The Other Side of Beekeeping archive
The Other Side of Beekeeping - November 2013
Coastal Tidytips, Tidy-tips
Scientific name: Layia platyglossa
Synonyms: Layia ziegleri
Origin: The species is native to the southwestern part of the U.S. and quite possibly also parts of Mexico.
Plant description: Layia platyglossa is an unsented glandular1 annual that can be either decumbent or erect and has an overall length ranging up to 70 cm (~27.6 in).
The leaves range in length between 4 to 100 mm (~0.15 to 3.9 in) and in shape are linear to narrowly oblong2; the lower ones are distinctly toothed with the indentations between the lobes reaching more or less half way to the midrib, the upper leaves becoming shorter, often tending toward entire3.
The flowers are solitary and terminal, up to 2 inches (~5 cm) across, and on stems up to 13 cm (~5 in) in length. The involucral bracts4 are 4 to 18 mm (~0.16 to 0.7 in) long and at their bases are interlocked with cottony hairs. There are 5 to 18 ray flowers5 and 6 to 124 disc flowers and there is a “ring” of chaff6 scales between the ray and disc florets. The ligules7 of the ray flowers are 3 to 20 mm (~ 0.12 to 0.79 in) long and usually 5 to 10 mm (~0.2 to 0.39 inch) wide and are generally yellow with white tips. The corollas8 of the disc flowers are 3.5 to 6 mm (~0.13 to 0.24 in) and the anthers are generally purple, sometimes ranging toward blackish. The fruits are 2.5 to 7 mm (~0.1 to 0.28 in).[2, 9 & 13]
Distribution: In California, the species is found in many habitats beneath 2000 m (~6562 ft).
Blooming period: In California, Munz states that the species blooms during May and June.
Importance as a honey plant: From their questionnaires Ayers and Harman found the species to be of at least some importance in California. I have not, however, found the species to be listed in the major California honey plant writings[19,23 or 24], nor in Pellett, or John Lovell or in Harvey Lovell’s booklet.
Additional information: The species is an attractive plant with some horticultural value that should be planted in a sunny location. Remember that it is an annual and will either have to reseed itself or be replanted each year. The seed is commercially available. My experience with the plant is that it is easy to grow.
Balsamroot, deltoid balsamroot
Scientific name: Balsamorhiza deltoidea
Origin: The species is native to at least parts of Western North America and quite possibly also parts of Mexico.
Plant description: Balsomorhiza deltoidea is a tap rooted perennial that is more or less scapiform9, but generally has some greatly reduced leaves on the floral stem. The stems are 20 to 90 cm (~7.9 to 35.4 in) long, densely glandular and sparingly covered with long hairs.
The basal leaves are 10 to 60 cm (~3.9 to 23.6 in) long and at least 5 to 20 cm (~2 to 7.9 in) wide and are notched at their base, and as a whole are widely triangular and can be with or without coarse teeth on their margin. They frequently have outward pointing triangular outcroppings (hastate) at their base. In texture, they are rough to the touch (scabrous). Any stem leaves are alternate or opposite, oblanceolate10 and without teeth (entire).
The inflorescence consists of from one to a few heads. The outer phyllaries11 are 20 to 40 mm (~0.78 to 1.57 inches) long and 3 to 9 mm (~0.12 to 0.35 inches) wide and are shaped oblong-lanceolate12 and may be either blunt or pointed on the unattached end. They are said to be generally hairy and glandular, therefore quite possibly sticky, and often have a fringe of hairs around their edges (ciliate).
The ray flowers, the outer ring of flowers that hold what most of us think of as petals, are 2 to 3 cm (~0.79 to 1.18 inch) long. The corollas of the disc flowers (the flowers inside the ring of outer flowers) are 5 to 7 mm (~0.2 to 0.28 inch). The fruits are 7 to 8 mm (~0.28 to 0.31 in).[8, 9 & 13]
Overall, Burgett et al. describe the species as looking like a “small sunflower”.
Distribution: Munz writing about California plants, indicates that the species is found in many plant communities mainly in the mountains, usually on deep sandy soil at elevations between 600 and 7000 ft (~183 and 2134 m). In California Keil in The Jepson Manual describes the species as common and goes on to list regions where it is important (Northwestern CA, Central Western CA, Western Transverse ranges; to British Columbia). The general habitat is described as grassy slopes, open forests and shrubby areas between 300 and 2400 meters (~984 and 7,874 ft). Burgett et al. as well as Scullen and Vansell from which the Burgett et al. booklet was largely derived, both indicate in Oregon that generally it is found on open hillsides.
Blooming period: Munz provides a blooming period in California as April and June. Burgett et al. and Scullen and Vansell indicate in Oregon that the species blooms during spring.
Importance as a honey plant: Oertel from his questionnaires found one or more of the three genera Balsamorhiza, Wyethia or Helianthus, all of which he listed only as sunflower, to be of some importance in Washington. Judging from the distribution map provided here, that might have at least in part represented Balsamorhiza deltoidea. Robinson and Oertel place the genus in their Important Nectar and Pollen Plants Table of The United States and Canada, under the geographical designation of “Mountain” which represented CO, ID, MO, NE, UT and WY.
From their questionnaires Ayers and Harman found the genus to be of some importance in WA, ID, UT, and CO. The reports from WA might have at least in part represented B. deltoidea.
Scullen and Vansell did not place the species in their Major Honey Plants group, but included it in their “Secondary and Minor Plants” Table. Burgett et al., indicate in Oregon the species provides both nectar and pollen to honey bees. They also indicate that six other members of the genus Balsomorhiza are found within the state. At least some of these probably also provide nectar and pollen to bees.
Honey potential: Scullen and Vansell include the information in their “Secondary and Minor Plants” table that the nectar sugar content of B. deltoidea is 45.8 %. Burgett et al., indicate in Oregon that the species provides both nectar and pollen to honey bees and round off the Scullen and Vansell nectar sugar content to 46%.
Additional information: Richter and neither the Vansell nor the later Vansell and Eckert writings about California honey plants report anything about the genus Balsamorhiza. The same is true for the books by John Lovell Pellett, and the Harvey Lovell booklet, all of which were intended to cover the entire United States. On the other hand, both the Wilson et al. bulletin covering the bee forage of Colorado, and the Goltz revision of the Harvey Lovell booklet mention Balsamorhiza sagitata, stating that it is an important source of nectar and pollen in the western United States, which as the distribution map of B. sagitata indicates, might well include California, as well as a number of other states.
Scientific name: Crepis tectorum
Origin: Eurasia[3 &5]
Plant description: Crepis tectorum is a taprooted annual that ranges in height from 10 to 100 cm (~3.9 to 39.4 in) and is generally glabrous13 to lightly pubescent.
Photos of three leaves during different stages of development and different locations on the plants within these stages are provided in the margin. The bottom image represents the numerous leaves that are clustered (a rosette) at the base of a seedling in a stage before the upper stem had begun to form. These leaves are dropped early in the life of the plant and would often be missed by those attempting to identify the plant. They are up to 15 cm (~5.9 in) long and about 4 cm (~1.6 in) wide. In shape they can be lanceolate14 to oblanceolate denticulate15 to variously pinnate-lobate16 and thence tapering to a winged petiole17. From the herbarium specimens examined, the next leaf up in the margin apparently can be found both at or near ground level, as well as to some extent up on the stem. Those at ground level and perhaps a short way up the stem might also be shed early in the life of the plant. The upper leaf shown in the margin is clearly what would be called a stem leaf and is sessile18, auriculate-clasping19 and mostly narrowly lanceolate to linear20 or nearly so.
