The Other Side of Beekeeping archive

January 2016

 The Other Side of Beekeeping


Family Nyssaceae - The Sour Gum Family


The family Nyssaceae is a very small family with perhaps 10 species and is frequently placed in the Dogwood family, the Cornaceae. This probably is the current trend. I have treated it here as the Nyssaceae because the North American 4 or 5 species (again depending on the taxonomist) are bee forages and belong to the genus Nyssa. There appears to be at least one, quite possibly two other members of the family (again depending on the taxonomist) in Asia. Depending on the reference, the family contains the genus Nyssa with 4-5 species from North America.

The 4- 5 North American species are found in Eastern North America with all but one (N. sylvatica) in the southern portion of that range. Nyssa sylvatica extends into Canada.

In North America the family consists of deciduous trees with scaly winter buds. The leaves are simple (not compound), are without stipules1, can be with or without teeth around their margin, and are placed alternately on the stem.

The flowers are small and can be perfect2, staminate or pistillate, sometimes with flowers of only one sex on a given plant. They can be placed in the juncture of a leaf stem and the stem to which the leaf is attached, or in terminal heads, spikes3 or umbels and are individually radially symmetrical.4

The calyx consists of 5 sepals, which in male flowers are minute, 5-toothed or are indistinct. The sepals in the female flowers are on a floral cup, positioned immediately above the ovary. There can be 5 or more petals or none, which when they exist are often very small, fleshy, and deciduous, and are not joined to each other (free).

The number of stamens equals can be equal to, or twice as many (sometimes more) as the petals, and in male flowers are inserted on the outside of the convex disc, usually in two whorls or in perfect flowers are inserted on the inner rim of the floral cup.

The floral components appear to arise from atop the ovary (ovary inferior) which is single-celled or with 6 to 10 cells, each with a single immature seed (ovule). The thin elongate portion of the pistil (style) is usually elongated with the section that sits atop it (stigma) being either simple or divided. The fruit is a drupe.5

For recognition in the field, try looking for simple leaves, alternately placed, without stipules.6 Then look for small greenish flower clusters that often arise from the angle between the main stem and a leaf stem (petiole) where the sexes are separate, or when both sexes are present, they often have two large white petal-like bracts below the flower cluster. Because there is so much variability in the family, looking for the family in the field is not easy. It would often be easier to simply learn to recognize the 4 or 5 (depending on the reference) U.S. species by recognizing their gross appearances.[3]

Ogeechee tupelo, white tupelo, river lime, Ogeche-lime, wild lime, sour gum

Scientific name: Nyssa ogeche

Synonyms: Nyssa acuminata

Origin: Native to at least North America. While the species is found in four states, it is found in only small portions of those states. For that reason the distribution map provides county distribution.

Plant description: Nyssa ogeche is polygamo-dioecious7 and is typically small and, sometimes described as shrubby, but potentially is a medium sized deciduous tree often with several leaning trunks and can attain heights of about 20m (~ 66 ft) often forming dense stands.

The brownish gray bark is somewhat variable with scaly or blocky ridges. The twigs are yellowish brown or reddish brown, somewhat pubescent, and have narrowly heart-shaped leaf scars. The terminal bud is a reddish brown, and about 0.25 inch (~0.6 mm) long and the pith is diaphragmed.8 The leaves are simple (not compound), alternately placed on their branches, pinnately9 veined and about 4 to 6 inches (~ 10.2 to 15.2 cm) long and 5 to 8 cm (~2 to 3.1 in) wide.

The small greenish white flowers appear with the leaves. The male flowers are borne in rounded compact hanging clusters. The female flowers are solitary on long stalks.
When ripe, the fruit is a tear-shaped reddish, fleshy, elongated drupe10, 1 to 1.5 inches (~2.5 to 3.8 cm) long and has a sour flavor. The juice can, and apparently has been used, as a substitute for lime, hence the common name ogeechee lime.[10 &15]

Distribution: The species is found in river swamps, floodplains, lake margins, bay heads and bottomland woods.[10, 15 &16] See also provided map for the state distribution. The photo shown looking westward across the Apalachicola River that frequently floods is one of the honey production areas of the species. The inland woody area near Clarksville, FL shown here is normally flooded but because of insufficient rain was dry the year of my visit. It is typical of an inland area in which the species may be found.

Blooming period:
My admittedly limited exposure to the species indicates that the plant is in flower about the time the new leaves are fully formed. John Lovell[8] indicates January to May. The pictures provided here were taken in the early to middle part of the bloom the year they were taken (5/4/2005).

Importance as a honey plant: Despite its limited distribution, this is an important honey plant. Because of its two major characteristics, (flavor and non granulation) the honey from the species is marketed to the Middle East, given as gifts to dignitaries (foreign visitors, members of Congress and the Supreme Court, etc.).[6] It apparently demands ...


December 2015

 The Other Side of Beekeeping




Scientific name: Vitis sp.

Grapes belong to the genus Vitis in the family Vitaceae. The genus is distributed in Europe (1 species)1, Asia (~40 species) and North America (~20 species).[10] While there are perhaps 11 genera and 600 species in the family, Vitis is sometimes claimed to be the only genus that supplies human food.[25]

Grapes present me with a biological conundrum. I consider it almost impossible and unthinkable that a genus would show up in three widely separated locations completely independently. Yet today there are three epicenters for grapes; Europe, Asia and North America. It is the North American grapes that puzzle me. In the taxonomic treatises of North American plants this group of grapes is considered native to this part of the world.2 Originally I considered that a progenitor to today’s North American grapes rode over on North America to its current location after its breakaway from the supercontinent Pangaea, but that would seem to be long before the advent of modern flowers. While I suppose that grapes could have moved from North America to Europe and Asia, it seems more likely that the trip would have been the reverse of that. Because of the food value of the grape it now seems likely to me that members of the genus came from Eurasia or Asia across the Bering Straits perhaps carried by man or some other animal. No matter what the case, the American grape industry seems to be dealing with two major groups of plants, those recently imported from Europe and those that are thought of as North American grapes.

What had become distant cousins, the European grape and the North American grapes, were reunited by the white man, probably in the 17th century, largely to bolster the American wine industry, which was producing a wine from American grapes that was considered quite inferior to the European wines. The European grapes were not resistant to some of the diseases and the insect grape phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifòliae) they found in the North America. They also suffered from a lack of cold hardiness. Considerable effort has been directed toward creating solutions to these problems. Arguably, today grapes have quite possibly become the most important fruit crop grown in the world. They provide fresh fruit (table grapes), dried fruit (raisins), fresh grape juice, concentrated grape juice, wine, distilled liquors, grape seed oils, anthocyanin pigments and ethanol production.[11]

Perhaps the most important North American species include V. labrusca, V. aestivalis, V. riparia, and V. berlandieri. Some of their notable characteristics include cold hardiness and disease resistance, and compared to the European grapes, the fruits have lower sugar and higher acid content and are slip-skin.3 The characteristics of the European species, in contrast, include: cold susceptibility, need of a longer growing season with dry summers relatively free of rain, a low relative humidity and susceptibility to North American diseases and pests.

For a variety of reasons, probably mainly to improve the production of wine from the North American species, the European Vitis vinifera has been extensively hybridized with the North American species. The hybrids have been selected for tolerance to many of the fungal diseases of North America, for tolerance to Phylloxera4, cold hardiness and good productions.

Plant description:
The genus Vitis in moist climates generally consists of tendril-climbing, woody deciduous vines, whereas in dry climates its members may be almost erect shrubs.[12] The plants have brown pith and usually a shredding bark. The tendrils are simple or branched and often coiled, and slender tipped. The 3 to 6 inch leaves are simple (not compound) and more-or-less palmately lobed.

The flowers are distributed in relatively narrow, loosely branched panicles5 that range between 1 to 10 inches in length and can contain up to several hundred inconspicuous greenish florets about 0.25 in long. Each floret has 2-7 (usually 5) stamens and 5 greenish petals that are united at their apex (compare Figures 1and 2). In the plants used here for photographs the area of this upper attachment was initially somewhat reddish.

The petals of grape flowers are lost in an unusual manner. (see Fig. 1). Initially the petals are attached to the receptacle of the flower, but are also connected together on their upper edge thus making a hood over the sexual parts of the flower. Initially the connection of the petals to the receptacle is lost but the upper connection of the petals to each other remains intact thus forming a ‘cap’ over the flower. Usually after several hours the cap is lost. Flowers with and without caps can be seen in fig. 3. The time period over which this happens is relatively short. The caps seen in the accompanying photo were taken under a low wind condition when there was still enough light for photography. They generally were gone the next morning when again the light was suitable for photography.

The genetic setup
As I began to review the pollination requirements of grapes, I found what appeared to me to be some discrepancies in the literature concerning pollination. To get a better understanding of ...

November 2015


 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Hydrophyllaceae - The Waterleaf Family1


The Waterleaf family consists of about 20 genera and 275 species, but these numbers vary a bit with the reference consulted.[2 & 19] In part, this is probably because some species are placed in different families by different authors. The family is common to most of the world except Australia and its members are largely annual or perennial herbs and are only rarely shrubby. They are often bristly, glandular and feel rough to the touch. The stems are round, and the leaves can be placed either alternately or oppositely on their stems. In addition, the plants often have basal rosettes of leaves at ground level. The leaves can be either entire or pinnately lobed2 and are without stipules.3

The flowers have both male and female parts (stamens and pistil), are radially symmetrical4, have 5 petals, and the petals and stamens are attached below the attachment point of the ovary (ovary in superior position). The flowers are grouped in cymes.5 The calyx6 consists of 5 united sepals and the petals are united at least near their base. The overall shape of the flower can be either bell shaped (campanulate) or funnel shaped (funnelform). The five stamens are attached to the petals.

The female part of the flower consists of two united carpels.7 This is often represented by the stigma8 of the pistil being at least cleft suggesting two parts.
The fruit is a many seeded capsule9 from which the seeds are released by the seed capsule splitting open into two parts, each representing one of the two carpels.

The western United States is one of the family’s centers of distribution. Sixteen genera are indigenous to the US. Relatively few are cultivated.[2 & 19]

Virginia waterleaf, Shawnee-salad, Indian-salad, John’s cabbage

Scientific name: Hydrophyllum virginianum

Origin: North America

Plant description: Virginia waterleaf is a perennial that grows to a height of about 3 ft (~91.4 cm) with the stems 30-80 cm (~11.8 to 31.5 in) long. In the upper regions, the flower stems and sepals10 possess appressed or ascending hairs that rarely reach a length of 0.5 mm (~ 0.02 in).

The stem leaves are broadly ovate11 or broadly triangular, 10-20 cm (3.9-7.9 in) long and often somewhat wider and are pinnately divided12 sometimes almost to the midvein, usually with 7-9 segments, but sometimes with as few as 5. The terminal leaflet and the pair of basal leaflets are often 2-3 lobed, all sharply acute or acuminate13, the apex with strongly ascending teeth.

The inflorescence is dense during bloom. The sepals are sparsely hirsute-ciliate (pubescent with short stiff hairs). The corolla is 7 to 10 mm (~ 0.28-0.39 in) and the stamens and style extend beyond the corolla.

The flowers are white to violet, or purple, and are situated in loose cymes.14[6]

Distribution: The species is found in moist wet woods as well as open spaces. For the geographic distribution see map.

Blooming Period: Gleason and Cronquist[6] indicate the species blooms in May and June in its northeastern range. In the Great Plains area Wilken[22] indicates that it blooms May to July. In Illinois, Milum[12] indicates that the genus blooms May to August.
Importance as a honey plant: Oertel[15], from his extensive set of questionnaires over a ...


October 2015


 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Phacelia as a Honey Plant


Some members of the Hydrophyllaceae or Borginaceae1 Phacelia, facelia, lacy phacelia, fiddle neck, scorpion weed, valley vervenia, blue tansy or purple tansy.

Scientific name:
Phacelia tanacetifolia

Origin: North America, basically western North America and possibly to some extent south of the U. S. Southern border.

Plant description: Phacelia tanacetifolia is a 15-100 cm (5.9-39.4 in) annual. The stems are erect with no or only a few branches that are more or less covered with glandular short stiff hairs and are hirsute2 throughout. The leaves are 20-200 mm (~ 0. 0.79-7.9 in) more or less oblong to ovate3, generally compound with the leaflets toothed to lobed and with the leaf blade longer than the leaf stem. The inflorescence is generally two to four branched and has many flowers displayed in prominent dense cymes.4 The calyx lobes are mostly linear5, 6-8 mm (~0.24-0.31in) long and densely pubescent and hispid.6 The corolla is blue and broadly bell shaped and 6 to 9 mm (~0.24 to 0.35 in) long and quite persistent remaining even at times to the fruiting stage. The stamens are 1.5-2 times longer than the corolla7 and are glabrous.8 The styles9 are glabrous and deeply cleft. The fruit is an ovoid capsule10 3-4 mm (~0.12-0.16 in) long and pubescent at the end. There are usually two (sometimes 4) grayish brown seeds 2-3mm (~0.08-~0.12 in) long and convex on the outer surface and flattened on the inner surface and are pitted in transverse rows.[14]

Distribution: See Map. The U. S. distribution is native, but the Canadian distribution apparently for the most part represents introductions.[17] Because I do not find it in Grays Manual of Botany[5] or the Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada[6], I suspect that the Eastern locations shown on the map provided here are also introductions (from the western U.S.). Phacelia tanacetifolia has also apparently been distributed in Europe.[7 & 8]

In California the plant is largely distributed in sandy gravely and sandy soils below 2500 m (~8202ft), on gravely slopes and open areas[14], and open flats and slopes below 4000 ft (~1219m), and 6000 ft (~1829m) in desert areas.[11]

Blooming period: In California it blooms March to May.[14]

Importance as honey plant: I find the differential reputation of Phacelia tanacetifolia as a bee forage as found in the world literature to be quite interesting and even a little perplexing. While it is native to North America and where historically at times has been a good honey plant, there currently seems to be considerably more interest and information about the species coming from Europe than from North America.(See later).

Honey potential: From his extensive questionnaires used over a period of several years, Oertel[12] found Phacelia sp. to be ...

September 2015


 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Family Berberidaceae - the Barberry Family


Depending on the reference, the Berberidaceae consists of 9 to12 genera and 590 to 600 species of shrubs and perennial herbs that are scattered throughout the Northern Hemisphere and South America.[2, 10] It is a very diverse family. I find it at least a little difficult to think of the herbaceous may-apple (Podophyllum peltatum), which as a youngster I called umbrella plant, as being even remotely related to Barberry. The similarity most likely resides in the floral structure. Sometimes Mahonia is considered a synonym for parts of the genus Berberis. Parts of the genera Berberis and Mahonia are native to the U. S. This is the case with the species discussed here. The leaves of the family, depending on the type of plant (herb or shrub), can be on stems closely associated with the root system in some of the herbs (example may-apple) or in shrubs more aerially placed. They are alternately placed, and can be either simple or compound, and either persistent or deciduous.1 Generally they are without stipules2 and are often spiny.

The flowers are radially symmetrical and bisexual3 and can be solitary or distributed in racemes4, panicles or cymes or in tight clusters. The calyx5 consists of 4-6 separate sepals, and there are also 4-6 separate petals. The sepals and petals are often similar and usually overlapping like tiles on a roof in two or more series. There can be 4-18 stamens (frequently equal to the number of petals or twice the number of petals) and when in the larger numbers, are frequently in two series. The anthers frequently discharge their pollen through a flap-like arrangement. The ovary is superior6, and consists of two or more fused carpels7, but without careful examination, appear unicarpellate.

