016 last day), I have the great pleasure of creating an additional page for this blog site with a newly produced video documentation of the “bee” part of my exhibition.

And as I think back to the summer of 2012, when I first started working on the bees, I do not think of where I have been, but of how far I have come through this process, and what I have gained. If I had to sum up, in a few words what the bees have meant, perhaps these words might serve well:

“And I said with rapture, here is something I can study all my life and never understand.”

(Samuel Beckett)

 

bee-ing (a)part

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Just last week, the Richmond Art Gallery held the final piece of public programming related to the present exhibition. A panel discussion, entitled  Bee-ing Part of the Solution, was the centerpiece of the event for me.

Highlights: 

Our high-powered bee expert, Dr. Elizabeth Elle from Simon Fraser University gave an engaging and informative presentation on native pollinators.  Her advice, “Plant Flowers” offered the audience an easy and practical way to help all pollinators. Even pots of pollinator-friendly plants on the front porch or deck are helpful, she stated emphatically and showed us a slide of her small but blossom-packed front garden!

Insight: Dr. Elle suggested that we do not have to focus primarily on native species of plants, but to be wary of invasive species–these plants (however helpful they seem to be, like Himalayan blackberry), eventually create a monoculture, crowding out other species of plants. And of course, monocultures are part of our larger agricultural and environmental problem.

Whenever I think of planting flowers, I think of Brian Campbell – garden expert par excellence and bee teacher! Brian’s presentations are always interesting. He has a gentle way of talking, always full of seriousness and humour at the same time; and I invariably want to stop and to listen.

Insight: Brian gave a considered response to a question from one of the audience members, Lori Weidenhammer. She wanted to know how we might switch our intensive focus on “saving the bees” away from the honeybee and onto other pollinators without upsetting beekeepers. Brian said that historically we have asked far too much of the honeybee, and if she were to be returned her to her rightful place as one player, one part, within the complex web of pollinator diversity, we would be helping not only the honeybee but all pollinators and the environment in general.

Professor Nancy Holmes, (writer, poet and creative writing educator), involved with diverse pollinator projects through UBC, at Okanagan, began her presentation with a beautiful poem by Emily Dickinson, and brought the tone of the event around from the realm of science to that of art-making. I am taking the liberty of reproducing this lovely little poem here:

“TO make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, —

One clover, and a bee,

And revery.

The revery alone will do

If bees are few.” 

It is the ‘reverie’ which art appeals to, I think. Certainly it is for me. For to create something, whether it be a meadow, a poem, a visual art piece, or a  cleaner environment, we require imagination. This is our singular ability.

I had the privilege of being part of this panel discussion too, and my presentation was related to the artwork I have on display the gallery at the moment: “not by chance alone,” the large bee project; the small Charles Butler piece, “profitable as a bee,” and the “gilded, golden, glad,” pollen tribute to Dorothy Hodges. Brian Campbell has very graciously posted my presentation on the blog portion of his website, (www.thebeeschool.ca) so instead of reprinting it now, I will discuss my ideas on pollinators and the role of art, in future posts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

jasnaguy_RAG

Detail of installation. Photo by Scott Massey.

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.