The inflorescence is a branching cluster of a few to numerous heads. The involucres are 6 to 9 mm (~0.24 to 0.35 in) long. The receptacles21 of the flowers are very finely ciliate22. Each flower consists of 30 to 70 florets representing both ligulate and central fertile florets. What most of us would call petals (Corolla) are yellow with the “petals” up to 13 mm (~0.51 in) in length.
When mature, the fruits are dark purplish brown achenes23, 2.5 to 4.5 mm (~0.098 to 0.18 in) long with a pappus24 of white spreading bristles which are more or less deciduous.25[5 & 5]
Distribution: Barkley in the Flora of the Great Plains calls the plant a “weed” that is sparingly persistent in lawns and gardens in western MN, and eastern ND and is found sporadically elsewhere in the northern Great Plains, as well as elsewhere in much of North America, especially in the cooler regions. He classes it as advective.26
Blooming period: Gleason and Cronquist writing about the northeastern U.S. and contiguous parts of Canada, provide a blooming period of June and July. Barkley writing about the Great Plains, provides a blooming period of June to August.
Importance as a honey plant: Ayers and Harman from their questionnaires found the species to be of some importance in Saskatchewan. Interestingly, it is not mentioned by Ramsay in her Plants for Beekeeping in Canada and the Northern USA.
burrow goldenweed, shrine |jimmyweed
Scientific name: Isocoma tenuisecta
Synonyms: Haplopappus tenuisectus, Aplopappus tenuisectus
Origin: The species is native to at least parts of the Southwestern U. S., and according to Kearney and Peebles, probably also to Northern Mexico as well.
Plant description: The species is an erect, somewhat shrubby perennial with stems to 80 cm (~31.5 inch) with numerous erect to ascending branches. The plant might feel more or less rough due to minute short stiff hairs especially on the stem ends. The plant is not generally resinous, except perhaps in the area of the midvein of the leaves.
The leaves are up to 40 mm (~1.57 in) long and 15 mm (~0.59 in) wide with the margins pinatifid27, the 4 to 8 lobes being relatively long and narrow. The midvein may be somewhat resinous.
The flowers are arranged in dense cyme-like28 structures. The involucres29 are 4 to 6.5 mm (~0.16 to 0.26 in) long and 2 to 3.5 mm (0.08 to 0.13 in) wide. There are generally 6 to 15 florets per head. The corollas are 4.5 to 6 mm with linear30 lobes (petals, to most of us).
The fruits are achenes31 and are somewhat silky-strigose32 with brownish scales or bristles at the apex (the pappus).
Isocoma tenuisecta may look like Isocoma aradenia var. acradenia in leaf and phyllary form and structure in southern AZ where the two species overlap.[12 & 14]
Distribution: Kearney and Peebles writing about Arizona flora, indicates that the species is found in Greenlee, Graham, Gilla, Pinal, Cochise and Pima counties at altitudes between 2000 and 5500 ft (~610 to 1676 m). G. L. Nesom in Flora of North America indicates that the plants grow in sandy or gravelly flats, hills, grasslands, usually in dry shrublands (matorral) or Larrea stands between 700-1600 m (~2297-5249 ft) in Arizona, New Mexico and into Mexico. Martin and Hutchins, writing about the plants of New Mexico, state that the species grows on dry slopes and mesas in northwestern New Mexico and probably also ranges to the southwestern areas of the state, at between 5000-6000 ft (~1524-1829m).
Blooming period: Kearney and Peebles provide a blooming period for Arizona of August to October. Martin and Hutchins provide a blooming period of August to October for New
Importance as a honey plant: Ayers and Harman found the species, listed there as Haplopappus tenuisectus, to be of some importance in Arizona and to be of considerable importance in New Mexico. Beyond this, I have found no other mention of the species in the honey bee literature.
The Other Side of Beekeeping - October 2013
The spelling of the family name of the Caper Family was once Capparidaceae. It has since been changed to Capparaceae. The family consists of about 46 genera and 800 species of mainly tropical and subtropical (warm temperate) parts of the world. Some are adapted to dry situations (xerophytes). There are 8 or 9 genera native to the U.S. The family consists of trees, shrubs and rarely herbs, which are sometimes climbing.
The leaves are placed alternately on their stems and can be simple or palmately compound1. Stipules2 can be present though rudimentary, or they can be totally lacking. A few species indigenous to dry areas of the world have inrolled3 or greatly reduced leaves. The sap is watery, and may be pungent or acrid. Remember, however, indiscriminate tasting of sap can sometimes have very serious consequences, even death.
The flowers are generally bisexual (perfect), usually bilaterally symmetrical (zygomorphic)4 and can be borne solitarily or in racemes5. The calyx6 commonly has four free or slightly united sepals. A few species have eight sepals, which again can be free or slightly united. The corolla7 usually has 4 separate petals, making the flowers quite showy. A few species have eight and a few species have none.
The male part of the flower generally consists of many stamens that are often quite long and extending beyond the petals. A very few species have only four and a few only six.
The female part of the flower consists of two united carpels8, with the ovaries sharing one locule (chamber) i.e. there is no membrane between the ovaries of the two carpels. The few to many ovules9 are distributed on the walls of the combined locules (parietal placentation). The resulting ovary is in the superior position10 and usually is borne on a stalk (stipitate), but in a few cases may be sessile (without a stalk).
The fruit is a capsule11, berry, or apparently in a few cases, a drupe.
Recognition Characters for North American Species
The North American species consist of herbs and shrubs with zygomorphic flowers, and a stipitate12, unilocular ovary with parietal placentation. The family is most easily confused with the Brassicaceae (See this column September 2009 and also table below).
The family’s main economic importance seems to be limited to ornamentals and the production of capers14.[3, 9 & 20]
Rocky mountain bee plant, stinking clover
Scientific name: Cleome serrulata
Origin: The USDA Plants website considers Cleome serrulata to be native to large parts of the western U. S. and Canada. That native range almost certainly extends at least into parts of Mexico.
Plant description: The species is a generally glabrous to sparsely pubescent, erect annual with a height range of approximately 1 to 5 ft (~30.5 to 152 cm) that branches especially in its upper reaches.
Most leaves are palmately compound, generally with three leaflets, with the leaflet length usually in the 2 to 7 cm (~0.78 to 2.75 in) range. The leaflets are variously described as narrowly lanceolate-elliptic15, elliptic, or lanceolate to oblanceolate. In addition, a number (but not all) of the herbarium specimens examined showed a series of short narrow leaves along the stem under the floral head (see margin).
The flowers are deep pink or rarely white and are gathered together in dense showy racemes that are described as reaching lengths of 25 cm (~9.8 in) when in fruit. The slender stems of the individual flowers range in length from 1 to 1.5 cm (~0.4 to 0.6 in).
The sepals of the calyx are fused in their basal half, are persistent, and generally 1.7 to 3 mm (~0.07 to 0.12in) long and range in shape from ovate16 to acuminate, are minutely dentate17 and colored green or purple. The petals are 7 to 12 mm (~0.27 to 0.47 in) long and in shape are described as oblong18 to ovate. The stamens are 18 to 24 mm (~0.71 to 0.94 in) in length and colored purple. The anthers are 2 to 2.3 mm (~0.08 to 0.09 in) long and at least initially are green. The style ranges in length from 0.1 to 0.5 mm (~.004 to 0.02 in). The stipe that connects the ovary to the base of the flower (receptacle) becomes as long as the pedicels.
