Backyard Orchard News
Danger: Poison ahead.
Beekeepers do not like the California Buckeye (Aesculus californica).
Honey bees do, but they shouldn't.
It's poisonous to bees.
The California Buckeye, which grows as either a tree or a shrub 10 to 20 feet tall and can sprawl 30-feet wide, blooms in the spring. its candelabralike clusters of fragrant cream-colored blossoms attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.
About a week after honey bees work the blossoms, however, symptoms of buckeye poisoning appear in the hive.
"Many young larvae die, giving the brood pattern an irregular appearance," according to the booklet, Beekeeping in California, written primarily by a team of UC Davis entomologists and published in 1987 by the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. "The queen's egg-laying rate decreases or stops, or she may lay only drone eggs; after a few weeks, an increasing number of eggs fail to hatch or a majority of young larvae die before they are three days old."
What occurs: "buckeyed bees."
"Some adults emerge with crippled wings or malformed legs and bodies," wrote authors Eric Mussen, Norman Gary, Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., Robbin Thorp and Lee Watkins of the UC Davis bee biology program and Len Foote, then with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
And, of course, with deformed wings, the bees cannot fly.
Buckeye poisoning can result in seriously weakened colonies or colony death. The authors also point out that "foraging bees feeding on buckeye blossoms may have dark, shiny bodies and paralysislike symptoms."
Solution: move the bees away from the buckeyes.
California Buckeye, according to the Sunset Western Garden Book, is "native to dry slopes and canyons below 4000-foot elevation in Coast Ranges and the Sierra foothills."
It is quite common along Pleasants Valley Road in Vacaville (Solano County), Calif. If you cross the picturesque country bridge, the Edward R. Thurber Bridge, you'll see it.
And honey bees foraging among the blossoms.
Edward R. Thurber Bridge
A hover fly, not a bee.
Passersby admiring the gazania blooming outside the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, might think that all the insects that frequent the golden flowers are bees.
Hover flies, aka syrphids or flower flies, also find the gazania quite attractive.
A member of the Aster family and native to South Africa, the gazania is a drought-tolerant ground cover.
Perfect for bees.
Perfect for hover flies.
The crab spider didn't go away hungry.
Camouflaged in the petals of a sedum, the cunning predator waits patiently for its prey.
An unsuspecting blowfly lands inches from the crab spider, unaware of its presence, and crawls toward it.
Wham! The crab spider snatches the blowfly and bites it, paralyzing it with its venom.
I'm just glad it wasn't a honey bee.
Carpenter bees pack pollen, too.
A carpenter bee (Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex) visiting our gaura last weekend was packing bright yellow pollen, a sharp contrast against her black body.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, said that "the large triangular pollen grains of this and other Onagraceae are held together in strings by viscin threads. You can see this on the anther above the bee’s head. This makes it a challenge for some bees to neatly pack this pollen, but helps pollen to get draped on the plant stigma."
The UC Davis Department of Entomology website includes information on three species of carpenter bees commonly found in California.