Posts Tagged: honey bees
We have this tall plant in our back yard.
How tall is it?
Tall enough to give weather forecasts. (It's never caught “short” by a sudden storm.)
Tall enough to see over the neighbor's fence to find a missing ball.
Tall enough to be "the resident tall plant" in the garden (sort of like "the resident tall person" in the office who's asked to change the clocks when Daylight Savings Time ends or begins).
Tall enough to be called a “tower.”
Tall enough to be prohibited from taking a short course.
Tall enough to have strawberry longcake instead of strawberry shortcake.
Tall enough to dunk if it were an NBA player.
It's THAT tall.
The "tower of jewels," appropriately named, can tower up to 10 feet or so. It doesn't stop short of growing.
When in full bloom, it's covered with red blossoms that resemble a decorated Christmas tree. It's a member of the Boraginaceae family, andeven boasts a scientific name that has "pretty" in it. Sort of. It's Echium wildpretii and is endemic to the island of Tenerife.
What's really amazing is that the tower of jewels turns into a "tower of bees" when it blooms. It attracts honey bees (check out the blue pollen), carpenter bees and bumble bees, as well as hummingbirds, syrphid flies, and a few spiders.
How grand and glorious can it get? "Wildpretii" grand and glorious.
Honey bee packing a load of blue pollen heading for the tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Young honey bee seeking another blossom on the tower of jewels. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It won't bloom until summer, but already many eyes are on the California buckeye.
The tree's blossoms are poisonous to honey bees. Bees are attracted to them and forage on them, but the end result of the food provisions to the colony can be deformed larval development.
We've seen bee hives within a quarter of a mile of California buckeyes (Aesculus californica). And we've seen honey bees, native bees and other pollinators foraging on the blossoms.
At the recent UC Davis Pollinator Gardening Workshop hosted by the California Center for Urban Horticulture, Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen talked about the poisonous plants. (See PowerPoint presentations.) That led to one workshop participant wondering if the flowers of the California buckeye are poisonous to native bees. (Honey bees are not native; the European colonists brought them to the Jamestown colony, Virginia, in 1622).
Responded Mussen: "My guess: either the native bees that have been in the areas around California buckeye for a long, long time are not poisoned by the pollen or they have been selected (by death of the other genetic types) to avoid the pollen, that eons of natural selection have adapted them to coexist with California buckeye while using their resources."
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, shared: "We know California buckeye nectar and/or pollen is toxic to honey bees from years of experience with managed hives. Toxicity to native bees and other flower visitors is not so easily determined and to my knowledge has not been investigated. The fact that populations of native bees and butterflies visit California buckeye flowers and continue to persist in areas where the tree is a dominant part of the plant community tends to confirm what Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen says about them. Some good research projects here. So we still do not know if it is the nectar, pollen, or both that may be toxic to honey bees, much less to native flower visitors."
According to gardeningguides.com, the seeds in their raw state are poisonous to humans, but native Americans learned to get around that and use them for food. They pounded the seeds into flour and then cooked the mixture. "This tree had multiple cultural uses among California Indian tribes," the website says. "Many indigenous groups utilized buckeye seeds for food, often when other plant food sources were scarce. These tribes included the Costanoan, Salinan, Kitanemuk, Serrano, Wappo, Sierra Miwok, Coast Miwok, Chumash, Kawaiisu, Northern Maidu among others. The Pomo ate the seeds even when other important food plants were plentiful. The seeds are poisonous to humans in the raw state. Thus, the nuts were cracked open with a rock, the shells removed, the seeds pounded into flour, and their toxic saponins removed in a lengthy leaching process. The meal was subsequently cooked and eaten. There are many different methods for processing and cooking buckeye seeds for food, depending upon the tribe. The seeds have medicinal properties and were cut into pieces, mixed with water, and made into suppositories for hemorrhoids by the Costanoan and Kawaiisu. The Pomo cut bark from the base of the tree and made a poultice, which was laid on a snakebite. Young buckeye shoots were sometimes used as spindles or twirling sticks in fire-making kits of the Sierra Miwok, Northern Maidu, Wappo, Yahi and other tribes. Many tribes mashed buckeye nuts and poured the contents into quiet pools to stupefy or kill fish."