The fruit (see margin) is a narrow, elongated, more or less round, glabrous, smooth capsule 2.5 to 6.5 cm (~0.98 to 2.6 in) long with a diameter of approximately 4 to 6 mm (~0.16 to 0.24 in) .
Distribution: Vanderpool indicates in California the species grows in sagebrush scrub, pinyon pine-juniper woodland between 1200 to 1700 m (~3937 to 5577 ft); in the Klamath range and as an occasional waif19 in southern California. Beyond that its distribution extends to the Great Plains and into southern British Columbia. Pellett states that the plant does best in sandy gravelly soil. This seems to agree with the characteristics provided by the USDA Plants Website. Richter also writing about California indicates that it “thrives exceedingly well in waste places and among rocks, where the bees work upon it eagerly.” Wilson et al. indicate it is scattered over Colorado at elevations between 3500 and 8500 ft (~1067 and 2591 m), on plains, roadsides and waste places.
Blooming period: In California, Munz indicates that it blooms May to August. Richter, also writing about California, provides a blooming date range of March, April and May in the plateau region south and east of the Central Valley, as well as in the Owens Valley area on the eastern side of the state.
Importance as a honey plant: Pellett claimed that the plant was reported to be especially important in Colorado where it was claimed that it produced considerable amounts of honey. J. Lovell, however, states that the importance in Colorado “has been greatly overestimated”, but concedes that it had previously been “much more important” than at the time of his writing (1926). Wilson et al. agree with Lovell, stating that at one time the species was considered to be one of the best honey plants in Colorado that gave large surpluses of high quality honey, but at the time of their writing (1958), was of only minor importance.
Milum lists cleome as a tertiary or minor honey and pollen plant in Illinois, indicating that the bees visit the species for both nectar and pollen, but that the amount of nectar is small, owing to either the plant being a poor nectar producer, or that it is relatively scarce in the region, and if it were more abundant, might warrant being rated as a secondary plant.
Vansell classifies the species as a “superb honey source” from Colorado westward, but considered it rare in California, and in his summarizing table indicates that it is only a minor source of honey in California.
Honey potential: Wilson et al., based on honey stomach contents, found that the nectar sugar value varied between 26.8 and 31.8 % with an average of 29.7% . Pellett cites Frank Rauchfuss, probably from a personal correspondence, that the species is erratic in its yield. As an annual, the plant is held hostage to the prevailing weather. During a wet spring, the seeds germinate readily and early. If the weather in June also supplies moisture, the plants are vigorous in their growth and each plant will have many flowers. One year Rauchfuss claimed to have extracted an average of 116 lbs (~52.7 kg) per colony during a 10 day honey flow.
H. Lovell reports that a beekeeper from the panhandle of OK obtained 2 to 3 supers per colony during a 3 week period.
Honey: According to Rauchfuss, mentioned under Honey potential above, the honey is white with a greenish tinge and has a “rather sickening flavor” when first extracted, but this he says improves with age. When pure he apparently considered it a first quality honey, but considered good crops to be rare. John Lovell reports that the honey was reported to be both “light in color and of fair flavor”, and also to be “dark and strong”. H. Lovell states that the honey is white with a greenish tinge and has a good flavor. Milum, under just cleome, but probably Cleome serrulata, states that the honey is white to greenish, has a “variable flavor; poor at first”, suggesting that it improves with age. Vansell in his summarizing table states that the honey is “white with a greenish tinge”.
Pollen: Vansell and Eckert in their summarizing table consider the plant to be an important source of pollen in California. This seems a little at variance with the statement in their text that it was rare in California.
Additional information: Because of its western reputation, attempts were made to cultivate the species specifically for honey production . In the fall of 1888 Professor A. J. Cook planted eight acres of Rocky Mountain Bee Plant, presumably on or near the State Agricultural College (now Michigan State University), with fresh seed obtained from Colorado. It had previously been determined that spring sown seed would rarely germinate. The 1888 planting germinated poorly on sandy land and much more poorly on clay soil and apparently both plantings secreted little nectar. In 1889 a planting of 3 acres was made from seed from the 1888 planting. This planting “failed almost entirely to germinate”. In 1891 Professor Cook wrote a short synopsis concerning these plantings where he concluded that the seeds needed to be planted in August and September for germination the following spring, and the area planted had to be essentially free from grass and weed seed or the cleome would be “choked out”. His final conclusion was, “There seems little doubt but that we should secure much honey from these plants were we to take the necessary pains to secure a full stand of acres of vigorous plants, but this can be done only at large expense, too large to ever pay in actual practice.” Today as I look around the Michigan State University campus, the only place I find the species is the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden in its honey plants collection. Pellett, commenting on the Cook experiment, indicates that the plant is said to have an acrid and pungent flavor and animals seldom eat it. He goes on to speculate that if the plant had some other use than honey production, such as feeding livestock, it might have become a common crop as did alfalfa and some of the clovers. He concluded that small patches of plants that are essentially weeds have rarely, if ever, become exceptional bee forages outside of their native range. To this I add that I suspect if the plant had another major use we would find a way to grow the plant commercially. With tongue in cheek, and at least a little bit of sarcasm, perhaps we could develop a “herbicide ready” Rocky Mountain bee plant.
Pankiw in 1939 writes about a cultivated stand in Manitoba that he calls only “cleome” and ”spider flower”, which Pellett and I both interpret as being Cleome serrulata. This report is somewhat more optimistic about the species being planted solely for bee forage than the one described above by Cook. Pankiw describes bees starting to work the cleome at about 5:00 A.M. until about 10:00 A. M. “when clover began to secrete”20, but the bees didn’t gather nectar continuously from it, but “only worked on it when sweet clover was not yielding.” Pankiw seems to believe that this extra five hours of foraging was beneficial to his home apiary because it outperformed apiaries where cleome was not available. Brood rearing also continued much later than in the other apiaries. The picture provided in the Pankiw article shows a field that appears fairly large and obviously doing well. Perhaps as an attempt to answer the type of problem Pellett addressed concerning planting solely for bee forage, he ends his article with, “As far as utility goes, cleome is principally a beekeeper’s plant, but dried leaves are readily eaten by cattle.”
The Other Side of Beekeeping - September 2013
Rubiaceae - The Madder Family
The Rubiaceae consists of about 500 genera and probably somewhere between 6000 to 7000 species. It’s a diverse family consisting of trees, shrubs and herbs.
The leaves are simple (not compound), are arranged oppositely or whorled around the stem and are usually entire (without teeth or other indentations around the edge). Stipules1 are present and often leaf-like, and are placed between the leaves located on the opposite sides of the stem and connect the petioles2 of those opposite leaves.
The individual flowers are bisexual and usually radially symmetrical3. The whole inflorescence takes the form of a cyme4, these sometimes aggregated into spherical (globose) heads. The calyx and corolla are generally made up of 4 or 5 lobes, but rarely 6 to 9 lobes. The corolla is usually radially symmetrical and made up of 4 or 5 five united petals. Occasionally, however, the corolla is made up of two lips a little like a mint. Generally there are 4 or 5 stamens (same number as petals) that are attached to the petals. The female part of the plant is generally made up of two united carpels5 (rarely 1 to many) and usually with two locules6.
