|Wyethia angustifolia with the mason bee Hoplitis (Megachilidae)|
We are in the midst of nuc season, one of the busiest times of the year for honeybee breeders equating to 12+ hour days and few days off, if any. Yet amidst the perceived chaos it is worth taking the time to appreciate the beauty surrounding us. Honeybees, native bees, and other pollinators are critical components to the web of life, inhabiting the near-base of the food web and providing invaluable services to the life around them. Pollinating insects, besides providing the important and apparent role of pollination, facilitate the growth of food for us and other wildlife (including livestock), occasionally provide pest control services (particularly wasps, flies, and beetles), and are food sources themselves to other creatures like other insects, spiders, and birds. Pollinators (the epithet does not do them justice) are the keys to the success of life, and are the seed from which beauty and wonder can flourish. So as nice as it is to stop and smell the flowers, I extend that further to say stop and watch the pollinators.
|Central Point, OR|
Revisiting one of our smaller apiaries on a family farm and pear orchard in Central Point, I am struck by the beauty of the landscape, and I feel fortunate to have found my way into such a profession. To recap, I was recently employed by a local (and I mean local, mere minutes from my house) commercial beekeeping operation that specializes in breeding (see Old Sol Apiaries). We have apiaries across Jackson and Josephine counties in a variety of landscapes. I have taken a particular interest in sharing these highly photographic apiaries and some of the local flora, a handful of which are native and a handful of which are of interest to honeybees, or other pollinators.
|A native ground nesting bee (tribe Halictini) in Eschscholzia californica|
California's state flower is frequently encountered here in Southwestern Oregon. When blooming en masse they can attract a range of bees and occasionally flies. Honeybees have been working them this year, at least in my garden. They can be a bit weedy and will easily get out of hand in a small garden, and are best seeded into a field or wherever they are allowed to drift. They are useful plants, however, due to their tolerance of heat and drought, and should be planted wherever pollinator forage is deficient such as where grass competition is high.
|Lasioglossum on Hypochaeris radicata|
Catsear, or sometimes known as false dandelion, is a noxious weed from Europe. It is a perennial which grows from a thick taproot that, if broken, forms new crowns and thus is very hard to eradicate. The seeds are distributed in a similar fashion as with true dandelion (Taraxacum) which is by wind, and also likely by bird as I have observed birds eating the seeds. Fallowed fields on the farm in Central Point support a multitude of the plants which although worrisome for the large mass of seed which is inevitably going to be produced is a boon for pollinators. The flowers bloom from late spring to early autumn. Flowers open in the morning and close if it gets too hot, a mechanism that extends the life of the flower and prevents nectar from evaporating. Myriad bees and other pollinators visit the flowers, including honeybees.
The particular apiary in Central Point specializes in pears, so they have a massive, yet brief, bloom earlier in the year. Of secondary or tertiary importance, I speculate, is that of the roses. The proprietor has a sizable rose garden, though most are probably of marginal honeybee-interest at best due to the highly doubled flowers that can occasionally prohibit bees from entering the flowers at all, and the scarcity of stamens since most if not all of them have been replaced by petals. Some wild and or feral roses inhabit the farm, including the nonnative Rosa rubiginosa (syn. Rosa eglanteria). This is a European native, distinguished from our native roses by the curved rather than straight thorns, and the extrafloral glands which emit a sweet scent when brushed. Rose pollen is highly valued by bees of all types, and of high importance for brood-rearing for honeybees.
Large stands of these introduced roses inhabit much of the land throughout the region, including this very large stand in Ashland. I can only imagine the thousands of bees (probably a very small guess compared to the actual number) working this field in peak bloom. Roses in general give no nectar, or at least no source anywhere can confirm the presence of nectaries on roses. My own examination of dissected rose flowers has yielded no nectaries. The fragrance is from an oil found in the petals (and other parts occasionally) which contains a number of constituents, one of which is geraniol, an alcohol also found in Pelargonium and some species of Narcissus.
|Ashland, OR. Snow capped Mt. Ashland can be seen to the far right.|
One of my favorite apiaries to work, this Ashland apiary is in a prime location for forage as evident by the honey bound nucs which have required constant attention by removing fattened and heavy deep honey frames in exchange for drawn comb for the queens to lay in. Our ideal five frame nuc is composed of two or three frames of brood, one of food (pollen, nectar, and capped honey) and a mostly empty frame of drawn comb which gives them room to grow before they are sold to the customer who will transfer them to a proper hive. If they run out of space they will swarm, but we also aim to sell nucs backed with bees. It's a balancing act!
|Achyrachaena mollis seed head|
A few weeks ago, in the first installment of this new series of posts (see Apiaries), I showed the opened flower of Achyrachaena mollis, known by the strange common name "blow wives" whose proper identification had initially eluded me. Since I have returned, the characteristic seed heads confirm the ID. This wildflower is known better by what is shown in this image rather than the flower itself, and it is likely assumed that the pappus attached to the seeds (the white part) are the actual flowers. The seeds, visible here, are black and the pappus are structures that help the seeds blow away from the parent plant, similar to Taraxacum (dandelion) and Hypochaeris (catsear), two common and familiar weeds.
|Achyrachaena mollis and Vicia villosa cover the hillside above and around this Ashland apiary|
Clearly, the seeds of Achyrachaena offer nothing to honeybees, yet the hairy vetch that shares this bank is of high importance to honeybees. In this case it seems a nonnative is living in harmony with the natives without too much displacement, though perhaps i am speaking too soon and it has already displaced something or will in the future. With two nonnatives, Vicia villosa and Apis mellifera, supporting each other I often quietly question the long term implications of our collective decisions, however well intentioned.
|Lupinus microcarpus var. microcarpus|
Chick lupine or Lupinus microcarpus is an annual lupine that is much more common in California than in Oregon. There are three recognized varieties, the one shown being the type while the other two are endemic to California. Bees, particularly bumblebees and large solitary bees are the primary pollinators of such flower forms, mostly because the smaller bees aren't usually strong enough to pry the flowers open to access the rewards. Honeybees occasionally visit lupines, but if there is other, easier accessed, resources available they'll probably forgo the difficult flowers for the easier ones.