And, no wildlife will eat buckeye seeds except squirrels, such as the California ground squirrel (Citellus beecheyi).
Meanwhile, the poisonous blossoms continue to beckon the honey bees--and their colonies keep producing deformed bees.
Honey bee foraging last May on a California buckeye, which is poisonous to honey bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A California buckeye blooming in May of last year on the UC Davis campus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bees, butterflies and sunflowers at the California State Fair?
The state fair, which opened July 12 and ends July 28, is a good place to see a bee observation hive, honey bees on sunflowers, carpenter bees on petunias, and butterflies in the Insect Pavilion, aka Bug Barn.
If the purpose of a fair is to educate, inform and entertain, then that's what this fair does. A recent stop at the 160th annual fair provided a glimpse of what's going on in the entomological world--and what shouldn't be going on in the petunia patch.
At the California Foodstyles in the Expo Center, beekeeper Doug Houck of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association and his daughter, Rebekah Hough, urged folks to find the queen bee, worker bees and drones in the bee observation hive. Then the fairgoers sampled the honey.
At the Bug Barn, mounted butterflies drew "oohs" and "ahs." Just a few of the butterflies: Monarchs, Western Tiger Swallowtails, Great Purple Hairstreaks, Dusty-Winged Skippers, Red Admirals, and Painted Ladies. The Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, home of nearly eight million specimens, provided some of the butterflies.
Outside the Insect Pavilion, a garden thrived with tall-as-an-elephant's-eye sunflowers. Honey bees and sunflower bees buzzed among the heads--sunflower heads and fairgoers' heads.
The most disconcerting scene: teenagers screaming when they heard and saw the female Valley carpenter bees nectaring petunias. "Ick, big black bees!" said one as she quickly ran off.
"Carpenter bees," a middle-aged bystander commented dryly as she sauntered off to see the sturgeon display.
Another teenager approached the petunia patch, and she, too, bolted. "They're going to sting me!" she yelled.
It's rather sad that the first reaction on seeing bees in a flower bed is not "pollinator" or "pretty flowers" or "pink petunias" but "sting."
When did "Big Fun" become "Big Scare?"
Sunflowers grow as high as an elephant's eye at the California State Fair. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Beekeeper Doug Houck of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association and his daugher, Rebekah Houck, at the beekeepers' booth in the Expo Center. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Butterfly specimens in the Insect Pavilion. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A female Valley carpenter bee working a petunia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bees are passionate about passion flowers (Passiflora).
The intricate tropical flower is their private merry-go-round, their favorite hide 'n seek place, their gathering spot.
If you've been around passion flower vines, you know they attract honey bees, carpenter bees and Gulf Fritillary butterflies.
It's a showy flower to be studied, to be admired, to be photographed.
Especially with honey bees circling it.
Honey bees foraging on a passion flower blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
So many bees, so little time. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
From the top, the passion flower blossom looks like an intricate merry-go-round. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
You can tell it's summer along Yolo County roads by the acres and acres of sunflower fields.
Looking like real-life Van Gogh paintings (Van Gogh painted them in vases, Mother Nature paints them in rows), the sunflower fields are nothing short of spectacular. With tousled heads rising toward the sun and golden locks nodding in the breeze, they stand their ground.
Sunflowers (Helianthus Annuus), native to North America, are one of our most recognizable flowers. They're a good food source, a designer's dream, and dugout tradition.
Earlier this year we fielded a call from a young man from southern California who wanted to know when the sunflowers would bloom in Yolo County. He wanted to propose to his girlfriend in a sunflower field.
This is one agricultural crop that does not go unnoticed. Not by people, not by animals, not by birds, and especially not by honey bees and sunflower bees.
Honey bees and a sunflower bee forage on a sunflower head. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bee boxes line a sunflower field. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A spectacular sunflower field. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)