The ovary is almost always inferior7.
The fruit is a capsule, berry or drupe8.
For most of the North American species the whorled leaves and small heads of delicate flowers with the flower parts in mostly 4’s or 5’s, and the 2-celled inferior ovary make identification easy.
The Rubiaceae has considerable economic importance. That it’s the source of coffee, from the genus Coffea, by itself gives the plant its economically importance status. The family is also the source of the antimalarial quinines from several members of the genus Cinchona. The genus Rubia is the source of the dye called madder used extensively before the advent of the industrial dye industry. Beyond that there are many wonderful ornamentals that belong to this family (Gardenias, the bed straws from the genus Galium and bluets from the genera Hedyotis and Houstonia).[4, 11, 26]
Buttonbush, button-willow, buttonball, button tree, buttonwood shrub,
honey balls, honey bells, globe flower, pond dogwood,
Pincushion Flower, bois noir
Scientific name: Cephalanthus occidentalis
Origin: The species is native to North America and down into at least Mexico. Several other closely related species are recorded from Asia and South Africa9.
Plant description: Buttonbush is frequently a 3 to 6 ft (~ 0.91 to 1.93 m) tall, rounded shrub, but at times takes the form of a rather loose, gangly 10 to 15 ft (~3 to 4.6 m) tall shrub. Dirr claims the national champion is 20 ft tall by 20 ft wide (~6.1 by 6.1 m). Generally the plant drops its leaves during the winter, but in the extreme southern part of its range, Dirr claims that it can be an evergreen in its southern reaches.
The leaves are entire10, lustrous bright to dark green above, and lighter and somewhat pubescent beneath. They are arranged oppositely or whorled around the stem and generally are deciduous. The leaves range in shape from ovate to elliptic-lanceolate and in length from 2 to 6 inches (~5.1 to 15.2 cm) with the width about half the length. The stipules are not leaf-like but are deltoid (like small triangles) between the leaf stems.
The white inflorescence, which often is made up of about 200 individual florets forms a nearly perfect sphere 2 to 4 cm (~0.78 to 1.6 inch) in diameter with the long thread-like styles protruding above the spherical assemblage. Both the calyx and the corolla of the individual florets have 4 lobes, and the flower is funnelform11. There are 4 stamens inserted on the inside throat of the corolla.
The fruits are round marble size masses of nutlets12, each with one to two seeds that can persist on the plant through the winter. These spherical seed masses are shown in the margin in both their whole state and also with half of the seed mass removed so that what remains of the original individual florets can be seen.[2,7]
Distribution: Dirr considers the species to be a zone 5 to 11 plant. Pammel and King describe the species as being common along banks of rivers subject to overflow, along lakes, in low swampy peaty soils, and in IA is most abundant along the Mississippi River and its immediate tributaries. In Michigan the plant can be found growing in many low places and can have water around its roots at least part of the year. Gleason and Cronquist dealing with Northeastern US and adjoining parts of Canada indicate that it grows in swamps and along streams. Julia Morton indicates in Florida the species is found throughout Florida, except in the Keys, in swamps, canals and ponds.
In California the plant is found along lakes, stream edges from 3 to 1000 m (~9.8 to 3281 ft). This agrees well with Munz who states in California it is found below 3000 ft (~914 m) Sanborn and Scholl describe the plant’s distribution in Texas as swamps and along streams and rivers. Both the 1931 Vansell and 1941 version by Vansell and Eckert California bulletins state that the species is found along stream beds up to 4000 ft (~1219 m)[28, 29].
Blooming period: In Michigan the plant blooms July and August. Dirr states that it blooms June, July and August in the central Illinois to Boston corridor. In California the species blooms June to September. In Texas the species blooms in July. Julia Morton indicates that the species blooms from late May to September in Florida.
Importance as a honey plant: From his questionnaires, Oertel found the species to be of at least some importance in NJ FL IN NY WI AL AR GA IL IN KY LA ME MS and NC. Ayers and Harman, from their questionnaires found it to be of at least some importance in CA NE MI OK KY LA MS RI ME and of particular importance in MA.
John Lovell claimed that the plant was important on the overflowed lands of the Mississippi River and along streams and swamps in many eastern states. He then goes on to relate a delightful story about how at Mayfield, MA13 there was a large swamp ten miles long, where in August, at about 11:00 AM, the bees would abandon buckwheat on which they had been working and begin foraging buttonbush and would continue to work it until night. This in Lovell’s eyes greatly improved the buckwheat honey that had been made from the morning collections.
Pellett states that the plant is particularly important to beekeepers along the overflowed lands along the Mississippi river where bees seek it eagerly when in bloom, and in places where it is plentiful, it is regarded to be of considerable value as a honey plant. Pellett also reports that a Florida apiary inspector finds a similar situation in Florida. A beekeeper from Benton, Missouri, apparently one of Pellett’s correspondents, reported a nice crop of honey from buttonbush growing along drainage ditches in southeast MO, and that at nightfall a pleasant aroma pervades the apiary when bees are working buttonbush.
Richter calls buttonbush a good honey plant in the Sacramento Valley, but not sufficiently abundant “to figure as a good surplus yielder”.
Uncharacteristically, Pammel and King report only two observations of bees on the species, one at Atlantic City on July 31, 1914 when the weather was hot and dry and during what they considered to be late in the season; even so, there were many bees. They also found bees to be abundant at Ames, 1926 (no other date data was provided), but the bees were abundant, spending 2 to 3 seconds on a flower, which I interpret as being the whole spherical inflorescence. If they intended to indicate an individual floret, the bees could have spent a considerable amount of time on the whole inflorescence.
Both the 1931 Vansell and 1941 Vansell and Eckert bulletins[28, 29] consider the species to be fairly important as a honey plant in California. In both bulletins it is considered a good honey plant, and in the Delta region, surpluses were not unusual. They considered it a reliable source for both nectar and pollen because the habitat in which it grows provides abundant moisture and the flowers are easily worked by bees.
While Morton, Arnold and Sanford all mention the species in Florida, none seem to consider it a major honey plant there.
Robinson and Oertel place the plant in their table titled ‘Some Important Nectar and Pollen Plants of The United States and Canada’, finding it of some importance in their Northern, Southern, Plains, and Pacific areas, but do not mention it in their following discussion concerning what they considered to be exceptionally important honey and pollen plants of the U.S. and Canada.
Honey potential: I have found no quantitative data concerning honey potential for buttonbush. John Lovell relates that the corolla-tube is 9 mm long while the tongue of the honey bee is only 6 mm long, but points out that the flower flares a little on top and that a bee should be able to reach at least most of the nectar which he claims is abundant. On the other hand, Pellett relates, without providing a reference, that Everett Oertel felt that buttonbush was overrated as a honey plant because the floral tube was longer than the honey bee’s tongue.
Honey: John Lovell claims that the honey is mild, light-colored with a fine flavor. Pellett states that the honey is light in color and mild in flavor. Both the 1931 and 1941 versions of the Vansell and Vansell and Eckert[28, 29] bulletins indicate that the honey is white to light amber.