The fruit is usually a berry8 or can be dry and distribute its seeds by opening irregularly or obliquely.[ 2, 5, 10]

Holly leaved barberry, Oregon grape, mountain grape, blue barberry, mahonia à feuilles de houx

Scientific name: Mahonia aquifolium9

Synonyms: Berberis piperiana, Berberis aquifolium

Origin: North America

Plant description: Mahonia aquifolium is a spreading to erect plant that grows from 0.1 to 2m (~3.9 to 79 in) in height. The bud scales are generally deciduous (fall off, not persistent). The compound leaves have 5-9 pairs of leaflets that are rounded to elliptical, about 3 inches (~ 7.6 cm) long with about 6 to 24 spiny teeth per side around their edge. They are lustrous green on their upper surface, the lower surface is without papillae10 and they can be either flat or somewhat wavy. The leaf stalks (stems) are 1-2 inches (~2.54 - 5.1 cm) long.
The flowers are in tightly bundled racemes11 to 3 inches (~7.6 cm) in length.
The ripe fruits are dark blue to blackish and while still fresh, have a blue bloom on their surface. They are egg shaped and can be attached at either their narrow or thicker end.[5, 12 & 13]

Distribution: see map.

Blooming period: Generally early spring. Williams[13] indicates in California Berberis aquifolium, depending on the variety, blooms March to June, March to May, or April to June. In the Chicago area it blooms late April, early May.[6]

Importance as honey plants: Oertel[7], from his extensive use of nationwide surveys over a several year period, found the species Berberis aquifolium to be of some importance in Oregon. Ayers and Harman[1], from their questionnaires, found the genus Mahonia to be of some importance in WA.

Pellett[8] indicates that Berberis nervosa, for its production of harvested honey, is of only minor importance near the western coast, but because it blooms early and ...


August 2015


 The Other Side of Beekeeping

The Geraniaceae - The Geranium Family


Worldwide the Geraniaceae consists of about 750-800 species of mainly annual and perennial herbs, a few subshrubs, and rarely woody, and then generally soft woody plants.

The leaves are usually alternately, occasionally oppositely arranged, and are often palmately though sometimes pinnately veined. The pubescence is often glandular.1

The flowers are generally regular (generally more or less radially symmetrical) with the parts of similar size and shape. Sometimes, however all the petals may not be exactly the same size or shape, in which case, they are said to be zygomorphic.2 The petals range in color through white, blue, mauve, red, and pink but not yellow. The petals often alternate with the nectar glands. The flower parts are attached near the base of the ovary and free from it (superior ovary ) and both male and female parts are present (perfect). There are 5 to 10, rarely15, stamens, some often sterile as indicated by the lack of anthers.

Fruiting is one of the more interesting aspects of the family. The pistil generally consists of 5, (more rarely 3) united carpels.3 The styles4 are long and united around a central axis5 and the stigmas6 are distinct. The assemblage becomes a long-beaked elastic capsule (technically a schizocarp) in which the styles of the pistil split away from the central axis starting at the base, with the split progressing upward. In the Geraniums this is often followed by the individual carpels curling upward carrying their seeds with them. In the Erodiums there is a kind of spiraling around the central axis. Each carpel contains 1 to 2 seeds.

Sometimes the Erodiums serve as part of a domestic animal forage, but mostly they seem to be thought of mainly as weeds. Some species of the family provide essential oils that are used in the perfume industry. By far, however, their greatest use is ornamental. The cold sensitive members of the family are sometimes used as annual bedding plants or house plants.[3, 18 &19]

Storks’s bill, Redstem stork’s bill, Common stork’s bill, Filaree, Redstem-filaree, Wild musk, Pin-clover, Pin grass, Pin weed, Alfilaria, Alfilaree, Common crowfoot, Small crowfoot, Heron’s bill, Common heron’s bill, Cut-leaf erodium, Cut-leaf heron’s-bill and a variety of names with different punctuations and capitalizations than the above.7

Scientific name: Erodium cicutarium

Synonyms: Erodium aethiopicum

Origin: Probably the Mediterranean region.

Plant description: The species is a winter annual8 or biennial. The stems at first flowering are quite short and mostly basal, later becoming diffusely branched and reaching lengths of about 40 cm (~15.4 in). The plant can be either ascending or prostrate. The principal leaves are elongate-oblanceolate9, pinnately compound with several sessile10, ovate or oblong deeply and irregularly cleft pinnae11, each 1-2.5 cm (~0.39-0.98 in) long.

The inflorescence is long stemmed, usually with 2 to 8 florets, each with floret stems 1-2 mm (~ 0.04-0.08 in) long. The sepals12 are 5-7 mm (~0.02-0.28 in) long, each tipped with a sharp slender point or bristle. The 5 to 8 mm (~0.2 to 0.32 in) long petals are pinkish. The anther-bearing filaments are without teeth. The nectar is secreted on the outer edge of the 5 stamens and collects in a little hollow outside the base of the outer stamens. The fruits (see margin) are 2-4 cm (~ 0.79-1.6 in) long and resemble the bills of certain water fowl, hence some of the common names.[ 6 & 13 ]

Distribution: While the origin of the species is the Mediterranean region of Europe, the species has become naturalized in most temperate regions of the world. It is most often found in dry sandy or rocky locations including roadsides, fields, cultivated land (gardens etc.) See Map for North American distribution.[6&24]

Blooming period: Gleason and Cronquist[6], which covers the Northeastern part of the U.S. and Contiguous parts of Canada, provides a blooming period of April- September. Pellett[17] passes on blooming date information from the following areas: California: February and March, and in some cases continuing on through the summer; Mobile, Alabama area: June; Connecticut: May and June. Vansell and Eckert[22], writing about California bee forage, indicate that the genus blooms principally in the spring. Burgett et al.[4] indicate that it blooms in Oregon and more generally the Pacific Northwest in spring. Harvey Lovell[11] indicates that it blooms in late winter and early spring in the southwestern U.S. The Jepson Manual, covering California, provides a blooming date range of February to September.[1]

Importance as a honey plant: From his questionnaires, Oertel[15] found the species to be important in AZ, TX, UT, and AL and just the genus to be of at least some importance in CA and CT. From their questionnaires, Ayers and Harman[2] could not identify particular species, but found the genus to be of at least some importance in CA, CO, AZ, NV, and AZ.

Honey potential: Burgett et al.[4], writing about Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, indicate that the species is a good early source of nectar and pollen. They also report the nectar sugar content to be as high as 61%. Pellett[17] passes on the information from Vansell that the sugar concentration is “higher than any other source examined”. Wilson et al.[23], working in Colorado at elevations between 4500-7500 ft, found the nectar sugar content to range between 58.3-59.3%, but despite the high sugar content, it did not appear to be especially attractive to honey bees. The authors speculate that this might be because of the scarcity of the plants in the area in which they were working. While Pellett[17] recognized that the plant was probably most important for spring stimulation, he comments that it had been reported as being a source of surplus in California.

While the 1931 bulletin Nectar and Pollen Plants of California by Vansell[21] does not seem to mention Erodium cicutarium, the 1941 Vansell and Eckert bulletin mentions it, but adds no additional information pertaining to total honey production.

Honey: Pellett[17], passing on comments from various individuals around the country makes the statement that in California the plant produces “considerable honey of good quality.” Vansell and Eckert[22], in their text, describe the honey as extra-light amber to white.

Pollen: Burgett et al.[4] indicate that the pollen is ...


July 2015

 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Some More Members of the Salicaceae


Poplar, Aspen, Cottonwood in general

Scientific name:
Populus sp. From the beekeeper’s perspective members of this group of plants seems much the same and here are treated as a group.

Synonyms: In my view, taxonomically the genus Populus is a bit messy. My interpretation of the USDA Plants website[21] is that it currently lists a mix of 25 different species and 11 hybrids suggesting that at least in some cases we are dealing with interspecies breeding, which to me, trained as an animal biologist, is almost an oxymoron. At the least it’s messy. In addition, frequently under those headings, there are quite long lists of what the website apparently considers to be synonyms of a particular species or hybrid.

Origin: Probably mainly the Northern Hemisphere (see distribution below).

Plant description: The Genus Populus is dioecious.1 The trees generally have furrowed pale bark, the buds are sticky and the branches almost always possess terminal buds. The leaves are alternately placed and generally ovate to ovate-lanceolate2 with longish stems. They can be entire or dentate3 and while still in the bud the edges roll inward toward their upper surface. The flowers are displayed in pendulous scaly bracted4 spikes before the leaves appear. Each flower possesses a cup-shaped disc at its base. There are 4 to many stamens; the style5 is short terminating in 2-4 stigmas. The fruits are 2-4 valved6 and ripen before the leaves are fully formed. The seeds are numerous.[18]

In this writing I use Populus deltoides as a representative example. The distribution map provided indicates that it is fairly widely spread across North America.

Distribution: The genus seems to be distributed mainly in North America, Europe and Asia, and to some extent, Northern Africa.[18]

Blooming period: Early in the spring, before the leaves emerge (Genus in general).

Importance as a honey plant: Probably none7, but they produce copious amounts of early pollen. Oertel­[14], from his questionnaires, found Populus deltoides to be at least of some importance in NE and TX, Populus tremuloides to be of at least some importance in NE, and Populus trichocarpa hastate8 to be of some importance in NE, and just the Genus Populus to be of at least some importance in: ND, WY, AZ, CA, CO, IL, KS, KY, MT, NM, OK, SD, TN, UT, WA, TN, IA, ID, and ME. Ayers and Harman[1] from their questionnaires were unable to distinguish between species, but found the genus to be of at least some importance in: AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, ID, IL, IN, KS, KS, LA, MA, ME, MI, MN, MO, MT, NB, ND, NE, NH, NM, OK, SC, TN, TX, VT, WA, WI, and WY. They also found it to be of some importance in Canada in: AB, PE and NS.9

Honey potential: Probably none from nectar but honeydew is sometimes collected.[16]
From their extensive review of the literature Crane et al.[3] report that the aphid Chaitophorus populeti feeding on Populus alba, P. nigra and P. tremula produce heavy flows (that I interpret as flows of honey dew) being collected by bees. From the same aphid in conjunction with the aphid Pterocomma salicis they report intense flows from late May to mid June with colonies gaining 10-20 kg (~20.2-44lbs) /colony in 10 days of which they attributed 60% to be from poplar honeydew. They also, from their literature survey, provide estimated honey potentials for P. alba of 20 kg/ha and from P. nigra, 20 kg/ha (~17.8 lbs/A). They also report that a crystallized honeydew sample from an unspecified poplar and insect contained 40% melezitose. Melezitose is a trisaccharide made up of two molecules of glucose and one of fructose that is thought to cause honey to crystallize quickly, sometimes while still in the comb. For more about this, see this column March 2015.

Pollen: The beekeeping industry seems to be in nearly unanimous agreement that from their flowers, members of the genus Populus provide only pollen to the bees[2, 4, 12, 13 & 17] Nye[13] even claims that bees continue to collect pollen after the catkins have fallen to the ground. Table 1 provides an estimate of the nutritional value of pollens10 from different sources from Stanley and Linskens.[20] I have provided the information found in this reference in its entirety because it will be of interest to many readers who will have difficulty obtaining this reference.

Additional information: John Lovell[11] indicates that Populus angustifolia and Populus balsamifera produce materials that the bees collect in ...


June 2015


 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Family Cyrillaceae the Cyrilla Family, Sometimes Called the Titi Family


The Cyrillaceae is a small family consisting of only 3 genera and about 14 species of woody deciduous or evergreen shrubs and trees that are native to North America, South America, and the West Indies (The group of islands of the Caribbean Area between North and South America). The genera Cyrilla and Cliftonia are native to Southeastern U.S.

The leaves are alternate, simple (not compound), entire (not toothed, notched or divided) and are usually borne toward the ends of branches.

The flowers are radially symmetrical1, bisexual2, and in terminal or axillary3 racemes.4[5] There are usually 5 sepals5, 5 petals, and 5 or 10 stamens. The ovary is superior with 2 to 4 carpels6, 1 style7, 2 stigmas and 1-2 ovules8 per ovary chamber.

Even though this is a very small family for which I would think it would be easy to describe the fruits, there seems to be considerable variation in these descriptions, and they don’t always seem to agree with each other. Hortus Third[6] describes them as being drupaceous9 or dry and sometimes winged, suggesting that some have their seed enclosed in a hard shell like a cherry or peach, or they may be dry and sometimes winged like a maple or elm seed though, the wings would be much smaller than these examples. Smith[16] describes them as a capsule10 or berry11 which suggests to me that some are dry and the seeds escape by the fruit splitting into sections, or through slits, pores, or teeth, while others are fleshy, perhaps like a very small tomato. Cullen[5] describes them as dry and indehiscent12 suggesting that they are dry and there is no distinct opening mechanism, they just split open. Lemke[7], in the Flora of North America, describes them as berry-like or samara-like13, dry and indehiscent. I suspect that this seemingly great variation is the result of representing the world’s members of the family and/or they do not fit nicely into these definitions. If you are interested only in the U.S. species, I would concentrate on the definitions presented by Lemke[7] and Cullen.[5]

Buckwheat tree, buckwheat bush, titi, black titi, ironwood

Scientific name: Cliftonia monophylla

Origin: The species is native to at least southeastern United States.

Plant description: Nelson[10 & 11] describes Cliftonia monophylla as an evergreen shrub or small tree with blackish bark that grows to about 8m (~26.2 ft). Pollet, writing about the bee forage of Louisiana, describes it as growing to about 30 or 40 ft (~9.1 or 12.2 m). The species is a thicket former that creates dense stands in areas suited to its growth (see Distribution below).

The leaves are placed alternately14, are simple (not compound), entire15, elliptic16 to oblanceolate17 to oblanceolate-obovate18 and range between 2.5 to 10 cm (~0.98 to 3.9 in) in length. The mature leaves are dark green, leathery and glossy above and glaucous19 beneath. The young leaves on fruiting branches are pale bluish green. They are normally sessile20 and only rarely have stout petioles.21 The veins in the lower surface are quite inconspicuous.

The flowers are fragrant, white to pinkish, and are distributed in erect terminal or axillary racemes that are about 3.5 inches (~8.9 cm) long. They have 5 sepals, 5 petals, and 10 stamens that are arranged in two whorls of 5.

The fruit is 2 to 5 (generally 4) winged. In early summer the buckwheat-like fruits are a shiny golden amber and hang from the trees in conspicuous clusters. The conspicuous darkened remains of spent clusters can often be found the year around and afford an easy identification. The fruits contain 3 to 4 roundish light brown seeds.[1]
Distribution: The species is native to swamps along the coastal plain from


May 2015

 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Family Celastraceae - The Bittersweet Family or Staff-Tree Family


The Celastraceae consists of about 60 genera (10 native to the U.S.) and 850 species of trees, shrubs and often woody climbers. The leaves are simple (not compound), most commonly are alternately attached to their branches, but sometimes are oppositely attached. They are not lobed, can be either membranous or leathery, deciduous or evergreen, and usually have tiny, early falling stipules.1

The flowers are small, often inconspicuous, greenish or whitish or rarely purplish, radially symmetrical2, and either perfect (bisexual) or less often unisexual, and are distributed in cymes3 or in tight bundles or clusters (fascicles). There are 3-5 sepals4, usually 3-5 petals (Occasionally none), 3 to 5 stamens5 (occasionally 10) all inserted on or below the margin of the disc.6 There are 2 to 5 united carpels7 partially sunken in the disc and the ovary is superior.8

Depending on the species, the fruits are berries9, drupes, samaras, loculicidal capsules, or indehiscent capsules. The seeds are often covered with a brightly colored aril.10

Several members of the family are cultivated as ornamentals[2,5,19]

American bittersweet, Climbing bittersweet, bourreau des arbres,

célastre grimpant

Scientific name: Celastrus scandens

Origin: Native to North America

Plant description: Celastrus scandens can be either dioecious11 or polygamodioecious.[15] Without a support to grow upon, the species grows close to the ground, but with support it can become a twining vine that can climb poles or trees etc. to heights of 30 ft (~9.1 m).

The leaves are alternately placed, dark green, ovate12 to ovate-lanceolate, finely serrate13 and about 4 inches long and turn yellow in the fall, before dropping.