A few of the slender clarkias inhabit this Ashland hillside, either preexisting or planted by birds. Honeybees may have an interest in this species, but the relative scarcity of it on this hillside suggests it is more likely visited by native solitary bees.
|Rogue River, OR|
One of the larger apiaries I have been to, this one sits in a grassy field surrounded by mixed coniferous woodland. Typically conifer forests offer less diversity of flowering plants, particularly deficient in flowers of interest to honeybees. This region seems to offer a lot of pollinator forage early in the year with an increasing dearth as the year progresses. Most of the native pollinator diversity is at its peak in spring and the first half of summer, so the dearth isn't surprising. The current nectar flow we are coming into is due to the blackberry, Rubus armeniacum, colloquially known as the Himalayan giant blackberry (a misleading name since it's from the Southern Caucasus of Asia and Europe). Blackberry bloom is brief but intense, sometimes being compressed into a two week period of ideal conditions similar to that of many of the fruit trees in the same family (Rosaceae).
|Triteleia crocea with Lasioglossum sp., a native solitary bee.|
This area, close to my house, is home to an exceptional assortment of geophytes. Triteleia, Dichelostemma, and Brodiaea, all of the same family and in a nearly constant of taxonomic confusion, light up the landscape in occasionally small isolated patches as the year progresses. They are usually of high value to native bees and butterflies, occasionally honeybees if growing in the proper density. Triteleia crocea is often found in shady forest edges and clearings, rarely in full sun. The pollination ecology of the genus as a whole is not fully understood except for a few species, though bees are suspected as the primary pollinators. I was fortunate to capture a small native mining bee, Lasioglossum sp., collecting pollen. I have also seen small dipterans on the flowers, though their effectiveness as pollinators of this plant is a mystery.
|Triteleia hyacinthina with Trichodes ornatus, the ornate checkered beetle.|
I recently found a sizable patch of Triteleia hyacinthina in my neighborhood growing in a small sunny meadow at the side of the road. Due to my intense work schedule I have been unable to sit and observe (or sit at all, for that matter) yet I had a few minutes of free time in the afternoon to take this picture. Unlike the other two species I've encountered here, this species is the most prolific and seemingly the most likely species to attract honeybees in the area. I chanced upon this specimen with a hidden ornate checkered beetle taking shelter in one of the closing flowers for the evening. Trichodes ornatus are typical visitors to many flowers for food and shelter as adults, and kleptoparasites of ground nesting bees as larvae.
|Toxicoscordion micranthum (syn. Zigadenus micranthus) with Trichodes ornatus|
A genus that has fascinated me for years, all parts of Toxicoscordion are toxic to animals, including bees. Nectar and pollen of this genus is harmful to bees, except perhaps those who specialize on Toxicoscordion if there are any (I suspect there are). However, for the past three or four years that I have observed this species I have never seen any bees on the flowers, but I have reliably seen a variety of beetles on them suggesting they may be of importance to the plants.
|Apiary at a state park|
|Rogue River, OR|
This is a choice location just outside of Rogue River, right next to the Rogue River itself. Besides the usual resource rich riparian forage (Salix and Alnus, for example), a number of natives grace this location that may be of interest to honeybees including Amsinckia menziesii and Holodiscus discolor. The sandy riverbank is also a prime location for bees to gather water.
One native that is usually found growing in dry, sunny, rocky banks above the local rivers and streams is Eriogonum compositum. This is a large plant, with a three foot spread and height, with creamy eight inch umbels held above the greenish-white basal foliage.
|Eriogonum compositum with dermestid beetles|
|Rogue River, OR|
|Wyethia angustifolia with the mason bee Hoplitis (Megachilidae)|
On the gravel road leading to this apiary are a number of patches of Wyethia angustifolia, a sunflower relative with large basal leaves which give them the common name mules ears. In years past I have observed solitary sweat bees (Agapostemon sp.) which are metallic green with a striped abdomen, and this year I have seen bumblebees and other native bees visit the flowers. Hoplitis is solitary bee which uses various materials and nesting sites, both above and below ground, and builds walls between each brood cell. Unlike honeybees, most solitary bees don't excrete wax but use specific materials around them to build their nests and brood cells, most of which are linear with a row of cells. They are called solitary bees because each female creates and provisions her own nest.
|Lotus pinnatus with Bombus (a bumblebee worker)|
The plants stand up to 18" tall and are topped with these pinwheel inflorescences.
The flowers open before the stamens emerge, though I do not know the significance of this.
A hollyhock relative that is occasionally visited by bees is the checker mallow. I have not seen honeybees visit these flowers, though I have seen a variety of native bees in them. I have seen the males of some unidentified species sleep in the flowers as they close at night, offering a refuge.
|At the base of Lower Table Rock|
|A honeybee in bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis|
|Convolvulus arvensis in the apiary|
Alas, the flowers can be quite attractive and are of interest to many pollinators, including honeybees right in the apiary.