Pollen: Relatively few references discuss buttonbush as a pollen resource for bees, but there can be little doubt that it can provide pollen to the bees. Milum places buttonbush in his list of plants that provide both nectar and pollen. While the 1931 Vansell bulletin does not rate the plant for pollen, the 1941 Vansell and Eckert bulletin rates it as important for pollen production.
Additional information: The species has been recommended for roadside plantings in New Jersey. Major factors that apparently led to this recommendation include the fact that it is one of the few woody plants that will thrive in areas flooded for much of the year, and is one of the best plants for maintaining stream banks. Important considerations for its use include the fact that it is very shade intolerant and must be given full sunlight, as well as ample space because it self-layering14.
Buttonbush is a native plant with ornamental value when placed in wet areas. It’s attractive, and when in bloom, many who see it wonder about the origin of ‘that exotic’ plant. Not only is it attractive to people and honey bees, it’s also attractive to many other insects including butterflies. When in bloom, my planting competes well with our several butterfly bushes for butterflies. It also is one of the larval foods of the promethea moth. In my youth I made it a point every winter to visit a local swamp and venture out on the ice to collect the promethea cocoons that were tethered on the branches by their silken cords that provided the free swinging motion that protected them from the pecking predation of birds, but not the local budding entomologist. The moth is a little unusual because the males and the females are quite different. Interestingly, I have recently tried to raise promethea moths on my buttonbush for my granddaughter with complete failure, suggesting that there might be strains of the moth that do well on buttonbush and others that do not.
The plant languishes on dry soil and will ultimately probably die. If you have a bit of land that stays wet all year (not necessarily standing water) you might consider growing the plant. I suggest you plant them no less than 10 ft apart and be ready to do some serious pruning to keep them from becoming straggly, at which point they become somewhat unattractive. Foote and Jones recommend cutting them to the ground every few years which causes the plant to generate new vigorous stems that are more attractive than the older stems, and seem also to produce more flowers. I’m not sure about cutting them to the ground, but be ready to do some serious pruning. One of the things that I remember from my winter visits to the marsh to collect cocoons is that the plants were not as large as the ones that I currently have on the edge of the marsh on my property. I currently suspect that the plants I encountered as a boy stood in water much of the year because muskrat pushups were common in the marsh. Perhaps growing in standing water retards their growth. The plant can be propagated easily from seed or rooted cuttings. When it is very young, my experience is that it doesn’t compete with other wetland plants and some form of “weed” control is important. My experience has been that once they have gotten through the first year or two that they compete quite well.
Mexican clover, Rough Mexican clover, Florida clover, Spanish Clover,
Pusley, Florida pusley, Brazilian pusley
Scientific name: Richardia scabra
Synonyms: Richardsonia scabra
Origin: There seems to be some question as to the origin of Richardia scabra. While the USDA Plants Website indicates that it is native to the lower 48 states and Puerto Rico, many texts indicate that it has been naturalized from Tropical America.
Plant description: Mexican clover is an erect or diffusely spreading, short pubescent15 annual up to 85 cm (~2.76 ft) tall. Spreading specimens may have stems to 4 ft (~122 cm) in length. The leaves can exhibit considerable variation in shape that ranges through oblong, ovate-lanceolate to elliptic-lanceolate16 and be up to 8 cm (~3.1 in) in length. The petioles (leaf stems) are short to nearly nonexistent.
The corolla (flower) can vary in length from 5 to 7 mm (~0.2 to 0.28 in). The calyx lobes are united only at their base and are 1 to 1.5 mm (~0.04 to 0.06 in) long.
The corolla tube is slender and abruptly widens into a flat surface that most of us would call petals. The corolla (mainly the lower tube) is 5 to 6 mm (~0.2 to 0.23 in) long, its tube projecting (exserted) from the calyx. The 6 lobes are longer than the stamens.
Mature fruits are 3-3.5 mm (~0.12 to 0.14 inch) long. The ventral surfaces of the dried fruits have longitudinal grooves or
furrows.[8, 11, 25, 31]
Distribution: J. Lovell indicates that Mexican clover grows in sandy soil in the Gulf States from Florida to Texas and also into Mexico and South America. He continues saying that the species is an annual herb which springs up in fields as soon as cultivation stops. It also grows along railroad tracks and public roads, but is often found in pastures in Southern Alabama. Fernald writing about central and northeastern U.S. and adjoining Canada, simply indicates it is found in roadsides, cultivated fields and waste places. Arnold writing about Florida bee forage, indicates that it appears in most cultivated fields after the crops are harvested and along roadsides and waste places everywhere in the state. Sanford also writing about Florida bee forage, states that it is found in cultivated and disturbed areas mainly in the northern half of the state. Wunderlin writing about Florida plants in general, states that it is common nearly throughout Florida.
Blooming period: Pellett indicates that “It comes up in the fields after cultivation has ceased and then covers the ground with a dense carpet. It begins to bloom the first of September and yields nectar freely for several weeks.” J. Lovell makes the following similar statement, “An annual herb which springs up in fields as soon as cultivation stops.” He then goes on to indicate that “it blooms from May until late in the season, or in Georgia until frost.” My interpretation of these two statements is that in the days of Pellett and Lovell, much, probably most, of the weed control was done by mechanical cultivation (hoes, cultivators etc.). Today we rely to a much greater extent on herbicides in our agricultural fields. These chemicals gained importance in large part because they controlled weeds over an extended period of time, preferably for the entire growing season. The effect of the modern herbicides on Mexican clover would probably also provide an extended control, and the species may not follow the same timing and distribution patterns described by Pellett and Lovell. Lovell goes on to indicate that it also grows along railroad tracks and public roads, and is often found in pastures in Southern Alabama. He also provides the information that in Volusia County, Florida, it fills in the gap between orange bloom and partridge-pea. Fernald indicates a blooming period of July to October over the range of FL to TX north to southeastern VA, and southern IN and AR. Arnold indicates in Florida that it blooms all year unless frosted. Morton writing about Florida bee forage, indicates that it blooms all year. Sanford, also writing about Florida bee forage, provides a blooming date range of May to September. In Florida, Wunderlin states that it blooms all year long. I suspect that the range of blooming dates provided above results from, to some extent, yearly variation, but probably more important, in what type of habitat the observations were made.
Importance as a honey plant: Oertel from his questionnaires found the species to be of at least some importance in AL FL GA LA MS and TX. Ayers and Harman from their questionnaires found the species to be of at least some importance in AL. Pellett states that it is usually blended with cotton and velvet bean nectar and is secured pure only late in the season. Sanford notes that it is usually used for overwintering colonies.
Honey potential: Morton indicates that the species produces much nectar. J. J. Wilder wrote about Mexican Clover about the time it was becoming well established in Georgia, having apparently made its way up from Florida. He considered it one of their very best late fall honey plants, coming into bloom the first of September and lasting until nearly frost. At the time, he reported the flow began about the 15th of September and lasted until the plant died down. Over this period he claimed the bees were busy storing surplus from it, which averaged yields of 10 to 50 lbs per colony, and he concluded that once it has spread into an area, “beekeepers (there) will be greatly blessed by it.”