The flowers are greenish and are placed in terminal racemes14 or panicles that are generally about 4 inches long. The flowers have 5 petals, the male flowers have 5 stamens that are about as long as the petals and the pistil is vestigial. The female flowers have vestigial stamens, a well developed ovary with 3 cells, each with 1 or 2 ovules, a stout style15 and a 3-lobed stigma.16

The fruits hang several in a cluster with each fruit about 1 cm long and composed of 3 orange valves17, which separate at maturity to reveal 1 or 2 approximately 6 mm elliptical seeds, each completely enclosed in a red aril.18 The fruits open with the frosts.[4, 5, 11, 20, 23]
Distribution: Voss and Reznicek[23], writing about Michigan plants state that the species is found on shores and dunes, in thickets, along streams and rivers, roadsides, fence rows, on rock outcroppings, slopes formed by rock debris and dry to moist forests as well as on open ground. McGregor[11], writing about the Great Plains, presents a similar description: “Frequent in woodlands, rocky hillsides, thickets, fence rows and roadsides” Ramsay[17], writing about Canadian honey plants, writes it is found in thickets, river banks and woods.

Blooming period: Gleason and Cronquist[4], writing about Northeastern U. S. and contiguous parts of Canada, provides a blooming period of “May, June”. Ramsay[17], writing about Canada provides a range of July–September. McGregor[11], writing about the flora of the Great Plains, states that it blooms May-July.

Importance as a honey plant:
There seems to be ...


April 2015


 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Family Chenopodiaceae: The Goosefoot Family


The Chenopodiaceae consists of about 1500 species and about 102 genera distributed around the world. They are nearly hopelessly variable in the characteristics that are usually used to define a family, and for that reason, field identification is not easy.
The family consists primarily of succulent annual or perennial herbs, some are shrubs, and only a few are trees. They frequently inhabit dry, arid (xerophytic) and salt laden (halophytic) soils where they often become the dominant vegetation.

The leaves are simple (not compound) and are generally placed alternately on their stems (oppositely in the Salicornia, often called glassworts), are often fleshy or sometimes reduced to scales. There are no stipules.1 The leaves, and sometimes also the stems, are mealy or scurfy (covered with scales) hence the name “goosefoot”. The stems are sometimes jointed and essentially leafless. The sap is colorless or red and not aromatic.

The flowers are almost always unisexual and then monoecious2  or dioecious, some however are bisexual. They are generally quite small, sometimes described as minute and inconspicuous, greenish, radially symmetrical, often bracteate3, but not thin, dry, and membranous in texture, and are distributed in axillary4 clusters or in cymes.5 The calyx6 usually consists of 1-5 sepals (usually 5), rarely 0. There are no petals. There are usually, but not always, as many stamens as sepals that are positioned opposite each other. There can also be fewer stamens than sepals. There are 2-3 united carpels7 (rarely 5). The ovary is one celled and usually superior8 (only partly so in Beta (beet). There are 2 (rarely 3 to 5) styles9 or stigmas.

The fruit is an achene10 or a nutlet that is more or less enclosed by the perianth11 which may harden or be thorny, a hooked structure, or remain fleshy entrapping several seeds. As a result, what many of us would call a seed may produce several seedlings as in the common table beet we often grow in our gardens. This is why beet “seeds” are frequently seen to grow in clusters even when thinly sown.

Many of us know some of these plants from our garden. Examples include garden beets, sugar beets, spinach, and Swiss chard.[3, 20]

Greasewood, black greasewood, seepwood, saltbush

Scientific name: Sarcobatus vermiculatus

Origin: North America and quite probably parts of northern Mexico.

Plant description: Sarcobatus vermiculatus is a rapidly growing, much branched, shrub that grows to heights of 0.3 to 3 m (~11.8 to 118.1 in). It is rigidly stout with widely spreading branches, which when young, are yellowish white but become grayish and either glabrous12 or possess short white branched hairs. Many of the branches are tipped with spines. The species is generally monoecious13 but is sometimes dioecious.

The leaves are deciduous, bright green to light olive green, linear, fleshy, subterete14, are placed oppositely at lower levels and alternately higher in the plant and are usually 1.5 to 4 cm (~0.59 to 1.57 in) long but sometimes are as short as 1 cm (~0.39 in). They are entire15, are rounded or pointed at the apex and can be either glabrous or possess branched hairs.
The flowers are placed in numerous axillary16 spikes17 that are 1 to 3 cm (~0.39 to 1.18 in) long with the male flowers uppermost and more numerous than the female flowers. The male flowers are in small clusters of pinecone-shaped spikes that are 0.5-1 inch (~1.27 to 3 cm) long and have neither sepals nor petals (perianth).

The female flowers are green, quite inconspicuous and are surrounded by a more or less circular wing-like membrane that enlarges to 6-12 mm (~0.24 to 0.47 in) as the fruit matures. The fruit is top-shaped, about 4 to 5 mm (~0.16 to 0.2 in) long. The seed is erect, approximately circular in outline and 1.8-2.2 mm (~0,07 to 0.08 in) wide.[12, 13,21]

Distribution: In the Great Plains the species is usually found at the base of eroded hills, on flood plains often in barren saline or alkaline soils.[12] In western North America, it is often in alkaline soils, dry lakes, washes, scrubland, and roadsides at 100 to 2300m (~ 328.1 to 7546 ft ).[1]

Blooming period: In the Great Plains it blooms May to August.[12] In California it blooms April to August.[8] Scullen and Vansell[19] indicate that the species blooms in July in the deserts of eastern Oregon.

Importance as a honey plant: Oertel[15], from his questionnaires, found the species to have some importance in NM, OR, UT, WA and WY. Ayers and Harman[2], from their questionnaires, found the species to be of some importance in NV, ID, and UT. The species seems not to be mentioned by Pellett[16], nor John Lovell[11] or Harvey Lovell[10], nor its Goltz revision of this pamphlet[6], nor Ramsay.[17]

Honey potential: Apparently none. See Pollen below.

Pollen: Burgett et al[4] mention the species as a pale-colored pollen producer, the pollen freely collected by bees, but say nothing about honey production. Greasewood is quite common in many places in Utah and Nye[14], writing about greasewood, states that as a pollen source the plant is “worthy of special mention.” Again in Nye’s words, “The male flower blossoms open late in the afternoon and pollen showers from the blossoms without jarring, so that much is lost during the night. Many honey bees work the plants at the ...


March 2015


 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Family Borginaceae: The Borage or Forget-Me-Not Family


The family Borginaceae consists of about 100 genera and 2000 species of mostly herbs and some shrubs and climbers. The family is found on all continents including Antarctica, but is generally from temperate and tropical parts of the world. About 22 genera are native to the U.S., many of them in the west.

The plants are often scabrous1 or hispid, the stems are round and the leaves are usually alternate, simple, entire and without stipules.2

The flowers are in coiled cymes3, are usually bisexual4, actinomorphic5, and usually have 5 petals, with the perianth6 inserted below the ovary (the ovary superior). The calyx consists of 5 free or basally fused sepals. The corolla7 consists of 5 united petals that at its base is tube-like and then either abruptly becomes 5 flattened petals or bell shaped. The 5 stamens are attached to the petals, at least sometimes, a fair distance up on the petals. The ovary consists of 2 united carpels8, but is divided into 4 chambers by what is sometimes referred to as a false septum. The four chambers are situated as if filling in the corners of a square that is just large enough to accommodate the arrangement. The pistil arises from the base of the four-chambered ovary and comes up through the central intersection of the four ovary chambers. Each chamber houses a single seed. The ovary sits above the attachment point of the petals (superior position).

The fruits are 4 nutlets9 or achenes (sometimes fewer by abortion) or rarely a drupe.

This becomes an easy family to identify when one becomes familiar with its harsh surface character and strange unfolding cyme.

The family provides timber, medicinal plants, dyes, and many ornamentals.[8, 15, &18]

Blueweed, blue-devil, blue thistle, viper’s bugloss,
viperine, blue devil, langue d’oie

Scientific name: Echium vulgare

Origin: Europe and Asia

Plant description: Echium vulgare is generally a biennial10, only occasionally an annual or short lived perennial, and reproduces only by seed. During its first year it produces a rosette of long narrow hairy leaves and a deeply penetrating tap root. During the second year, only rarely the first year, it produces a coarse 30 to 90 cm (~11.8 to 35.4 in), usually single, but sometimes up to 3 erect flower stems from the tap root. The stems are harshly hairy with scattered stiff white longer hairs among dense shorter hairs, the long hairs often having small reddish or blackish blisters or pustules at their base.

The basal leaves are oblanceolate11, to 25 cm (~9.8 in) long and 3 cm (~1.2 in) wide and taper to a petiole-like base. The stem leaves become progressively smaller with height and ultimately becoming sessile.12 The leaves are all bristly, pustulate-bristly13, or with coarse stiff hairs that are painful to the touch and can cause a dermatitis.

The flowers are sessile and arranged in 1-sided short arching branches that are coiled at first but later elongate to about 7 cm (~2.8 in) when the fruit is produced. The flowers are funnelform14 and about 1 to 2 cm (~0.39 to 0.79 in) long, almost always blue, but are also rarely pink or white. The upper floral lobes are longer than the lower lobes. There are 5 stamens, 4 along with the hairy stigma15 extending beyond the corolla. The fifth stamen is somewhat shorter and contained within the corolla.[1&5]

Distribution: The species is often a pernicious pasture weed and is found on roadsides, weedy pastures, fields and waste places. It frequently is not abundant at a site for long periods.[1&8] Crane et al.[4] describe the habitat of the species, probably primarily from an European perspective, as dry, open places, sand dunes, roadsides, cultivated fields, dry pastures, chalky hills, sea cliffs16 at altitudes <2000m (~ 6562 ft ).

Blooming period: Kaul[8], in Flora of the Great Plains, provides a blooming date range of ...


February 2015

 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Family Araliaceae - The Aralia or Ginseng Family


There are about 70 genera and 700 species in the Araliaceae that are comprised of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants that are spread widely through the temperate regions with centers in the Indo-Malayan area and also in tropical America.

For the beginner, this can be a difficult group to identify because many of the vegetative traits which can be seen easily are shared by other families. The most definitive characteristics reside within the flowers, but due to the usual small size of the flowers and the variability they exhibit, it takes some experience to distinguish these characteristics with certainty.

Vegetative characteristics: Members of the family often are prickly, some are climbing, others are bushes or small trees. The leaves are generally alternate, (rarely opposite), and can be entire or variously lobed or palmately1 or pinnately compound and are usually without stipules.2

Floral Characteristics: The flowers are small greenish or white, radially symmetrical3 and can be one of the following: unisexual4 (the species then dioecious or polygamous) or bisexual.

The flowers are commonly in umbels5; but sometimes are racemose. The calyx usually has 5, more rarely 4 sepals, that are greatly reduced, sometimes to merely teeth, or there may be none. There are usually 5, but rarely 4 or 10, petals that are usually free, but can rarely be united to varying degrees, sometimes only at the tips. When sufficiently united, they fall as a unit . There are usually 5 stamens, more rarely there are 3 to many stamens. They are located in a ring inside the petals and generally alternate with the petals and like the petals, are attached to the top of the ovary, i.e. the ovary is inferior. The pistil is usually compound and made up of 5, but more rarely 1 to many carpels.6 There are usually more than 2 styles7 (sometimes many) that are usually free, but sometimes are joined together with lobed stigmas. The ovary is inferior8 and contains 2 to 15 cells, each with a single ovule (immature seed). The fruit is a berry9 or drupe which only rarely splits into segments.

As mentioned above, there is a great deal of variability in the Araliaceae with many of the nonfloral characteristics being shared by various other families. The ovary being inferior to the other floral parts, the multi celled inferior ovary with just a few seeds, the petals and stamens often of the same number and the rudimentary or totally lacking calyx generally identify the Family. The small size of the flowers, however, will require some type of magnification and some experience in the dissection of these small parts.

The Araliaceae is economically not an especially valuable plant family as are the timber trees for example. There are a number of the family members that are used as house plants, English Ivy as an example. In warmer southern states many of these can be used as ornamental garden plants. The rice paper plant (Tetrapanax papyriferus) is the source of rice paper. The aromatic root of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is used as a substitute for sarsaparilla. Panax ginseng has for many years been used by the Chinese for the treatment of various ills. Panax quinquefolium is used in the U.S. as a stimulant.[3 & 15]

Devil’s walkingstick, Hercule’s club, Angelica tree

Scientific name: Aralia spinosa

Origin: Native to North America

Plant description: Aralia spinosa is a few branched, flat-topped bush or small tree that grows to a height of 12 m (~39ft) and sprouts from the root system forming clonal thickets. The trunk frequently develops few if any branches and the plant becomes an erect trunk with
 a crown of leaves.[13] The plant stem, branches and often the petioles1
and leaf rachis2 are armed with stout prickles.

A short discussion concerning leaf structure is appropriate here. In the accompanying illustrations, each illustration represents an entire leaf. The smaller subparts of the compound leaves are referred to as leaflets. Simple leaves, such as in maple, are not divided into leaflike structures (leaflets), though they may be deeply cleft. Compound leaves generally come in two forms: Palmately compound leaves, such as those of horse chestnut, have their leaflets spread out like the fingers of a hand, whereas pinnately compound leaves have their leaflets attached to a central ‘stem’ (axis or rachis) much like the two sides of a feather. The stem below the attachment of the bottom leaflets or the stem of a simple leaf is referred to as a petiole. The leaflets of a pinnately compound leaf can be attached to the rachis in either an opposite or alternate configuration. At the base of both simple leaves and compound leaves an abscission layer is formed that allows the leaf to break away from the more permanent stem to which it is attached. For both compound and simple leaves there generally is also a bud at this location though it may not be obvious and will require some more investigation on your part to be seen. This bud will become the next leaf if there is to be a leaf there, as for example, next year. If there is a bud there, and the leaflets are without associated buds, you can be quite certain that the leaf is compound. If there is later a replacement leaf, it will be derived from the bud at the base of the leaf. Alternatively, if there are buds at what you suspect are leaflets of a compound leaf, you are not dealing with a compound leaf.

Pinnately compound leaves can have leaflets that are themselves compound and even those divisions can be compound and so on. The accompanying illustrations provide examples of unipinnate, bipinnate and tripinnate leaves.

The leaves of...


 January 2015


 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Other Members of the Fagaceae


The beeches

Scientific name: Fagus sp.

There are two monoecious1 species of Beech in the U.S. that are common and look much alike (Fagus grandifolia and Fagus sylvatica). F. grandifolia is native to North America and F. sylvatica is native to Europe. The two are quite similar in appearance except that the leaves of F. sylvatica are frequently a bit shorter than those of F. grandifolia (2 to 4 vs. 2 to 5 inches) and are more minutely toothed than F. grandifolia. The leaves of F. grandifolia are reported to have 11-15 pairs of veins while those of F. sylvatica are said to have only 5 to 9.[3 &11] There has been much breeding and selection of cultivars of F. sylvatica, and I’m not sure how well these distinctions apply across the whole species. On the Michigan State University Campus there is, for example, a tree labeled F. sylvatica ‘Laciniata’ that has teeth that are quite large (pictured in margin). While this is an unusual European beech because of its deeply cut teeth, it provides a finer canopy appearance and a more dappled shade than the standard European beech and may be fairly common as a landscape ornamental for these reasons. There may be also be others like it of which I am not aware.

You might think that you are not as likely to encounter F. sylvatica as F. grandifolia. In the wild that probably is the case, but F. sylvatica is often planted as a shade tree and there are many ornamental cultivars that have been introduced into the commercial market and planted in home gardens and public parks.

Beyond that, there are about 10 species of large deciduous monoecious trees in the genus with smooth light gray bark that look much alike[6] and presumably might be misidentified as one of the two species described above.

Plant description: (F. grandifolia): The tree is covered with a distinctive light grey bark. The leaf buds are elongated, straight sided, and sharp (acute). The leaves are placed alternately along the branch upon which they reside and are toothed. The species is monoecious, with the flowers appearing with the leaves. The male flowers are on drooping elongated stalks and are arranged in spherical heads. The female flowers are almost not visible and are usually in pairs surrounded by numerous bracts. Each flower has 3 slender backwards curved (recurved) styles.2

The fruits are 1 or 2 brown, 3-angled nuts that are placed in a 4-parted husk of soft prickles. The fruits ripen in the fall and the nuts are edible.[6. 11 &16]

Distribution: F. grandifolia is a major tree of the eastern deciduous forests of the U.S. and contiguous parts of Canada. (See map). F. sylvatica will commonly be found in landscape plantings and the maps provided here suggest that there have also been some escapes to the wild.