W. C. Barnard from Glennville, GA (a little south of Savannah, GA and about 60 miles west of the Atlantic coast) considered Mexican clover to be the most important summer and fall plant for southern Georgia beekeepers. In Barnard’s area of GA, after cultivation stopped, Mexican clover took possession of the field and continued to bloom from about May 15 until there was a killing frost in about mid November, but furnished its main surplus during August, September and October, whereupon the aging plants declined and their nectar production dropped sharply. Velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens), honey, which Barnard considered vastly inferior to that of Mexican clover, contaminates this main Mexican clover flow during July and August. As a result Barnard usually didn’t harvest any honey after July 15, leaving any honey produced after that date for the bees. The July harvest also contained some cotton honey.
Honey: In Barnard’s area of GA (see also above paragraph) Mexican clover honey could be secured in pure form only during October. Barnard describes it as “a light colored honey almost water-white in the comb and of fair flavor and quite superior to the velvet bean honey”. J Lovell describes the honey as being light amber in color with a peculiar tart flavor. Arnold wrote that the honey is not considered to be a good grade for table use, but serves the purpose of providing reserves in the colony for over-wintering. Morton references Harvey Lovell who describes the honey as light amber, thin, with a tart flavor, at risk of fermenting, and is usually used for winter brood-rearing. Wilder, on the other hand, stated that the honey is a very light amber, and of good flavor. He did not consider it a good extracting honey because it quickly turned milky after extraction and then soon solidified. He, however, seemed to feel that it made good comb honey, where it apparently does not granulate, and indicated that his customers praised the comb product.
Pollen: Judging from the picture provided, the plant most likely provides bees with pollen as well as nectar.
The author is indebted to the Michigan State University Albert J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection and the Department of Entomology for permission to photograph the butterflies and moths featured in this article. He is also indebted to Gary Parsons, the Collection manager, for his help in selecting and displaying the specimens featured.
The Author is also indebted to the Michigan State University Herbarium for access to the collection and for permission to take photographs of selected specimens in the collection. He also appreciates the use of the herbarium’s library.
1. Arnold, L. E. 1954. Some honey plants of Florida. University of Florida Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 548. University of Florida. Gainesville, FL.
2. Ayers, G. S. and J. R. Harman. 1992. Bee Forage of North America and the Potential for Planting for Bees. In: The Hive and the
Honey Bee (J. M. Graham, Ed.), Dadant and Sons. Hamilton, IL.
3. Barnard, W. C. 1922. Under: From the Field of Experience (no title per se). Gleanings in Bee Culture. 50:774
4. Baumgardt, J. P. 1982. How to Identify Flowering Plant Families. A Practical guide for Horticulturists and Plant Lovers. Timber Press. Portland, OR.
5. Billington, C. 1949. Shrubs of Michigan. Cranbrook Institute of Science Bulletin 20. Cranbrook Institute of Science. Bloomfield Hills, MI.
6. Dempster, L. T. 1993. Rubiaceae Madder Family. In: The Jepson Manual--Higher Plants of California.(J. C. Hickman Ed.). University of California Press. Berkeley, CA.
7. Dirr. M. A. 1975. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. Stipes Publishing L. L. C. Champaign, IL.
8. Fernald, M. L. 1970 Corrected Printing. Gray’s Manual of Botany (Eighth Centennial Edition--Illustrated.) D. Van Nostrand Co. New York, NY.
9. Foote, L. E. And S. B. Jones Jr. 2004. Native shrubs and Woody vines of the Southeast. Landscaping uses and Identification. Timber Press Inc. Portland Oregon.
10. Gleason, H. A. and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States (Second Edition). The New York Botanical Garden Press. Bronx, NY.
11. Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium Staff. 1976. Hortus Third. A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the United States and Canada. Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc. New York.
12. Lovell, H. B. 1966. Honey Plants Manual. A Practical Field Handbook for Identifying Honey Flora. A. I. Root Co. Medina, OH.
13. Lovell, J. H. 1926. Honey Plants of North America. The A. I. Root Co. Medina OH.
14. Milum, V. G. 1957. Illinois Honey and Pollen Plants. Contributions from the Department of Horticulture, University of Illinois. Urbana, Il. (A mimeograph)
15. Morrison, W. C. 1957. Woody Honey Plants for Roadside Planting in New Jersey. State of New Jersey Department of Agriculture Circular 403.
16. Morton, J. F. 1964. Honeybee Plants of South Florida. Florida State Horticultural Society Proceedings. 77:415-436.
17. Munz, P. A. 1959. A California Flora. University of California Press. Berkeley, CA.
18. Oertel, E. 1939. Honey and Pollen Plants of the United States. U.S.D.A. Circular 554. U. S. Government Printing Office. Washington D. C.
19. Pammel, L. H. and C. M. King. 1930. Honey Plants of Iowa. Iowa Geographical Survey Bulletin No. 7. Iowa Geological Survey State of Iowa. Des Moines, IA.
20. Pellett, F. C. 1978. American Honey Plants. Dadant and Sons, Hamilton, IL.
21. Richter, M. C. 1911. Honey Plants of California. University of California, Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 217. Berkeley, California.
22. Robinson, F. A. and E. Oertel. 1975. Sources of Nectar and Pollen. In:The Hive and the Honey Bee. (Dadant and Sons, Ed.). Dadant and Sons Inc. Hamilton, IL.
23. Sanborn, C. E. and E. E. Scholl. 1908. Texas Honey Plants. Texas Agricultural Experiment Stations Bulletin No. 102.
24. Sanford, M. T. 1988. Florida Bee Botany. Florida Cooperative Extension Service/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Circular 686. University of Florida. Gainesville, FL.
25. Small, J. K. 1913. Flora of the Southeastern United States.Published By Author. New York.
26. Smith, H. V, 1966. Michigan Wildflowers. Cranbrook Institute of Science Bulletin 42. Cranbrook Institute of Science. Bloomfield Hills, MI.
27. USDA, NRCS. 2012. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 1 September 2012). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
28. Vansell, G. H. 1931. Nectar and Pollen Plants of California. University of California Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 517. Berkley, CA.
29. Vansell, G. H. and Eckert. 1941. Nectar and Pollen Plants of California. University of California Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 517. (1941 Revision) Berkley, CA.
30. Wilder, J. J. 1920. Mexican Clover. Dixie Beekeeper. 2:11-12. (December 1920 No 9, not 10 as stated in the Journal).
31. Wunderlin, R. P. 1997. Guide to the Vascular Plants of Florida. University Press of Florida. Gainesville, FL.
The Other Side of Beekeeping - August 2013
Four Members of the Aster Family
Nodding beggartick, nodding sticktight, sticktight, bur-marigold
Scientific name: Bidens cernua.
Synonyms: Bidens glaucescens, Bidens elliptica, Bidens filamentosa, Bidens glaucescens, Bidens gracilenta, Bidens leptopoda, Bidens prionophylla
In addition, Bidens cernua is a synonym of Bidens amplissima, the Vancouver Island beggartick.
Origin: Bidens cernua is native to the lower 48 states and at least parts of Canada, but was been introduced into Alaska.
Plant description: Biden cernua is one of the very variable annual within the Asteraceae. The USDA Plants Website lists 7 varieties.
In height the species generally ranges between 10 to 100 cm (~3.9 to 39.4 in), but occasionally, it can be as much as 400 cm (~157.7 in.). Perhaps at these higher ranges, it’s climbing on something or is the stem length as it grows along the ground. When decumbent (more or less lying on the ground) it might form secondary roots along its stem.