Importance as a honey plant: The two species mentioned above are probably less important to the North American beekeeper than are the oaks which are in the same family. This probably is in large part because they are not as common in the wild as the oaks for which there are many species. See the December 2014 column.

The species is not listed in the Oertel bulletin[12], which was based on yearly questionnaires sent to beekeepers throughout the U. S. starting in 1926 and continuing up until sometime before the preparation of their 1939 publication.[12] Ayers and Harman[1], from their questionnaires, found what was probably the native species (F. grandifolia), to be of some importance to beekeepers in ME.

Pellett[14] writing about F. grandifolia states that the principal value of the genus to the beekeeper is for pollen, but that it also sometimes provides honeydew.
John Lovell[9] devotes only a little over three lines of print to F. grandifolia which provides its general distribution, the information that the species is wind pollinated, that male and female flowers occur on the same tree and that “Honey-dew is found on the foliage.”
Ramsay[15] in her review of the plant’s importance to the beekeepers in Canada mentions only the European Species (F. sylvatica), probably because she could find no Canadian beekeeping literature dealing with the native species (F. grandifolia). For the European species she references Howes[7] stating that it is a source of honey dew in mid Europe, that it may be more attractive to bees after a rain than before, and that it is considered a troublesome source of honeydew in the UK (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland).

For a general description of honeydew honey see this


December 2014


 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Family Fagaceae - Beech (and Oak) Family


The Fagaceae is an important plant family generally considered to be made up of 8 genera and about 900 species of usually monoecious1 trees and a few shrubs of primarily the temperate and tropical parts of the world and then primarily in the Northern Hemisphere. They can be either deciduous or evergreen.

The leaves are simple2, pinnately veined3, variously lobed or entire4 and are placed alternately on their stems. The stipules5 are deciduous, usually falling early and therefore are often not seen.

The flowers are small and inconspicuous and nearly always unisexual and the species are usually monoecious.6

The staminate7 flowers occur in slender catkin-like8 inflorescences or in clusters. There are 4 to 6 sometimes 7 sepals9, no petals and 4 to 40 stamens.
The pistillate10 flowers are situated in an involucre11 and are distributed singly or in small clusters of usually three. There are generally 4-6 sepals and no petals and the ovary is inferior.12

The fruit is a nut either free or fused to a cup-like organ or bur.

The family is an important source of lumber, some edible fruits, cork and many ornamental shade trees.[4 & 25]

The Oaks

Scientific name: Quercus species. Different references estimate large differences in the number of species of oak in the world. Rehder[20] estimates more than 200 species; a book published by the Morton Arboretum[15] estimates about 450 species. At the time of this writing, Wikipedia provided a range of 450 to 600 species.

Plant description: As indicated above, the oaks comprise a large number of species, which from a beekeeping perspective are much alike. Rather than dwell on one or two species, I treat them here as a group, and the photos provided are presented primarily to illustrate the general characteristics of the group and not to indicate that they are of special importance to the beekeeper.

The genus Quercus consists largely of deciduous and evergreen trees and only rarely shrubs. The buds have many overlapping scales, the leaves have short stems (petioles), the veins extending from the mid-vein are arranged like the left and right sides of a feather and the leaves can display a variety of indentations along their edge and are only rarely entire.13

The staminate (with stamens, i. e. male) flowers are arranged on slender pendulous14 catkins, and have 4 to 12 stamens (usually 6) and the calyx15 is 4 to 7 parted. The pistillate (with pistils, i. e. female) flowers either stand alone or are arranged in many flowered spikes.16 The ovary generally has 3 and rarely 4 or 5 locules.17 The elongated portion of the pistil can be either long or short and is dilated on its upper end with the stigmatic surface18 on its inner face. The fruit is a nut, the acorn with which most are familiar. It can be nearly spherical, to oblong or almost cylindrical and is usually surrounded at the base by a cuplike involucre19 that hardens with age. Most of us usually think of this as the cap of the acorn, but while still on the tree, is between the nut and the branch to which it is attached. This ‘cap’ is composed of overlapping scales that sometimes are fused into concentric circles.[20]

Rehder[20] describes the world distribution of the oaks as the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, and at high altitudes in the tropics south to Columbia in the Americas, and in Eurasia to the Malay Archipelago between Asia and Australia.

Blooming period:
In Michigan the Oaks generally bloom in May or May and June.[3] The blooming period in California depends on the species, the inclusive blooming period being January to August with the majority blooming March to May[26] In the Great Plains, again depending on the species, they bloom March to May, the great majority of them during April and May.[10] This has little, quite probably nothing, to do with honey production (see next topic), but does provide the range over which pollen is produced.

Importance as a honey plant: The early beekeeping literature about whether oaks produce any floral nectar is muddled with much of it probably wrong. Richter[21], writing about California honey plants in 1911 makes the following statement for Quercus agrifolia, Q. densiflora, and Q. douglassii: “Honey and pollen from the flowers”, and for Q. lobata, “Eagerly visited by bees for both honey and pollen.” Following these remarks he makes statements about Q. agrifolia, Q. douglassii and Q. lobata that indicate with favorable conditions bees gather honeydew, often in considerable quantities in the fall. For readers not familiar with the term, honeydew, it is the product of insects, usually with piercing sucking mouthparts, feeding on the plant’s juices and then depositing what passes through their digestive system onto the plant upon which they are feeding. It is this excrement the bees bring back to the hive and process much as they do nectar. While bees probably prefer nectar, when it is limited they will collect honeydew, and the honey in the hive becomes a mixture of products from the two substances. The production of honeydew by these plant-feeding insects is in itself an interesting subject that is described under ‘Additional Information’ below.

In the November 1923 ABJ, George Shafer[24]writes about the galls20 of Dicholcaspis eldoradensis21 working on valley oak (probably Quercus lobata) that were heavily worked by bees and speculates that this was probably what Richter had written about.
G. H. Vansell[27] in his 1931 ‘Nectar and Pollen Plants of California’ says concerning oaks “Most of them give pollen and possibly some nectar for bees”, but then goes on to say “honeydew from the multitude of scale and gall insect inhabitants of oaks is of more importance.” In his summarizing Table 1 under ‘value as a source of honey’ he provides “minor”, suggesting that perhaps he might have thought there was some floral nectar, though not much. The main text of the 1941 Bulletin of the same title by Vansell and Eckert[28] says nothing about nectar and gives much importance to honeydew. In their summarizing table (Table 3) however, they rate the value as a source of honey as minor. My interpretation of this is that they still considered it possible that oak produced some small amount of floral nectar. While this topic in the early literature could be pursued ad nauseam, John Lovell[12] in 1926 in his ‘Honey plants of North America’ states quite emphatically, “The bloom of the oaks is entirely nectarless, since the genus relies wholly on the wind for pollination. There is not a trace of a nectary in the flowers yet there is a very general impression among beekeepers that the oaks are a source of honey. ”Forty years later, his son, Harvey Lovell[11] echoes this statement with “There are over 30 species (of oak) in the United states all of which are wind-pollinated and lack nectaries.” This exact statement is also found in the Goltz 1977[8] version of this writing. I consider John Lovell to have been quite a good botanist and I believe he was probably correct. The flowers produce no nectar.
There remains one other possibility for oaks producing something other than honeydew that would be attractive to bees. Pellett[18] cites H. B. Parks of the Texas Agricultural College as indicating that post oak (Quercus minor22) yields some nectar from extrafloral nectaries.23 While I have found no other indication of this in the beekeeping literature, a quick Google search using “extrafloral nectaries and oak” will indicate that there is a large interest in extrafloral nectaries because they often involve very interesting relationships with ants that use these nectaries as a source of food and attack other organisms that might ‘wish’ to share or simply examine that resource. This has on occasion included one of my fingers. Since intruders might be there for reasons other than the resource the ants are protecting, for example feeding on some other part of the plant or laying eggs on the plant to supply their progeny with a food source, the ants may actually be protecting the plant. In these situations the plant itself would benefit, and there is some thought that the plants may have evolved these extrafloral nectaries for their own protection. The question then becomes, would bees try to rob extrafloral nectaries that were being protected by the ants? My finger’s experience suggests, “not if they were smart bees!” I doubt that bees bring back much nectar from these extrafloral nectaries and this basically leaves only honeydew.
In 1939 Oertel[17] reported on a multiple year study where beekeepers from around the U.S. were asked to provide data on the bee forage in their area. Over the time that the data was collected, 710 beekeepers had provided information at least once for this study. In the material that precedes his state by state table that provided information about states in which particular plants were considered important by beekeepers, he makes a distinction between ‘honey’ from honeydew and honey from floral nectar, but in the text immediately preceding his state by state accounting, he states “The plants that were reported of value to bees for nectar or pollen or both are listed on the following pages.” While this statement seems to preclude honeydew, the data almost certainly was ...


November 2014


 The Other Side of Beekeeping

No article this month.


October 2014


 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Some More Members of the Asteraceae


Butterweed, yellowtop, wild mustard

Scientific name: Packera glabella

Synonyms: Senecio glabellus, Senecio lobatus

In the past there were numerous plants that were given the genus name Senecio, and many of them had a number of subdivisions (subspecies and varieties). In the USDA Plants Website[21], many, but not all, are now placed in several different genera with many in the genus Packera, and are listed there with relatively few subdivisions. In that listing, part of the original genus Senecio is still considered valid and consists of many species. When reviewing past bee forage literature, this type of situation leads to identification problems and makes it a little difficult to write with certainty about the species discussed in older literature. To some extent, this problem was encountered in the preparation of this writing.

Origin: Packera glabella is native to North America. The USDA Plants Website refers to it as a waif1 in Canada.

Plant description: Packera glabella is a fiberous-rooted, mostly single-stemmed annual2 or winter annual with a fibrous root system and reaches heights of 15-80 cm (~5.9-31.5 in ) and can be either glabrous3 or with relatively obscure hairs (lightly tomentose), especially in the axiles.4 The leaves are deeply lobed and possibly some of the major lobes themselves are lobed with the larger leaves at the base of the plant being 20 x 7 cm (~7.9 x 2.8 in), becoming smaller higher in the plant and in those positions, are often clasping.5 The floral heads are relatively numerous with the central disk6 5-10 mm wide (~0.2-0.39in). The involucre7 is 4-6 mm (~0.16-0.24in) and has approximately 21 or 13 bracts.8 There are approximately 13 or 8 rays9, in the range of 5-12 mm (~0.02-0.47in) in length. The wording “21 or 13” bracts and “13 or 8” rays in the Flora of the Great Plains seems a little strange to me. Does the use of “or” rule out in-between cases? The Flora of North America uses the wording “(13-) 21” and “(8-) 13” respectively, the parentheses usually indicating relative rarity? I am still not sure how to interpret this but am inclined to accept the interpretation I provided for the Flora of North America. The achenes10 are minutely hairy or glabrous.[3, 5 & 20]

Distribution: Gleason and Cronquist[5] indicate that the plant is found in moist, open or shaded places and often becomes a weed in low fields. In the Great Plains it is found in damp open woods or swampy grassland.[3] In Florida, Julia Morton[12] reports that the plant grows in wet soil and river bottoms and is common in low places north and west of Hialeah and along some ditches and canals in Collier Co. She continues that it is also in flat woods, pastures and sand and muck soils around Lake Okeechobee and southward to the Everglades Station.

Blooming period: In Louisiana the species blooms from February through May.[15] In the Northeastern U.S. and contiguous portions of Canada, it blooms May to July[5] In the Great Plains it blooms April to June.[3] Julia Morton[12] indicates in Florida it blooms in “April, May and June”.

Importance as a honey plant: Oertel[13] from his questionnaires found the species to be of at least some importance in LA. From their questionnaires, Ayers and Harman[2] found the genus to be important in LA and NM. Given the map provided, the NM citation probably represents another species of most likely either Senecio or Packera.

Pellett[14] uses the names Senecio lobatus and Senecio globellus (see ‘Synonyms’ above) as though he considered them to be two different species. He lists Senecio lobatus as being common in wet soils from North Carolina west to Missouri and south to Florida and Mexico as well as on the prairie soils of Mississippi where it apparently was credited as a “source of considerable surplus honey”. Citing Everett Oertel, he writes about Senecio globellus as being common in Texas and also Louisiana where it was a source of both nectar and pollen in spring. He comments that it was abundant “in rice fields which are left uncultivated.”

Harvey Lovell[10] mentions the genus Senecio, but never supplies a species epithet11 so it is unclear about what he is writing.

Julia Morton[12], in 1964, indicates that the plant was not as important in Florida as a bee forage as it once was because of herbicide use in pastures, but the species is not mentioned by Lillian Arnold in her earlier 1954 ‘Some Honey Plants of Florida’[1] bulletin. Sanford, in 1988[18] in his Florida Bee Botany bulletin, also appears to not mention the species.

Pollet[15], in his 2011 publication Louisiana Honey Plants, lists the species as a honey plant stating that, “Butterweed is an important source of nectar and pollen for honeybees during the early spring. Given its importance in LA, and the comments by Pellett above, it is a little surprising that it is not mentioned by Sanborn and Scholl in their Texas Honey Plants bulletin.[17]

Ramsay[16] mentions three species of Senecio in her Plants for Beekeeping in Canada and the Northern USA, one of which is listed in the USDA Plants Website as being found only in California and another I can’t find on the USDA Website. One of the species listed there is one of the residual Senecio species.

Neither Senecio glabellus nor S. lobatus are listed in Larsson and Shuel’s Nectar Trees, Shrubs and Herbs of Ontario.[8]

The above review suggests that while the species is relatively well distributed, it may be important primarily in LA, and perhaps of some importance in Texas and Florida.

Honey potential: In the area cited by Pellett above, he indicates that it can be a source of considerable honey on the Prairie soils of Mississippi as well as a source of Nectar and pollen during the spring in Texas and Louisiana. While this may have changed since the time of the Pellett publication, the more recent publication by Pollet[15] suggests that it remains a relatively important source of nectar and pollen in Louisiana.

Honey: Julia Morton[12] states that the honey is “golden-amber and strong, especially after extraction, and is also “slightly bitter” and was sold for blending and bakery use, but is good for spring build-up. The passage by Pellett[14] cited above and using the synonym Senecio lobatus indicates that the honey is amber and of “fair quality”. Harvey Lovell[10], under just the genus name Senecio, but also citing the Oertel[13] reference mentioned above (which lists the full species name), states that the honey is yellow with a bitter taste and strong odor, and is used for brood rearing just before the clover flow. It is not absolutely clear, however, whether Lovell had singled out this particular species or is talking about the genus in general.

Pollen: Under the synonym Senecio lobatus, Pellett[14] indicates that the bees get much pollen from the species.

Additional information: Julia Morton[12] indicates that the plant is toxic to cattle. In my literature search I found evidence that at least some of the other members of the genus are also toxic to cattle. Burgett et al.[4] for example, warn that the foliage from Senecio jacobaea12, often called stinking willie, is highly toxic to cattle and that the honey from it contains toxic alkaloids and should not be consumed by humans. Kirk and Howes[7] concur about its toxicity to livestock, but especially to horses which they claim can suffer irreversible liver damage and die.

Prairie groundsel, prairie ragwort

Scientific name: Packera plattensis

Synonyms: Senecio plattensis, Senecio pseudotomentosus

Origin: Native to North America

Plant description: Packera plattensis is a biennial13 or short-lived perennial, coming from a short caudex14 that sometimes bears stolons.15 It is usually 20-50 cm (~19.7-19.7 in) tall, but can be as short as 10 cm (~3.9 in) or as tall as 70 cm (~27.6 in). It can be nearly hairless or irregularly bearing tufts of short wooly hairs. The stem is generally single or more rarely there can be two to three stems that are loosely clustered and arise from the caudex. The leaves exhibit a considerable amount of variability. The basal leaves have stems and can be of several shapes from elliptic ovate16, to oblanceolate and are either nearly entire17 or have small rounded teeth pointing outward or saw-like teeth pointing forward. They are usually 2-6 cm (~0.79-2.4 in) long, but can be as short as 1 cm (~ 0.39 in ) to as long as 10 cm (~3.94 in) and generally are 1-3 cm (~0.39) wide, but can be as narrow as 0.5 cm (~0.2in) or as wide as 5 cm (~ 2.0 in) with the petiole being 1 to 1.5 times as long as the blade. The leaves of main stems become progressively smaller with height, and also often become sessile.18 Again there is considerable variation in shape.
 The inflorescence generally looks ...


September 2014

 The Other Side of Beekeeping

More Members of the Brassicaceae


Brown mustard, Chinese mustard, Indian mustard, leaf mustard, mustard greens

Scientific name: Brassica juncea

Synonyms: Brassica integrifolia, Brassica japonica, Brassica willdenowii

Origin: Eurasia, possibly Southwest Asia and India[17].
Plant description: Brassica juncea is a glabrous1 and often glaucous annual2 that grows to 30-100 cm (~11.8-39.4 in) in height. The lower leaves are petiolate3, up to 20 cm (~7.9 in) long and are lyrate-pinnatifid4 and dentate.5 The upper leaves are oblong6 and either entire or dentate, and either have short petioles or are sessile.7 The flowers are yellow, 12 to 15 mm (~0.47-0.59 in) wide with the mature pedicels8 slender and ascending.9 The sepals generally are 4-6 mm (~0.16-0.24 in) long, but occasionally are as short as 3.5 mm (~0.14 in), and as long as 7 mm (~0.28 in). The petals are generally 9-13 mm (0.35-0.51 in) long, but are occasionally as short as 7 mm (~0.28 in). The siliques are also ascending, subterete10 and 3-6 cm (~1.2-2.4 in) long. The two valves11 are strongly single veined. The seeds are ~2 mm in diameter, and conspicuously and evenly reticulate.12[2 & 4]

Distribution: Initially, B. Juncea was considered inferior to B. nigra for the commercial manufacture of condiments. Then in the 1940s a Chinese yellow-seeded variety of the species began to be cultivated in the High Plains of North America. When lines of the new variety as well as some of the lines of other species solved the problems associated with mechanical seed harvest of Brassica nigra that were described in the August 2014 column, Brassica juncea soon replaced B. nigra.[17] The major commercial mustard-producing areas became Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatoon in Canada and North Dakota, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana in the U. S., with by far the greatest production coming from North Dakota[5 and internet].

Voss and Reznicek[19], writing about Michigan plants, indicate that as a weed Brassica juncea is found on shores, along railroads, in dumps and fields and disturbed ground. In Ontario it is similar to, though less common than Sinapis arvensis, and is found throughout Ontario, most frequently in cultivated fields and gardens, but occasionally also in fence lines, along railroads and in waste areas.[1] In the Great Plains, where it has escaped areas of cultivation, it is distributed in fields and waste places.[4] The 2012 Jepson Manual[2] indicates that it is generally uncommon in California, but can be found in disturbed areas and fields at < 300 m (~984 ft) and in the Great Central Valley.

Blooming period:
The species blooms April to October in the Great Plains[4]. Pammel and King[14] report the species blooming in Iowa during June and early July, but provide their only bee visitation data for August 27 and September 1, both 1916. Both dates are reported as being cool. During the latter date they provide the information that bees were working the plants for both pollen and nectar. The reported blooming dates for California vary, depending on the author, from May-September[2] or June-September.[12] While Burgett et al.[6] indicate that the species is not particularly common in Oregon, they indicate that it blooms there May-July.

Importance as a honey plant: Considering that the Brassica juncea has recently made it into the ‘elite canola group’and has been involved in the production of the condiment mustard, the American bee literature seems surprisingly quiet about Brassica juncea. Perhaps this is because when the species escapes cultivation, it looks much like some of the other ‘escapees’ of the genus. See, however Honey Potential below. Pammel and King[14] reported that the species is frequently visited by honey bees, which they consider a normal visitor compared to flies and beetles, that at the time apparently were reported on other mustards. Milum[11] places Brassica species in general in his tertiary or minor plants list indicating that if the plants were more common they might be raised to a higher level of importance.

Honey potential: Eva Crane et al.[7], depending on where the plant was being grown, rate the species as a N1, a major source of surplus honey (India, Pakistan and or N2, a medium source of surplus honey (Punjab region of India collected by Apis cerana and Pakistan again collected by Apis cerana and the USSR by Apis mellifera). They also provide information from different publications that the nectar sugar concentrations found by the various researchers were 38-46%, 28-36% and 22-65%, all of which Crane et al.[7] considered medium concentrations. They report honey flows in Pakistan of 5-7 kilograms/colony/season (~11-15.4 lbs/colony/season), but this was mixed with a flow from Brasica campestris (Brassica rapa). They also provide a honey potential of 50/60 kg/ha (~44.5-53.5 lbs/acre) from southeastern USSR.

Because the mustards originally came from Eurasia, and have been grown throughout the region for many years, it is interesting to see how beekeepers and biologists closer to its native lands generally view the species. The species grown in the British Isles, are primarily Brassica juncea and Sinapis alba. Originally Brassica nigra was also grown there, but has been largely replaced by Brassica juncea because the seed is easier to harvest (see discussion under Brassica nigra in the August 2014 column). Kirk and Howes[9] writing about bee forage of the British Isles, discuss Brassica juncea and Sinapis alba together. They consider them to be of similar value to bees, both producing a “copius supply of nectar as well as pollen”, and to produce a similar and characteristic type of honey. In the British Isles, Sinapis alba is cultivated as a forage crop, as a green manure and as a cover crop. There, selected varieties of mustard are planted in advance of main commercial plantings to reduce weeds, pests and diseases because the plant has a “biofumigant action in the soil”. The blooming period depends on the purpose of use, therefore planting date. Since blooming period is dependent on planting date, I speculate that when it comes to planting for bees, where the intent is to fill a honey dearth period, these plants could be useful in performing that function. On their 3-point scale Kirk and Howes[9] rate the species as a 3 (their highest rating) for its beneficial effects on both honey bees and both long- and short-tongued bumblebees and as a 2 for solitary bees.

Honey: Again the American literature seems very quiet about Brassica juncea including its honey. Kirk and Howes[9] discussing both the mustards Sinapis alba and Brassica juncea together, describe the honey as being whitish in color with a mild flavor, but when fresh, can have a strong aroma and flavor and then tends to leave a “slight burning sensation” in the mouth. They also report that it granulates more rapidly than most honeys.

Pollen: Crane et al.[7] report that the pollen is yellow and that the plant is a major source of pollen in the Punjab region of India, as well as a unrated source of pollen in Pakistan.

Prince’s plume, desert prince’s plume, desert plume

Scientific name:
Stanleya pinnata

Synonyms: Stanleya bipinnata, Stanleya integrifolia, Cleome pinnata

Origin: Native to North America

Plant description:
My experience growing this species from seeds from different sources suggests that Stanleya pinnata is a somewhat variable species. Its appearance also seems to be affected by the soil in which it is growing. Together, these factors make the species difficult to describe succinctly. It is generally a shrubby or ‘subshrubby’ perennial13, sometimes somewhat woody, can be glaucous14 or not, and is mostly glabrous.15

The several to many stems are generally erect, can be branched or not and are usually within a height range of 30-120 cm (~11.8-47.2 in), but can be as short as 12 cm (~4.7 in) or as tall as 153 cm (60.2 in). In mature plants, the basal leaves are often largely absent.16 The stem leaves have 0.7-6.2 cm (~0.2-2.4 in) long petioles, are somewhat fleshy (succulent) and become smaller in higher reaches of the plant. Beyond that they are variously described as being differently shaped in outline and usually entire[4] to pinnately17 lobed, the depth of the indentations between the lobes being undefined.

The inflorescence is a somewhat dense (congested) raceme18 occasionally reaching lengths of perhaps a foot (~30.5 cm). The sepals19 are linear, glabrous and 10 to 15 mm (~0.39 to 0.59 in) long. They are a little unusual for sepals, being yellowish and relatively large, and become more obvious as the flower ages. At first glance you might


 August 2014

 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Some More Members of the Brassicaceae

Mustards in General


While my initial intent was to deal with only what I thought of as mustards, I soon realized that this grouping of plants was inextricably linked to some of their close relatives, especially the canolas. This shows up in the early part of this writing.

Be forewarned, there are some naming problems encountered when dealing with this group of plants. One issue that is encountered is that mustards can be broken down into two basic groups; those that are used for salad greens, and those that are grown for their seeds for the production of oils or condiments such as table mustard. In some cases, depending on the variety/cultivar, a particular species might be used for both. Generally, it is only the variety/cultivar that is grown for their seeds that can greatly profit the beekeeper unless those that are grown for mustard greens are allowed to go to seed in which case they can essentially become weeds.

Another issue is that over the years, some of the scientific names for this group of plants have changed. Table 1 is included to help with this problem and presents what appear to be the current scientific names in the first horizontal line. Synonyms are presented as indented entries in columns under their current accepted scientific names. The synonyms that I consider to be most relevant to this discussion are presented in bold type. The remainder seemed to be relatively obscure since they were not encountered during my literature review for the preparation of this article. They do exist, however, and beware that as you begin reading on your own, you may run into one or more of them. Members of this group frequently have several common names. Sometimes they are called mustards or rapes1 of various types, and some now bear the more prestigious Canola name. In the nonscientific and ‘semiscientific’ literature it is sometimes difficult to correlate a particular plant’s common (nonscientific) name with its scientific name. Occasionally, I found the same common name was applied to more than one species.

There are several mustards grown in North America, probably all originating in Europe and/or Asia. Some have become widely dispersed weeds through much of North America (See included maps). I have included maps of the closely related species that contain the canolas as an indication of how widespread this general group of plants has become. Some of them are now listed in the weed manuals of United States and Canada. There are generally three species of mustard that are grown for their seed to be used in the manufacture of the condiment mustard (Sinapis alba, Brassica nigra and Brassica juncea).[16] In much of the apicultural literature, especially the older literature featuring these plants, the names are, for lack of a better term, ‘jumbled’ together. This writing contains some of that ‘jumble’, especially where comparisons between species are being made.

Despite the naming ‘jumble’ described above, in some of the apiculture literature the group is simply referred to as mustard. Oertel[19], from his questionnaires, found mustards to be important in: CA, ND, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, LA, MA, ME, MT, NC, NY, OR, UT, WA, NJ, TX, WI and WY. Ayers and Harman[2] could not distinguish the various mustard species referred to by the respondents of their questionnaires. They did find what was referred to as ‘mustard’ by the respondents to be important in the U.S. in: AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, IA, ID, IL, IN, KY, MD, MI, MO, MS, NJ, NV, OK, RI, SC, TX, UT, VT, WA, WI and WV and to be particularly important in OH. In Canada it was important in BC, MB, NB, NS, ON, QU and SA and was found to be particularly important in parts of BC.

The family is also the source of canola oil. Canola is not a species, but members of the family Brassicaceae that have been genetically manipulated to produce seeds that provide oil, which meets the standard of having less than two percent erucic acid in its fatty acid profile and less than 30 micromoles of glucosinolates/gram of air dried, oil free solids. The structure of erucic acid and a generalized structure of a glucosinolate and an explanation of associated concentrations are provided in Figure 1. Erucic acid is thought to be linked to adverse heart health issues and glucosinolates have been implicated in adverse thyroid effects. The glucosinolates provide the pungent taste associated with plants from the Brassicaceae, for example, the taste of mustard. After the canola oil is extracted from the seeds the remainder of the seed is frequently fed to livestock. The low glucosinolate residue is more palatable to, and probably better for, the livestock than the residue leftover from noncanola seeds derived from the Brassicaceae. The first plants with these characteristics were developed in Canada and hence the ‘Can’ part of the name. The ‘Ola’ came from the fact that the plants with these characteristics are used to produce oil derived from the seeds. There is, however another explanation of the name that is sometimes found, though it seems to be less accepted. It is derived by taking beginning letters of the words ‘Canada’, ‘oil’, ‘low’ and ‘acid’ [Can(ada)+o(il)+l(ow)+a(cid)] . Three Brassicas are now grown for canola oil, Brassica napus (Argentine canola), Brassica rapa (Polish canola), and more recently Brassica juncea (brown mustard/Indian mustard etc.).

This column provided information about canola in November and December of 2009. Much of that is still pertinent today. At that time, however, I was not aware that Brassica juncea either was, or was about to become, a member of the ‘Canola family’. At this time it seems to be primarily important as a canola only in Canada.

There are at least five, probably six European/Asian species of the Brassicaceae that have been spread through much of North America and become common ‘weeds’ in their new home. They include: Brassica rapa (field mustard or turnip and a canola), Brassica juncea (Brown, Chinese, or Indian mustard), Brassica nigra (black mustard), Sinapis arvensis (Charlock or wild mustard) and Sinapis alba (white mustard) and perhaps to a lesser extent Brassica napus. All have human uses (oils, condiments and/or leafy green vegetables), but when they escape cultivation can become what many would consider weeds. While they may be considered weeds by many, they also have the potential of being good bee forage. In cases where mustards are grown for seed, compared to crops like alfalfa grown for large animal forage (see this column June 2004, p465), bees will generally receive full benefit from the flowers.

For readers who might be interested in planting members of this group of Brassicas for bees, I highly recommend ‘looking before you leap’. There is what I consider an extensive set of regulations governing the growing of these plants in at least some states. I discovered them by ‘Goggling’ “legal restrictions growing rapeseed ----------” (-------indicates state of interest).
The current major areas of mustard cultivation seem to be Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan in Canada, and Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington in the U.S., with North Dakota producing the ‘lion’s share’ of that production.[4]
Additional information about Brassica nigra, and Sinapis arvensis is provided below. Brassica juncea will be included in the September column. Information about Sinapis alba can be found in the September 2009 column, and information about Brassica rapa and Brassica napus (both canolas) can be found in the November and December 2009 columns.
Remember that ...


July 2014

 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Some More Members of the Ericaceae


Pacific madrone, madrona, arbutus, arbute, arbousier

Scientific name: Arbutus menziesii

Origin: Native to the western coastal ranges of the U.S. and southern British Columbia.

Plant description: Arbutus menziesii is a widely branching evergreen shrub or tree, generally 4-10 m (~13.1-32.8ft), but sometimes up to 30 meters (~98.4 ft), tall. The outer bark peels from younger parts of the plant until mid summer, showing a green inner bark which soon weathers, leaving a dark red or brown polished surface. The area of the retained bark grows with age and becomes fissured with a roughened dark gray texture. The leathery leaves are alternately placed and are 6.5-13 cm (~2.6-5.1 in) long and 3.5-6 cm (~1.4-2.4 in) wide, or more rarely up to 8cm (~3.1 in) wide. The shape is elliptic with the base usually rounded and sometimes slightly cordate1, but rarely tapered. During their first year the leaves are dark green above and a paler green beneath. During their second year they turn red and yellow during June and July and eventually fall. On their edge they either have a very small fine serration2 or are entire. The leaf tip is rounded or comes to a point, but a small little point at the very tip is rather rare.

The fragrant flowers are in panicles3 6 to 15 cm (~ 2.4-5.9 in) long and occur on stalks that are initially pendulous, but become stiffly erect and lengthen with age. Initially the stalks are 3-5mm (~0.12-0.2 in), but occasionally up to 6.2mm (~0.24 in), and lengthen to 6-8 mm (~0.24-0.32 in) when in fruit. The calyx4 is creamy tan when in bloom. The corolla5 is yellowish white to pink and takes the form of a 6-8 mm (~0.24-0.32 in) long swollen tube that is constricted near the top and then slightly expands again nearer to the top of the flower. The style is about 5mm (~0.2 in) long. The fruits are bumpy (not smooth), generally spherical, red to orange berries, 13-20mm6 (~0.05- 0.79in) in diameter and contain a mealy pulp. The seeds are an elongate 2-2.5 mm (~ 0.08-0.1 in.). Where it can be grown, the plant is valued by many as an ornamental.