The plant is generally glabrous1 with the stems scabrous-hispid. The leaves are generally sessile2 and only rarely have petioles3, but are frequently connected at the base by extending around the stem to which they are connected to form a connection with the opposite leaf. The leaves are simple (not compound), lance-linear4 to lance-ovate and range from coarsely serrate5 to sub-entire, and in length range from 4 to 20 cm (~1.57 to 7.9 in) and have a width of about 0.5 cm (~0.2 in).
Bidens cernua, like some other members of the Asteraceae, has two types of floral heads. There are the radiate flower heads, which have what many of us think of as petals6 that are situated around the periphery of the flower, and there are discoid flower heads which lack these petal-like structures. The central part of the radiate head, or the whole flower, in the case of discoid flower heads, is hemispheric with many small florets and is commonly called a disk. The disk ranges in width from 12 to 25 mm (~0.47 to 0.98 in). There are frequently ten involucre bracts7 that are lance-linear, usually rather leafy and spreading and commonly surpass the outer edge of the disk. When the bright yellow ray florets exist, there are usually 8, but sometimes only 6. The disc florets are generally 5-lobed with their anthers extending only a small distance above the edge of floret lobes. The flower heads commonly nod (bend over) with age as the seeds begin to form, hence the common name, nodding beggartick.
The fruits are elongate, pointed, achenes8 that are 5 to 8 mm (~0.2 to 0.3 in) long with the margins tending to be thickened, cartilaginous9 and pale. There is a structure known as a pappus at the wide end of the achene that generally consists of 4, but occasionally 2, barbed bristle-like appendages (awns) that stick to animals or clothing of those walking through a patch of the plant. They probably provide the main means of seed dispersal.[6 & & 26]
Distribution: In the northeastern U.S. and adjoining Canada, Gleason and Cronquist indicate that the plant grows in low wet places and is widespread within that area. Wilson et al. indicate that the species grows mostly in the north central, central and south central parts of CO in scattered locations at altitudes between 5000 to 7500 ft (~1524 to 2286 m). The plants were scattered and often found growing on very wet soil or even in several inches of water. Smith states that in Michigan the plant grows in wet places such as near springs and pools.
Blooming period: In Michigan the plant blooms in August to October. Gleason and Cronquist indicate that it blooms in August to October in the Northeastern United States and contiguous parts of Canada. Wilson et al. observed bees working the species in CO on September 5, 1955 and August 13 and 25 in 1956 at Fort Collins, Greeley and Monte Vista. See also information from Pammel and King below under Importance as a honey plant.
Importance as a honey plant: Oertel from his questionnaires found Bidens cernua to be of some importance in MN and NE. He was unable to provide the full species name from all his respondents, but found the genus to be important in AR FL GA IA IL KS KY LA MI MN MS NC ND NE NJ NV OR PA and TN. Judging from the map provided, some of these reports could have represented Bidens cernua.
Respondents from seven states also provided the names of four other species in the genus they thought were important bee forages within their states.
Ayers and Harman, who, from their questionnaires, were unable to provide the full species name, found the genus to be important in AL AR DE FL IL IN KS KY LA MD MI MO MS NC NE NJ OK SC TN VA and WI and to be of particular importance in IL IN and KY. Judging from the map provided, some of these reports could have represented Bidens cernua.
Pammel and King made observations of Bidens cernua in 1918, 1928 and 1929. They provide the following blooming date data for IA as well as some information about how attractive the species is to honey bees.
- 9/6/1918 at Ames, IA, ten honey bees visited 32 heads in one min in a 3x3 ft plot.
- 9/17/1918 at Ames, on a warm day with a strong wind, 4 bees worked a 5x2 ft plot which contained 18 plants with 52,480 florets.10
- 9/5/1927 in Polk Co., IA bees were common and spent 1 sec per floret and visited 3 to 5 florets in a head.
- 9/21/1928 at Cherokee, IA bees spent one second in a floret. After this observation they added “This is a splendid honey plant.”
- 9/1929 (no day date information provided) at Ames, IA. It was warm and bees spent one second per floret.
- 9/17/1929 at Ames, IA, with a cool wind. Bees spent one second per floret and collected both nectar and pollen.
Honey potential: Wilson et al. found the percent sugar in Bidens cernua nectar ranged between 26.3 to 42.3% with an average of 34.9% and had a light yellow tint. It should be noted that these estimates were made from honey sac contents, which I am always a little suspicious of because we don’t know how the honey sacs were loaded as the bees left the hive. Of the 31 bees sampled, 24 had measurable honey sacs.
Honey: While I know of no reference to the quality of honey from Bidens cernua, glimpses of the honey quality of other Bidens can be found in the literature. Most of the Bidens are wetland plants and might be expected to produce similar honeys. Pellett, apparently referring to a mix of B. laevis and B. trichosperma, (now treated as a synonym of B. coronate by the USDA Website) says that the complete failure of the two species in the Delaware region was at the time unknown. Pellett then describes the honey from the combined sources as “light yellow and has a characteristic faintly spicy odor of the flowers.” John Lovell providing information about B. aristosa, says that the species provides “immense quantities of honey along the bottom-lands of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers” and “yields a honey which is superior to, or is unsurpassed by, that from any other (of the) fall flowers.” Harvey Lovell, also writing about B. aristosa, describes surpluses of “up to 150 lbs”, and that the honey is “golden-yellow with a pronounced, but pleasant flavor, (and) very popular in many areas as a table honey and much used in blending.” A little later in the writing he describes the plant’s distribution in the U.S. and adds that it is, “The leading fall honey plant in many parts of Arkansas.”
Pollen: Wilson et al. considered the plant to be of almost no value as a pollen plant. They described the pollen color as yellow to orange and found that only 2 of 31 bees they collected were collecting pollen (6.45%).
Calico aster, starved aster, white woodland aster
Scientific name: Symphyotrichum lateriflorum
Synonyms: Aster lateriflorus
Origin: North America
Plant description: Symphyotrichum lateriflorum is one of those species that exhibits much variability. According to the USDA Website there are 6 varieties of the species, which largely have different geographic distributions. The description provided below is intended to be a generalized description of the group, but was largely taken from a text that represents the Northeastern U.S. and adjoining parts of Canada and to a lesser extent, from one representing the Great Plains.
Calico aster is a perennial that in the spring originates from a branched caudex11 or short, stout rhizome, and during the summer, reaches heights of 30 to 120 cm (~12 to 47 in). The stems range from more or less curly villous12 to glabrous. The leaves are scabrous or glabrous on the upper surface and glabrous beneath except for the usually villous or puberulent13 midrib. The lower stem leaves often drop early. The basal leaves and lower stem leaves have petioles (leaf stems) and are obovate14 to elliptic or subrotund with the blade up to 8 cm (~3.1 in) long and 4 cm (~1.6 in) wide. The upper leaves are sessile (with no leaf stem) or nearly so, and are broadly linear15 to often lanceolate, lance-elliptic or subrhombic and tend to taper from the middle to both ends and can be entire (not toothed, notched, or lobed) or serrate (toothed). The main stem leaves are 5 to 15 cm (~2 to 5.9 in) long and 0.5 to 3 cm (0.2 to 1.2 in) wide, the branch leaves compared to the stem leaves are often much reduced in size.