In California, Professor Coleman[3] places its southern U.S. boundary as the mountains of San Diego Co., where it attains a size of little more than a shrub, and then gains size progressing northward, reaching its maximum development and greatest abundance in Mendocino Co., CA. Munz[9] describes its CA distribution as: wooded slopes and canyons below 5000 ft (~1524 m) and is common in redwood forests, mixed evergreen forests, Douglas-Fir forests, and less common in foothill Woodlands, and Northern and Southern Oak Woodlands. It’s found in scattered locations of southern California and is abundant from San Luis Obispo Co. to Del Norte and Siskiyou Counties and from Mariposa Co. to Shasta Co. Richter[15] indicates that it is an occasional plant in the northern Sierra foothills, but very common in the Costal ranges, “especially northward.” John Lovell[8] indicates that it grows on mountain slopes and gravelly valleys of California coastal ranges reaching its highest development in Mendocino and Humboldt Counties. Pellett relates that Stephen Harmeling of the Washington Division of Apiculture states that it reaches its “highest perfection” in the Puget Sound Region of Washington. In British Columbia it is found west of the Cascades, mainly in drier parts of the Vancouver region including the Vancouver Islands and east to about the Skagit River area[16]. Scullen and Vansell­[17], writing about nectar and pollen plants of Oregon, indicate that it is abundant in the granite soils of the Rogue River Valley where it “may” be of some value. See also comments by these authors under ‘Importance as a honey plant’ below.

Blooming period: The USDA Plants Website[19] indicates that the plant blooms from March through May, but sometimes as early as January. Richter[15] indicates in California the species blooms in April. Professor Coleman states that it is in full bloom in May and June. Vansell[20], writing about California honey plants, indicates that it blooms during March and April. Pellett[14], provides information from Stephen J. Harmeling in the first report from the Division of Apiculture of Washington, that in the Puget Sound region it blooms in May. The Jepson Manual[23] indicates that it blooms March to May. Sheppard et al.[18] indicate that madrona blooms in the Vancouver area of British Columbia in June.

Importance as a honey plant:
Oertel[11], from his questionnaires, found the species to be of at least some importance in California, Oregon and Washington. Ayers and Harman[1], from their questionnaires, found the species to be important in California and British Columbia.

There is some discrepancy in how different writers have portrayed Arbutus menziesii as a honey plant. Some have depicted it as an exceptional honey plant while others provide information that suggests, while admitting that it is a honey plant of some value, they would not place it in the exceptional range. As an example of the first, University of California Professor George W. Coleman[3] in a series of articles entitled Beekeeping in our California National Forests in the 1921 October issue of The Western Honeybee, adds a bit of poetic prose to the beekeeping literature7: “When in full bloom, in May and June, the great crown laden with its honey-cups full to overflowing, around which the bumblebees, honey bees and other nectar-loving insects gather as at a feast, is a sight to make the heart of any nature-lover glad.” He also provides a description of the honey (see ‘Honey’ below). Continuing along this line, Pellett[14] provides his readers with a note from a Dr. C. E. Ehinger indicating that hummingbirds are attracted to the madrona trees in considerable numbers and that he (Dr. Ehinger) has seen 15 to 20 of them humming about in the blossoms at one time near Chico8, Washington.

Getting more down to earth, ....


June 2014


 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Family Betulaceae - The Birch Family


The Betulaceae consists of 6 genera and about 150 (perhaps a few more) species of deciduous trees and shrubs from the temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. The leaves are deciduous, simple (not compound), attached alternately to their stems, have serrated margins, and stipules and are prominently pinnately veined.1

The flowers are unisexual, and the species are monoecious2, rarely dioecious3. The inflorescences are in catkins4 or catkin-like structures. The staminate flowers5 are in long drooping complex catkins and have no sepals6 in some genera and four in others, no petals, and 2-20 stamens at each bract. The pistillate flowers7 are in catkin-like structures (clusters, spikes or catkins) that are often shorter than their male counterparts. The individual pistillate flowers lack both sepals and petals, and consist solely of two united carpels8 The ovary is inferior9, but since there are usually no sepals or petals, it is sometimes impossible to tell even microscopically whether it should be classified as inferior or superior, in which case it is said to be naked. The fruit is a nut10 or a samara11.

Recognition characters: The Betulaceae are catkin-bearing trees or shrubs with simple (not compound) serrated leaves and female flowers with two united carpels.
The family’s economic products include lumber, edible seeds and oil of wintergreen.[17 & 18]

European hazelnut, European filbert, common filbert, cobnut, European hazel, giant filbert, hazelnut

Scientific name:
Corylus avellana

Origin: Europe, western Asia and northern Africa.

Plant description: Corylus avellana is a shrub or small tree that grows 12-25 ft (~3.7-7.6m) in height. It frequently forms dense thickets of erect stems that develop from the root system. The twigs are covered with bristly glandular12 hairs.

The leaves are simple13 and placed alternately14, on their stems. The leaf petiole15 is pubescent, and covered with bristly glandular hairs and the leaf blade is 2-4 inches (~5.1-10.2 cm) long and 1.5 to 3 inches (~3.8-7.6 cm) wide. In shape, the leaves range from suborbicular16 to broad-obovate17, and are abruptly acuminate18 and cordate at their base. They have doubly serrate19 teeth around their edge which may be located on small lobes also often arranged around the leaf edge. They are slightly pubescent20 or nearly glabrous on the upper surface and dark green and pubescent beneath, particularly on the veins. The petioles are 8-15 mm (~0.32-0.59 in) long and glandular and hairy.

The male catkins are usually in clusters of 2 to 4 and measure 3-8 cm (~1.2-3.1 in) in length with a diameter of 0.7-1 cm (0.28-0.39 in), and their peduncles21 are generally 5-12 mm (~0.2-0.47in). The globose to ovoid nuts are in groups of 2-4 and are about 0.75 in (~1.9 cm) long. The involucre22 into which the nut is set is usually shorter, but sometimes slightly longer than the nut and is deeply and irregularly divided into narrow often toothed lobes.[3, 4 & 17]

Distribution: In the U.S. filberts are commercially grown in the Willamette Valley of Oregon[2]. In Europe the species is rarely found in acid peaty soils and does best in calcareous soils[6]. Molnar and Capik[11] state that the U.S. typically provides 3-4% of the world’s hazelnut production and that Oregon, primarily in the Willamette Valley, produces 99% of that.

Importance as a honey plant: Oertel[13] lists three groups of plants under Corylus, but either apparently refers to a different species or does not provide a species epithet23. The common names provided, however suggests that the species discussed here was found to be important in WA, and OR. Ayers and Harman[1] from their questionnaires found the species to be important in Washington and Oregon, but only for pollen.

Honey potential: Pellett[15] states that the plant produces much pollen and also occasionally some honey. Today it is generally thought that the plant produces no nectar, which still leaves open the possibility that Pellett’s information resulted from honey made from honeydew. Indeed, Burgett et al.[2] reported the species as a source of honeydew.

Honey: See ‘Honey Potential’ above.

Pollen: In Europe, in at least the British Isles, Corylus avellana produces an early source of abundant pollen that is collected eagerly by bees when the weather is suitable. A close proximity to the hives is also important because during the early season when Corylus avellana blooms, it is unusual for bees to visit flowering plants that are not close to their hive[6]. The flowers are wind-pollinated and not dependent on insects for pollination. Notice how different this is than for almonds, which, using the varieties now in use are almost totally dependent on insects, and almost totally honey bees for pollination (See this column May and June 2012). Like almonds, however, Corylus avellana is self-sterile and the pollen from a plant cannot pollinate female flowers on the same plant. There is also some cross-incompatibility, somewhat like exists with almonds (see this column May and June, 2012). Another interesting aspect of the pollination of hazelnuts is that the pollen is shed before the female flowers are receptive[9]. Female flowers are first receptive at what is known as the red-dot stage, which occurs just as the styles peak through the opening in the bud. If unpollinated, the styles continue to elongate and remain receptive for two to three months[9].

In Europe the catkins are available for quite a long time, usually about a month, but this is governed by the weather during the flowering period.[6] Burgett et al.[2] state that the plant is one of the earliest pollen sources in late winter and early spring in Oregon.

Additional information:
Other species of Corylus also produce edible nuts, but Corylus avellana produces the large nuts that are primarily used in commerce for the nuts themselves, oils and sometimes the wood itself, which according Hortis Third[7] has many uses. This may be in reference to the fact that historically in Europe (at least in the British Isles), the plant was coppiced (cutting it off near the ground, letting it sprout again from multiple positions from the root system), the new wood from the multiple stems then used for various purposes.

Both C. americana, and C. cornuta, are native to North America. The nuts are edible, but smaller than those of C. avellana. The breeding of hazelnut varieties frequently involves the cross pollination of two species.


May 2014

 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Family Asclepiadaceae


Honey vine, bluevine, Devil’s shoestring, vining milkweed, climbing milkweed, sand vine, wild sweetpotato vine, angle-pod, dry-weather vine, shoestring vine

Scientific name: Cynanchum laeve

Synonyms: Gonolobus laevis, Ampelamus albidus, Ampelamus laevis[19].

Origin: North America (Native U.S., Introduced Canada[19]).

Plant description: Cynanchum laeve is a perennial twining vine that can be branched or unbranched, and John Lovell[9] claims, can grow to 40 ft (~12 m) in length. As a perennial it dies back in the fall with frost, but comes up again in the spring[9]. The leaves are placed oppositely, are triangular to broadly ovate3, generally 4-11 cm (~1.6-4.3 in) long , sometimes as short as 2 cm (~0.78 in) and generally 2-10 cm (~0.78-3.9 in) wide, sometimes as narrow as 1.5 cm (~0.59in), and are thinly membranous and glabrous4 to sparingly strigose or villous, especially on the veins. The leaf’s apex ranges from acuminate5 to caudate or apiculate, with the area of stem attachment deeply cordate6. The leaf stem is 1-9cm (~0.39-3.5 in) long.

The inflorescence is a cyme7 holding 5-40 flowers that are 5-8 mm (~0.31-0.32 in) in diameter. The calyx lobes are green or tinged purplish, lanceolate to ovate8, and 1.5-3 mm (~0.06-0.12 in) long. The petals are whitish to cream-colored, narrowly oblong9 to 4-7 mm (~0.16- 0.27 in) and spreading. There is a crown-like structure between the petals and the stamens known as the corona that is made up of 5 erect petal-like structures 5-6 mm (~0.2-0.24 in) long (like the structure of a daffodil flower). There seem to be two floral forms based on the structure of the columns[7]. In the reference just cited, one is called a cylindric column and the other, an obconic column. My interpretation of this is in the first, the filaments of the stamens are fused and in the second the filaments are fused to the style of the pistil. Examination of the photo provided doesn’t clarify this issue, partly because all the flowers are from the same plant. The same reference uses the terms pollinia and corpusculum, suggesting that the flowers are set up for the type of pollination as found in the milkweeds (see this column January 2007). I speculate that this arrangement has evolved to limit self-pollination.

The fruits are fusiform-shaped10 follicles11 between 8-14 cm (~3.1-5.5 in) long, and 1.5- 2 cm (~0.59-0.78 in) thick. The seeds are obovate12, 7-9 mm long (~0.27-0.35in), and bear a tuft of long silky hairs that John Lovell[9] indicates allow the seeds to be carried for miles in the wind.[7, 22]

Distribution: In Pellett’s day the plant grew chiefly in cornfields and river bottom land. It was particularly problematic in cornfields where it could be found climbing the corn stalks[9].
John Lovell[9] states that the plant grows luxuriantly on the rich alluvial soils of the river bottom lands, but not as well on upland or thin clay soils. He also provides a description of how devastating the plant could be in corn, this before the advent of modern herbicides. According to the 1960 Weeds of the North Central States[4], honey vine is found in cultivated fields and fence rows, especially in areas with fertile, moist soil. The Flora of the Great Plains[7] states that the plant is found in sandy clayey or rocky calcareous soils of forest margins, thickets, flood plains or disturbed areas, which would include corn fields.

Blooming period: Pellett[13] provides a blooming period for honey vine as July to August and indicates that while it blooms before smartweed, honey vine honey usually has smartweed honey mixed with it[13]. While I ordinarily would think that this as a reference to one of the members of the genus Polygonum often called smartweeds, Brunnichia chirrhosa now B. ovata (which see) seems to be the only plant listed in the index of Pellett’s book as smartweed. The maps provided here indicate that the southern range of Cynanchum laeve is much the same as that of Brunnichia ovata, so it seems likely Pellett is referring to Brunnichia ovata. Flora of the Great Plains[7] indicates that honey vine blooms June to September. John Lovell[9] States that it begins to bloom in the latter part of July and “by August 15 the Honey flow is at its best”. From his text, this description seems to apply to southwest Indiana and the central Missouri.

Importance as a honey plant: Oertel[11] from his questionnaires found the species to be of at least some importance in IN, IL, KS, KY, IN and MO. Robinson and Oertel[16] listed the species as being of some importance for nectar production in their Northern (CT, IL, IN, IA ME, MA, MI, MN, MO, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VT, WI), Southern (AL, AR, DE, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MI, NC, SC, TN, VI, WV) and Plains (KS, OK, NE, ND, SD) regions. The map provided here strongly suggests that not all of these states were important sources of honey from the species and it was not included in the section of their writing that singled out what they apparently considered to be especially important sources of honey. Ayers and Harman[2] from their questionnaires found the species to be of considerable importance for nectar production in KS, MO, IL, IN, and to be of at least some importance in AR, NC and SC. Pammel and King[12] indicated that the plant had not been observed by them except in southern Iowa, presumably because it was uncommon in northern parts of the state. They reported only one observation, that from Hamburg, IA in the extreme southwestern corner of the state. The observation was made on August 25, 1928. The day was clear and warm, the flowers were very fragrant, the bees were very abundant and the plants seemed to “yield a large amount of nectar.” Their final words, “Good honey plants” seems to convey their feelings after making this single observation. The 1957 Illinois Honey and Pollen Plants Mimeograph by V. G. Milum[10] lists Vincetoxicum gonocarpus as a secondary honey plant in Illinois . Milum described secondary honey plants as ones that were abundant only in certain areas or when generally abundant, are not always reliable sources of nectar and are usually dependent on weather conditions. The name Milum used is now a synonym for Matelea gonocarpos, which is a vining type of milkweed that does grow in IL, but the common names given in his mimeograph are generally associated with Cynanchum laeve and may indicate that the scientific name used in the Mimeograph is incorrect.  

According to John Lovell[9], the species yields honey well only during dry seasons and during a wet season experienced in 1915, the bees neglected it entirely.

Honey potential: Pellett[13] also indicates that it blooms best during dry years and reports yields of 60 lbs per hive over a three-week period with average total yields as high as 80 lbs per colony from southern Indiana. One of his Missouri correspondents from Brunswick, Missouri (~170 miles northwest of central Missouri) reported as much as 100 lbs from strong colonies. John Lovell[9] reports hive scales making daily gains of 4 lbs for 15 consecutive days, and 60 to 80 lbs of honey per colony were frequently obtained.

Harvey Lovell[8], writing in 1966, says that tons of honey were formerly stored in Missouri, southern Illinois and Indiana, as well as in adjacent states, but claims that since 1948, herbicides have greatly reduced its value as a honey plant, although there was a good flow in Southern Indiana in 1954. Before the advent of 2,4-D’s use in agriculture (~1946), honey vine was controlled early in the season by cultivation, but when a cultivator could no longer be used because of the size and structure of the corn plants, honey vine would climb the cornstalk and twine around it and then reach to other plants, including those in another row. John Lovell[9] describes a 1200 acre (~486 ha) field where in his words, “there was not a stalk on which there was not a vine.” Harvey Lovell[8] indicates how rapidly this could happen, telling the reader that corn growers gave honey vine the name “foot-a- night” because of its rapid growth. It isn’t difficult to imagine how the plant could have a direct adverse effect on corn production as well as interfere with the corn harvest. The advent of modern herbicides has added another arrow to the weed control quiver, but a quick Google search clearly suggests that herbicides have provided a less than perfect solution to honey vine control, but it’s hard to imagine that they have helped honey production from this plant either.

Honey: Pellett[13] states the honey is light in color, mild in flavor, and does not granulate readily, and that it is clear, with a heavy body and excellent flavor. John Lovell[9] almost waxes poetic over the quality of the honey with “ The honey is nearly white, or has a slight pinkish tinge, and an aromatic flavor. The flowers have a pleasing fragrance, which is very noticeable in the evening; and when the sections of honey are removed this delightful fragrance is at once apparent. It does not granulate readily, even in cold weather.” Harvey Lovell[8] claims that the honey is white but cloudy, has a fine flavor and body, and crystallizes rapidly with a fine grain. There seems to have been a difference of opinion between father and son concerning the honey’s granulation.

White et al[21] provides a single analysis of Cynanchum laeve honey, under the synonym Gonolobus laevis, that was produced in Missouri (see table 1). While it arrived at White’s lab as a soft granulated product, his data seems to suggest that after complete liquification, the honey is slow to crystallize at least up to a period of 6 months.

Pollen: John Lovell indicates that the pollen while still on the plant is in “waxy masses.”

April 2014


 The Other Side of Beekeeping - Buckwheat


Buckwheat, brank, sarrasin, blé noir

Scientific name: Fagopyrum esculentum

Synonyms: Fagopyrum fagopyrum, Fagopyrum sagittatum, Fagopyrum vulgare, Polygonum fagopyrum

Origin: Asia, quite possibly China[5]

Plant description: Buckwheat is an annual, usually 20 to 60cm, (~7.9 to 23.6 in), but occasionally grows to 4 feet (~ 122 cm) tall, and usually consists of a main stem with several branches. The stem ranges from green to red and turns brown with age. The leaves are broadly triangular hastate-ovate1 2 to 8 cm (~0.79 to 3.1 in) long. The inflorescence branches in dense corymbose or paniculate cymes. Inflorescences are both terminal and axillary2, and branch in dense corymbose or paniculate cymes3. Flowering is indeterminate4 thus allowing indefinite elongation of the main floral axis. The flowers are white or pink and 6 mm (~0.24 in) in diameter. The buckwheat flower has no petals, only five petal-like sepals5 which are sometimes referred to as tepals.

The ovary is in the superior position6 and consists of three united carpels7 and is topped with three styles8 which lead to a single ovary with one ovule so that each flower can produce only one seed. There are eight stamens9, four, which turn their anthers inward, the other four, outward. Beyond that, there are basically two types of flowers. Some plants produce flowers with short styles that reach to about halfway up the long filaments; the anthers are then located above the tops of the styles. This form is commonly referred to as throm type. The others have long styles and short filaments so the stigma10 is placed about 2 to 3 mm above the anthers. This form is commonly referred to as the pin type11. The yellowish nectaries lie at the bottom of the flower, positioned between the bases of the stamens, and are interconnected by a cushion-like swelling. It is claimed in both floral forms, the inner whorl of stamens have their anthers situated so they dehisce outwards while the outer whorl of stamens dehisce inwards so that an insect probing for nectar is dusted with pollen on both sides of its body[14].

Although each plant essentially bears flowers of only one form, the seeds from either form will produce plants that have the two forms in about equal numbers. Without previous selective breeding, generally one form cannot pollinate itself nor the same form that is a neighboring plant. The situation lends itself to cross-pollination.

The different lengths of styles and stamens is a little reminiscent of purple loosestrife, which is in an entirely different family (see this column January 2010).

Flowering in the field may begin 5 to 6 weeks after planting and may continue for 25 to 30 days. The fruit is a smooth and shining brown or black achene12, 5-7 mm (~0.2-0.28 in) long.

Distribution: The importance of buckwheat as an agricultural crop in the United States is today only a shadow of what it once was. In 1918 more than 1 million acres were grown in the US. Over the next 20 years, that diminished to less than half of that and by 1954, only 150,000 acres were harvested, and by 1964 when the USDA crop productions records for buckwheat were discontinued, only 50,000 acres were harvested. In the 2007 Census of Agriculture[22] 24,760 acres were harvested. The largest number of buckwheat farms were located in NY(83), PA (71) and ND (61), but the largest quantities of the crop were harvested in WA (308,700 Bu.), ND (213,800bu) and NY (47,800bu). Buckwheat is almost always produced under contract, partly because of the strong export market. In the 1950s there was some hope by beekeepers that buckwheat might make a comeback because of the discovery that the plant produced the drug Rutin[3]. Judging from the data just cited, that comeback never occurred, perhaps because there were many other plants that also produced the drug and/or perhaps because the drug didn’t live up to expectations.

There are numerous statements in the literature that buckwheat may well be the only plant that can profitably be planted for honey production because there are two products, honey and the edible seed, offsetting the cost of planting. Since the seed is now produced mainly under contract, I have to wonder if this is still a true statement, particularly if the buyer has not been identified before planting.

While buckwheat commonly escapes from cultivation, generally outside of the agricultural field is not long lived.

Oertel[15] from his questionnaires found the species to be of at least some importance in CT, DE, IA, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, SC, SD, VA, WA, WI, and WV.

Ayers and Harman[2] from their questionnaires, found the species to be of at least some importance in the United States in AL, DE, KY, MD, ME, MN, NC, ND, NH, NJ, NY, OK, OR, PA, SD, WI, WV with ME reporting particular importance. That represented three states not reported ...

The Other Side of Beekeeping - March 2014


Wild thyme, creeping thyme,thyme,mother of thyme, lemon thyme, thym sauvage, serpolet

Scientific name: Thymus serpyllum See ‘Synonyms’ below.

Synonyms: It’s not clear how to proceed with the topic Thymus serpyllum. There is a group of very variable plants that that are quite similar that have been dealt with in the literature at different times somewhat differently. Thymus serpyllum is treated by the USDA Plants Website[18] as a synonym of both Thymus pulegioides subspecies arcticus and variety albus. It is also treated as a sometimes misapplied name of one of the subspecies of Thymus praecox. Because these plants are introductions from Europe, I thought it would be interesting to see how Flora Europaea[5] treated Thymus serphllum. There, it seems to be treated as a species, but with what seems like a long list of names for it that have been used historically in the literature. Much of the beekeeping literature that deals with this plant uses Thymus serpyllum and it is also under that name specimens I photographed were identified, and I have no way to identify into which situation mentioned above they fit. As a result, I have decided to use that name here. I have also provided distribution maps of both Thymus pulegioides and Thymus praecox as well as photographs of both. Names used with photographs presented here were the names applied to the plants when they were photographed. This is the problem with very variable species, and I don’t expect it to become simpler with more DNA analysis of highly variable and/or closely related plant species.

Origin: Hortus Third[8] indicates the origin of Thymus serpyllum is Northwestern Europe whereas Rehder[15] indicates Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa as the origin while Gleason and Cronquist[4] states simply, Europe.

Plant description: As pointed out above, Thymus serpyllum is a very variable species. It is a diffusely branched, mat-forming perennial, rooting at the nodes1. The stems are woody at base. The floral stems are more or less erect to 10 cm (~3.9 in) and are pubescent all around or on opposite sides of the more or less 4-sided stems characteristic of the mint family. According to Rehder[15], the plant may also be caespitose (with dense vertical tufts). The leaves are short-stemmed (nearly sessile). The leaf blades are variously described as linear to subround, ovate, elliptic, oblong, oblong-ovate, and linear2. In addition to the definitions below see the article by Kennon Lorick in the October 2013 ABJ[9]. A picture is worth a thousand words! In length they are variously described as 5 to 10 mm (0.22 to 0.39 in) , 5 to 12 mm (~0.22 to 0.47in) and 5/16 inch (~4 mm).

The flowers are aggregated in a continuous or interrupted terminal inflorescence 1 to 4 cm (~039 to 1.57in) and rarely up to 15 cm (5.9 in) in length. The calyx is pubescent, the corolla is purplish and 4 to 6 mm (0.16 to 0.24 in) long and the stamens project above the corolla.[4, 8 &15]

Distribution: In North America the species is commonly cultivated and escapes into upland woods and fields.[4] Merwin[12] describes the habitat in the Catskill area of New York where the species had become abundant as “This plant will grow and thrive on land too poor for other grasses3 to grow. There is no land too poor no winter too cold and no summer too dry for this plant”. In Europe, the species is found on dry slopes, grassland dunes and bushy places[3].

Blooming period: Gleason and Cronquist[4] and Rehder[15] state that in the Northeastern United States, the species blooms from June to September. Pellett[14] relays information from J. B. Merwin from Prattsville, NY that it is an ideal honey plant, in that it begins to bloom about the 15th of July just as the basswood finishes its bloom, and then continues until there is a killing frost, which sometimes comes as late as November. John Lovell[11] indicates that the plant blooms in the area stretching from Nova Scotia to Pennsylvania from July to August. Harvey Lovell[10] provides the information that the species blooms July 25 to August 20 in the Catskill Region of New York and slightly later in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts.

Importance as a honey plant:
Oertel[13] from his questionnaires found Thymus serpyllum to be of some importance in New York and Massachusetts and the genus Thymus to be of some importance in Vermont and Massachusetts. Robinson and Oertel[16] found the genus Thymus to be of some importance in what they called Northern region of the U.S. (CT, IL, IN, IA, ME, MA, MI, MN, MO, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VT, and WI). Most likely the genus was not important in all the states listed in this region. Ayers and Harman[1], from their questionnaires, found the genus Thymus to be of some importance in Massachusetts.

Crane et al.[3] rates the species’ honey production from different parts of the world as N1, N2 and N3 (major, medium and minor source of nectar respectively). They also supply secretion rates of 0.16 and 0.18 mg/floret/day and nectar sugar concentrations of 26.9%, 42.8%, 27-45%, and 30.1%, all of which they consider medium. They provide sugar values of 0.043-0.77mg/floret/day, which they consider low.

Honey potential: Crane et al.[3] supply the following yield data from different parts of the world.

U. S.: 57kg/colony/year (~125 lb/ colony/year) (rated high). This data apparently comes from the Merwin letter to Pellett mentioned above where it was claimed that honey yields as high as 125 lbs (56.8 kg) per colony had been produced in the above described area
Bulgaria: 40.8 kg/ha (~36.4lbs/Acre)
Europe: 48 to 161 kg/ha (~42.8 to 189.7 lbs/acre), but included some Thymus Pulegioides honey.
Poland: 48 kg/ha (~43.7 lbs/acre) , 149 kg/ha (~89.1 lbs/ acre); 100 to 200 kg/ha; (~89.1 to 224.5 lbs/acre).
Romania: 80 to 120 kg/ha (~71.3 to 106.9 lbs/acre)

In an article in the 1914 Gleanings in Bee Culture[12] J. B. Merwin4 from Prattsville, NY (Greene Co.5) claimed that the areas along the roads, as well as pastures for miles in each direction, both of which he notes were not ordinarily tilled, were carpeted with wild thyme. He claimed it so thick and lush that a person driving along, looking over the landscape, would think it plowed and the soil was that of red slate when in reality it was the pink blossoms of the wild thyme. Walking on it was like walking on a thick piled carpet known as “Brussels carpet”. The area just described seems to have been a relatively isolated patch several miles in diameter. Over a 20 year period he claimed it never failed to yield some “summer savory”, the local name for the honey. During one exceptionally poor year, he secured 6000 lbs (~2727 kg) of honey with 170 colonies while a comb honey producer several miles away and outside the “thyme belt”, as he called it, produced not an ounce of honey. Another year, starting with 60 colonies, he claims to have produced over 4000 lbs (~1818 kg) of comb honey from the plant as well as being able to increase the number of hives to 85. Another local comb honey producer produced 800 lbs. with 60 colonies.

Harvey Lovell[10] claims that 50 to 75 lbs of surplus honey were often stored from the plant and one beekeeper (M. P. Traphagen) once had a colony that stored 150 lbs. The area seems likely to have been the Catskill Region of New York and Berkshire Hills Region of western Massachusetts. John Lovell[11] states that the plant very abundantly secretes nectar that has an aromatic flavor.

Honey: White[20] provides data from a single sample of ....


The Other Side of Beekeeping - February 2014


The Styracaceae is generally considered to be made up of 12 genera[2, 4, 19] with one reference[8] recognizing only six. Depending on the reference, there are generally said to be between 165 and 180 recognized species, which are restricted to moderately warm regions of the world that include Brazil to Peruand Mexico, Virginia to Texas, Japan to Java and one species in theMediterranean region.

In many respects, the Styracaceae resembles the Ebenaceae (see this column September 2008) except that the flowers of the Ebenaceae are generally of one sex, whereas the flowers of the Styracaceae are perfect.1

The family consists of generally deciduous (sometimes evergreen) trees and shrubs. The leaves are simple, have short petioles and are placed alternately on their branches, and there is usually a stellate pubescence2 on young shoots and leaves and there are no stipules.3

The flowers are generally showy, fragrant, perfect and depending on the species, can be solitary or arranged in racemes, panicles or cymes4. The calyx5 is generally 4- or 5-lobed, but rarely can have 0 or up to 9 lobes. The ovary is often in the superior position6, but sometimes is partly inferior being partly imbedded in the floral cup. The corolla7 generally consists of 5 petals, more rarely there can be 4 or up to 10 petals. There are generally twice as many stamens8 as petals, which are attached to the petals. One reference, while agreeing with the previous statement, states that there can also be the same number of stamens as petals or there can at times be four times the number of stamens as petals[2]. The anthers are oblong, yellow, 2-chambered and open longitudinally to shed their pollen.

There is a single compound pistil9 with 3 to 5 carpels associated with 3 to 5 locules10, usually with one of the locules atop the remainder. Each locule generally contains a single ovule11, but rarely there can be more than one. The pistil can be either capitate12 or minutely 2- to 5-lobed. The fruit is generally a drupe13 or a capsule.

Where the hardiness of particular species is sufficient for a particular climate, they are often used as relatively pest-free (insect and disease) ornamentals. Some species supply aromatic resins that are used as a natural incense in religious services.

Snowdrop bush, California styrax, bitternut

Scientific name:
Styrax redivivus

Synonyms: Styrax officinalis var. californicus

Origin: Styrax redivivus is native to at least parts of California. Its
known distribution is shown in the map provided. (see also ‘Additional
information’ below).

Plant description: Styrax redivivus is a shrub in the 1 to 4 m (~3.3 to 13.1 ft) height range.
The leaves are entire14, ovate15 to more or less round or obovate with a blade generally 2 to 8 cm (~0.79 to 3.1 in) long with a 3 to 14 mm (~0.12 to 0.55 in) long petiole. The leaves shown in the margin are from a single branchlet.

The inflorescences are located terminally on the branchlets, and are 2 to 5 cm (~0.79 to 1.97 in) long and consist of 1 to 6 flowers. The pedicels16 are 4 to 9 mm (0.15 to 0.35 in) long. The calyx of the individual flowers consists of 6 to 9 unequal teeth. The white corollas have 5 to 10 lobes, are bell-shaped and 12 to 26 mm (~0.47 to 1.02 in) long. The filaments of the stamens are white and the anthers are 4 to 6 mm (0.16 to 0.24 in) long.

The fruits are globose, a dull yellowish-brown capsule17 and when they hold single seeds are 11 to 15 mm (~0.43 to 0.59 in) long and 10 to 12 mm (~0.39 to 0.47 in) wide, but wider when they contain 2 to 3 seeds. The seed is spheric-ovoid18, 10 to 12 mm (~0.39 to 0.47 in), light brown and smooth. The 2012 Jepson manual states that the species is uncommon.[6 & 7]

Distribution: The map provided by the USDA Plants Website seems to suggest that the plant is endemic to only California. Whether the species distribution is strictly limited to California
seems questionable because the plant is sold as an ornamental. The literature, however, suggests that the species has finicky habitat requirements and Fritsch[7] indicates that it is even uncommon in its native habit.

Fritsch in the 2012 Jepson Manual[7] iindicates that the plant is found in dry places in chaparral and woodlands, generally below 1500 m (~4921 ft). He also includes chaparral, foothill woodland and yellow pine forest in his distribution treatment in Flora of North America[6].

Munz[12], under Styrax officinalis var. californica, describes the species distribution as scattered in dry rocky places, below 3000 ft (~914m); chaparral, foothill woodlands, yellow pine forest; Inner coast ranges from Shasta Co. to Lake Co. and in foothills of Sierra Nevada from Tulare Co. northward.

Blooming period:
In the Flora of North America Fritsch[6] provides a blooming range of April to May and a fruiting date range of August to October. In the 2012 Jepson Manual he provides a blooming period of April to June.

Importance as a honey plant:
Ayers and Harman[1] from their questionnaires, found the species to be of some importance in California for nectar production. I have not found any indication in other printed literature of the species’ importance to beekeeping. I did find a statement on the web that the species is an important honey plant, but no reference was given. Perhaps this was based on the Ayers and Harman publication[1], but given the nature of the web ‘article’ I am inclined to believe that it more likely came from observations that the species seems to be very attractive to honey bees. I also found an article by E. A. Sugden[20] that was primarily concerned with the pollination efficiency of various potential pollinators. Upon unraveling the mathematics of pollinator efficiency used in the article, it became clear that while honey bees weren’t particular good pollinators because many were ‘nectar thieves’, there were relatively large numbers of honey bees working the species compared to other more efficient pollinators. I also found several ‘web articles’ dealing with Japanese styrax that indicated honey bees were very abundant on the plants during bloom. There were even warnings that for reasons of personal safety the species should be avoided while it was in bloom. Because it seems to be rather uncommon in its native habitat[7], it appears to me that it isn’t likely to be of general importance as honey plant, but there may be situations where there are unusually large populations of the species where it might have some importance. The Ayers and Harman[1] survey instrument consisted of a list of plant species for the different natural floristic and land use patterns used in their report and was constructed from a survey of the bee forage literature of the U. S. and Canada. For each plant species listed in the questionnaire there was the opportunity for the respondents to indicate relative importance of the species for both nectar and pollen production, blooming period, and other comments they wished to make. The respondents were also given the opportunity to add species to the questionnaire and provide the information just enumerated. Styrax redivivus was identified in this part of the questionnaire. The respondent responsible for the Styrax redivivus addition to the Ayers and Harman table had over his life developed a very good reputation as being knowledgeable about bee forage. He kept bees, taught courses on California wildflowers at a local college and conducted wildflower walks for the National Park Service. He clearly thought Styrax redivivus was worthy of mention as a nectar producer in a publication concerning bee forages of the U.S. and Canada. Unfortunately, the individual has since passed away. Perhaps one of the California readers of this column will be able to supply more information on the subject.

Additional information: You may have noticed that at one time the species was named Styrax officinalis var. californicus and has subsequently been renamed Styrax redivivus. Apparently, at one time it was considered to be Styrax officinalis, which grows in the Mediterranean region of Europe. It was thought that this species grew in only two locations on the earth, Mediterranean Europe and parts of California (see map) and this condition had existed long before the white man had come to the New World. The question then arose, how could this be so? Relatively recent genetic analysis indicates that the two populations are not the same species[5], but are nevertheless sufficiently closely related that the question hasn’t gone away. I ran into a somewhat similar situation with Western skunk cabbage (July 2013). In that case the distribution disjunction was Asia and Western North America. Because of the two locations in the Styrax disjunction (Mediterranean Europe and California), it seems more difficult to reconcile the Styrax mystery than the skunk cabbage mystery.

Given the photo provided here, it is not surprising that the species would have horticultural merit. Where appropriate, this type of information is provided at the end of the sections dealing with individual species in the 1993 Jepson Manual and is preceded by a ‘flower symbol’[18]. Explanations of the accompanying text, which includes the conditions for which the plant is well suited and zones in which it will do well, are found on pages 31-36 of the 1993 Jepson Manual. Styrax redivivus does best in full sun or nearly full sun and tolerates summer afternoon sun. To repeat the zones where it would most likely do well would not be useful without the zone maps provided in the Jepson Manual and have therefore not been provided here. The 2012 Jepson Manual appears not to supply this
type of information.

(See References at the end of the Myrtle Family article)


 The Other Side of Beekeeping - January 2014


Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Scientific name:
Balsamorhiza sagittata

Synonyms: Balsamorhiza sagittatum, Balsamorhiza helianthoides, Espeletia helianthoides, Espeletia sagittata

The species is native to parts of western U.S. and Canada (see map) and probably at least into parts of Mexico.

Plant description:
Balsamorhiza sagittata is a perennial that grows from a relatively large fleshy taproot and usually grows to heights of 20 to 40 cm (~7.9 to 15.7 in), but occasionally can be as small as 15 cm (~5.9 in) or as tall as 65 cm (~25.6 in).
The basal leaves range in color from silvery to whitish or grayish green. In shape, the blades are rounded deltoid (triangular with equal sides) and are 5 to 25 cm (~2 to 9.8 in) long and 3 to 15 cm (~1.2 to 5.9 in) wide. Their base is more or less deeply notched (cordate), their edges are entire1, and can end sharply pointed (acute) or gradually narrowing to a point (attenuate). They can be more or less covered with silky soft hairs (sericeous or tomentose), sometimes to the point of feeling soft to the touch (velutinous) and are usually gland dotted especially on their lower surface, but can also be almost smooth and hairless.
The floral heads are usually borne singly, but can also be in groups of up to 3 or more. The involucres2 are hemispheric or turbinate3 and the outer phyllaries4 are lanceolate5, oblanceolate or more linear and usually in the range of 20 to 25 mm (~0.08 to 0.1 in) long, but can be as short as15 or as long as 30 mm (0.06 or 0.12 in). The ray laminae, which most of us think of as petals, are 20 to 40 mm (~0.79 to 1.6 in) long.
From the pictures of the two types of leaves provided in the margin, it is clear that the basal leaves have much longer petioles (leaf stems) than those that are on the stem. The leaf blade shapes are also different, stem leaves being more or less oblong. This can be seen in the photograph that contains the flower as well as the leaf provided in the margin. Note: the leaves in the margin are not provided at the same magnification. If they were, the stem leaf, would be only about one-third the length of the blade of the basal leaf.
Weber[23] calls Balsamorhiza sagittata “one of the more spectacular of all spring-flowering plants in the northwestern United States”. Goltz[3] succinctly describes the species as looking like a dwarf sunflower.
Balsamorhiza sagittata can be separated from Balsamorhiza deltoidea, covered in the November 2013 column, by the following:[23]

B. sagittata: Floral heads usually borne singly, but sometimes in 2s or 3s or greater. Leaves, more or less generally whitish-gray or silvery and densely covered with fine, soft, hairs, at least on the under surface.
B. deltoidea: Floral heads usually born in 2s or 3s, but sometimes singly. Leaves green, and hairless or only sparsely hairy.

Note: that there are other members of the genus growing in the areas in which these two species grow that would not be identifiable by the above couplet.


Distribution: Goltz[3] indicates that the species grows on open hillsides. According to Nye[8], writing about Utah honey plants, numerous and extensive patches of Balsamorhiza and Wyethia6 grow on the higher foothills and in the lower mountain areas of Utah, particularly in the central and northern parts of the state. In his summarizing table he characterizes the Balsamorhiza sagittata distribution as “open hillsides”. Weber[23] in The Flora of North America, describes the species habitat as openings, banks flats, meadows, ridges, sagebrush scrub and conifer forests usually between 900 to 2500 m (~2853 to 8202ft) but occasionally as low as 100m (~328ft) and as high as 3000m (~9843ft).

Blooming period: In his text, Nye[8], indicates in Utah, balsamroot begins to bloom late in the spring and continues for 4 to 6 weeks, and on the steep slopes there is at least 10 days difference in the blooming period between the lower elevations and those 1000 ft. above. In his summarizing table, he characterizes the blooming period of Balsamorhiza sagittata as early summer. Weber[23] indicates that the species usually blooms May to June, but occasionally as early as April and as late as July.

Importance as a honey plant:
Goltz[3] indicates that Balsamorhiza sagittata is “An important source of nectar and pollen in the western United States”. Oertel[9] from his questionnaires describes the genus, which he lists along with Wyethia and Helianthus species, as of some importance in WA.: Robinson and Oertel[13] found the genus to be of some importance in their Mountain region (CO, ID, MO, NV, UT, and WY), but did not list it in their discussion of what appears to be the plants they considered to be of special importance to the beekeeping industry. Ayers and Harman[1] from their questionnaires, found the genus to be of some importance in WA, ID, UT, and CO. Nye[8] in the text of his monograph on Utah bee forage, discusses the two genera, Balsamorhiza and Wyethia together, based on both their similar attractiveness and appearance. He indicates that numerous and extensive patches of these plants grow together on the higher foothills and in the lower mountain areas, especially in central and northern Utah, and together provided both nectar and pollen, both being attractive to bees. In his summarizing table he characterizes Balsamamorhiza sagittata’s value for nectar as “Important”, which is one step under his highest category, “Major”.

Pollen: Nye[8] describes the pollen of Balsamorhiza sagittata, Wyethia amplexicaulis (mule ears) together as being 35 to 40 µ in diameter and rather thinly covered with sharp spines. He also provides a photograph of the pollen that he refers to only as balsamroot. In addition, he indicates that large pollen reserves from balsamroot are frequently seen in colonies within reach of the plant. The pollen is described as a rich orange color. In the same paragraph he indicates that often oak and balsamroot grow within flight range of apiaries and the combination of the two plants should provide sufficient supplies for building colonies for later honey flows. In his summarizing table he characterizes the value of Balsamorhiza sagittata as a pollen source as “Important”, one step under his highest category, “Major”.

Additional information: According to Weber[23], the species forms hybrids with other closely related species (section Balsamorhiza) growing in the same area, the exception being Balsamorhiza macrophylla, which shows a high level of polyploidy (organisms with more than two sets of chromosomes).
Apparently the Balsamorhiza is not palatable to livestock[8].

Camphorweed, yellow flower, false goldenaster

Scientific Name: Heterotheca subaxillaris

Synonyms: Heterotheca lamarckii, Heterotheca latifolia, Heterotheca psammophila, Heterotheca scabra, Inula subaxillaris

Origin: The species is considered to be native to the lower 48 states and this designation may well extend into at least parts of northern Mexico.

Plant description: The USDA Plants website[20] considers Heterotheca subaxillaris to be an annual whereas the Flora of North America:[16] considers the species to be a taprooted annual, or relatively rarely in the south, a biennial that survives into its second year as a result of lower stem nodes.7
Most of the foliage, stems and phyllaries of the involucres to varying degrees are covered (sometimes densely) with hispid-strigose8 hairs and stipitate glands, the first, perhaps both, giving the plant a rough feeling, and presumably the second, the strong aromatic odor that emanates from the plant, especially if handled.
The species ranges in height between 10 and 200 cm (~3.9 to 79 inch). It can consist of 1 to 4 or more stems that sometimes become reddish or brownish. They can lie on the ground (without rooting) or can be more or less erect. In larger plants this stem structure can be well developed throughout the plant.
Leaves near the plant’s base frequently drop before flowering, or if they persist, generally become withered and brownish or blackish. Basal to mid-stem leaves have 10 to 40 mm long (0.39 to 1.6 inch) petioles that are auriculate-clasping.9 These leaves range from ovate10 to elliptic to lanceolate with lengths of 10 to 70 mm(~0.39 to 2.2 inches) and widths from 6 to 55 mm (~0.24 to 2.2 inches). Their edges can be coarsely serrate or entire. Farther up in the plant, the leaves become smaller and sessile12, and ovate13 to lanceolate, 10 to 90 mm (~0.39 to 3.5 in) long by 2 to 20 mm (~0.08 to 0.79 in) wide, the bases often becoming cordate and subclasping or not clasping14at all. The margins are entire. Note: The two leaves in the margin are not printed at the same magnification. If they were both printed to the same scale, the upper leaf would be somewhat smaller than the lower leaf (see text above).
There can be from 3 to over 180 floral heads on ascending to spreading branches, the leaves and leaf-like bracts becoming smaller with height and becoming more linear.
The involucres are hemispheric to campanulate (bell shaped) and range in length from 4 to 8 mm (0.16 to 0.31in) and occasionally to 10 mm (0.39in). The phyllaries are arranged in 4 to 6 series15 and are lanceolate, and sometimes of very unequal size.
The floral heads contain 15 to 35 ray florets with laminae (petals to most of us) that are from 3 to 7 mm (~0.12 to 0.28 in) occasionally to 9 mm (~0.35 in) long and 1 to 2 mm (~0.04 to 0.08 in) wide. The 25 to 60 disk florets are 2 to 9 mm (~0.08 to 0.35 in) long with 0.5 to 0.7 mm (0.02 to 0.03 in) long lobes.
The cypselae16 from the ray and disk florets are different. Both are cone shaped and attached at the narrow end (obconic) and have 2 or 3 ribs. Those from the ray florets are triangular in cross section and 1.5 to 2.5 mm (~0.05 to 0.1 in) long with a surface that is glabrous17 to slightly strigose. They produce no pappi. Those from the disk florets are laterally compressed, 2 to 4 mm (~0.08 to 0.16 in) long, the surface is moderately to densely strigose and there is a tan or rust colored pappus18 whose outer part consists of linear to triangular scales that are 0.25 to 0.6 mm (0.01 to 0.02 in) long, and an inner part consisting of 25 to 45 bristles that are 4 to 9 mm (~0.16 to 0.35in) long[16].

Distribution: According to Semple[16&17] there seem to be two subspecies of Heterotheca subaxillaris(subsp. subaxillaris and subsp. latifolia). He claims a distribution of subspecies subaxillaris as the outer coastal plains from Northern Mexico, along the U. S. Gulf Coast and up the Atlantic Coast to New Jersey where it is found in sandy and gravelly soils, coastal dunes, disturbed ground, roadsides, vacant lots, fields, areas in pine and oak woodlands and scrub at elevations of 0 to 100+m (328+ft).
The subspecies latifolia is distributed over much of the central and southern U. S. and into Mexico.[16] Over this area it occurs in sandy, clay and gravelly soils, grasslands, prairies, disturbed ground, roadsides, vacant lots, fields, open areas in pine and oak woods and scrub or mesquite scrub between 0 and 1800m (~0 and 5906 ft).

Blooming period: The subspecies subaxillaris flowers primarily May to December and apparently sometimes earlier in the spring. The subspecies latifolia blooms occasionally as early as March but more usually from May to December.[16]

Importance as a honey plant: The beekeeping literature doesn’t appear to have much to say about Heterotheca subaxillaris. Oertel apparently didn’t find it mentioned in his returned questionnaires. Ayers and Harman[1] found the species to be of at least some importance in Arizona. The Harvey Lovell manual[5] indicates that the plant is valuable chiefly in southern NJ. Apparently, one of his correspondents (Milton Stricker) from southern New Jersey indicated that he had obtained average yields of 40 to 60 lbs (~18.2 to 27.3 kg) over a ten year period. Interestingly, the reworking of the Lovell manual by Goltz[3] reports that a M. H. Striker from NJ reported 75 lb (~34.1 kg) average yields and that up to 100 lbs (~45.5 kg) and over are possible.

Honey potential: See above under ‘Importance as a honey plant’.

Honey: The Harvey Lovell manual[5] provides a description given to him by Milton Stricker mentioned under ‘Importance as a honey plant’ as being yellow with a strong, pungent flavor and that most of the honey is used for winter stores. Again interestingly, in the Goltz manual[3] the honey is described as being “brilliant golden with (a) mild flavor”.