The inflorescence consists of numerous floral heads. On lateral branches of a loose panicle16 they frequently come off one side of the branch. In the accompanying photo, notice how the floral heads more or less face out toward the viewer. In the leaf picture in the margin, I left a small bit of the single stem on which all the flowers of that elongated floral group are located. This arrangement is quite common within the asters, but was especially striking to me as I looked at the many specimens of this species in the Michigan State University Herbarium. The involucre is glabrous, 4 to 5.5 mm (~0.16 to 0.22in) in length, its bracts imbricate (overlapping like shingles on a roof) and are obtuse (rounded) or acute (pointed) and are often tipped with purple. There are 6 to 18 white or slightly purplish rays, 4 to 6.5 mm (~0.16 to 0.26 in) in length. The disc flowers inside the circle of ray florets are purplish and goblet-shaped.
The fruit is a brownish achene, those from the inner series are longer than those from the outer series [ca. 5mm vs. 1 mm (~0.2 vs. 0.03 in)][3, 6 & 10]
Distribution: Gleason and Cronquist covering Northeastern U.S. and contiguous parts of Canada indicate that the species is commonly found in various habitats, mostly in open woods, dry open places and on beaches. Pammel and King state, in IA, it is commonly found in thickets and fields. Barkley, writing in Flora of the Great Plains, states that it is “infrequent in open wooded sites, especially damp or drying stream banks.” Ramsay, writing about Canadian bee forage, indicates that it grows in moist or dry locations, as for example, fields, clearings, thickets, shores, etc.
Blooming period: Ramsay sets the blooming period for Canada as August to October. Pammel and King report seeing the species being worked by bees at Mount Pleasant and Keosauqua, IA (both southeast corner of IA) on August 29, 1917 and at McGregor, IA (Northeast corner of IA) on September 4, 1918. Barkley provides a blooming date range for the Great Plains as September to October.
Importance as a honey plant: The reader is here forewarned that the genus Aster is fairly large. By my count, at this time, the USDA Plants Website lists 20 species, but in the past, there were many more species listed under this genus that have now been moved into a number of different genera. This writing, for example, deals with two such cases. Being able to identify members of the Aster group to the species level in many cases requires that the individual doing the identification has some special training in the area. For this reason, probably some of the identifications found in beekeeping literature are dubious.
Oertel, from his questionnaires, found the genus Aster in general to be important in: CT AL AR AZ CA CO DE GA IA ID IL IN KS KY LA MA MD ME MN MO MS NC ND NE NH NJ NM NV NY OH OK RI SC SD TN TX VA VT WA WI WV MI PA. From their questionnaires, Ayers and Harman,found the genus to be important in: AL AR CO CT GA MB ME MS NV ON RI TX VT WI WV and to be of considerable importance in: AZ DE IA IL IN KY LA MD MI MN MO NC NH NJ NY OH OK PA SC TN VA and PE and QU. While neither of these works distinguished species, they do provide an indication of the importance of the genus in North America. Pellett indicates S. lateriflorum produces nectar freely and Pammel and King state, “This species is one of the valuable honey plants” and that it is “Much visited by bees and furnishes much nectar.”
Honey potential: While I doubt that there is any trustworthy data for S. lateriflorum specifically, Crane places asters in general in her class 2 honey production category, which is 26 to 50 kg/ha (~23 to 44.6 lbs/Acre). To achieve these potentials, the weather in the fall has to be cooperative.
Honey: Again while I doubt that there is any data for S. lateriflorum specifically, Crane provides an assessment of aster honey in general as “honey light to medium amber (with a) characteristic aroma”. While many beekeepers think of it more euphemistically, I think of it as the “dirty socks smell”.
The honey has a quite possibly undeserved reputation as being harmful to overwintering bees. John Lovell, provides a quite convincing argument that if the weather is cooperative and the bees can properly ripen the honey, bees can overwinter on it quite well. He points out that this has been done many times. The honey also has a reputation for rapid granulation.
Pollen: Almost certainly the plant provides pollen to bees. How much is unknown.
The Other Side of Beekeeping - July 2013
Family Araceae - The Arum Family
The family Araceae belongs to the monocots1. It consists of about 115 genera and 2000 species, the majority of them tropical and subtropical. There are about eight genera native to the U. S. Around the world, there is a great deal of variability within the family. Most are perennial terrestrial, herbs and more rarely, they can have somewhat woody bases and sometimes woody stems as well. Some have tuberous rhizomes or very large rootstocks. Others are climbing shrubs or epiphytes2 with adventitious3 roots. Some are even water plants.
The leaves are petiolate (with leaf stems), alternately placed, can be either simple or compound and often are net-veined. The leaves of many are cordate (heart-shaped), some hastate (arrowhead-shaped with basal lobes turned outward) and some sagittate (arrowhead-shaped with basal lobes turned downward). They are generally simple, some are palmately or pinnately compound, and some come with regular or irregular holes. Often the leaf stem is fleshy and often rounded on the side away from the plant and flat or concave on the inner side.
Generally, but apparently not always4, the species are monoecious (male and female flowers on the same plant). The flowers may be either male or female or have both male and female parts (perfect). The flowers are usually small, radially symmetrical, usually are of one sex, but are sometimes perfect (contain both male and female parts) and are usually crowded onto a solid central structure known as the spadix. Usually, where the flowers are either male or female, the male flowers are arranged above the female flowers. The spadix is often partly enclosed by a structure known as the spathe that consists of a large bract5 or a pair of bracts. The spathe can be quite showy and can come in several colors and sometimes can be ornamented with spots or stripes. The staminate (male) flowers have 1 to 10 (typically 6) stamens. The filaments are short and often united. The anthers open by pores or slits and staminodia6 are sometimes present. The pistillate flowers (female) often are without a perianth (petals and calyx taken together) or possess 4 to 6 scales serving as the perianth. The female part of the flower usually consists of 2 or 3 united carpels7. The ovary is usually in the superior position8 but sometimes is imbedded in the spadix. There is a condensed stigmatic surface and the style is very short or essentially nonexistent.
The fruits are berries and usually are crowded onto the spadix and are often shades of orange or red.
Recognitions characters: The North American members of the family are herbs, typically found in wet locations, with leathery, often pinnately veined leaves and a spadix and spathe. In the tropics the Araceae can be an extremely important family that may occupy acres. Many supply economically important products including: shelter, cordage, medicine, drugs, poisons, starches, green vegetables, and fruits. Many species are grown all over the world for their attractive foliage and beautiful spathe. The dieffenbachia or dumb-cane is very poisonous and is given its name because a small amount of the milky sap paralyzes the vocal cords, preventing speech. A larger dose paralyzes the entire throat and then can lead to a terrible suffocating death.[2, 7 & 13]
Skunk cabbage, Polecat weed
Scientific name: Symplocarpus foetidus
Origin: Skunk cabbage is native to North America, probably eastern North America including both the U. S. and Canada.. Both Gleason and Cronquist and Hortus Third indicate that the species is also found in northeastern Asia. It is not clear, to me whether this intended to indicate an origin or simply an occurrence in this area of the world. In either case, it seems to me a biological question begging for an answer. It’s a long way from northeastern Asia to northeastern North America.
Plant description: Symplocarpus foetidus is monotypic i.e., there is only one species in the genus. Skunk cabbage is a malodorous (smelly) perennial that first develops an ovate, pointed spathe from a thick rhizome early in the spring. It is frequently dark colored and decorated with lighter colored spots and/or streaks and grows over a relatively short period of time to lengths of up to 6 in (~15 cm). During this period the spathe opens to reveal a solid, central, somewhat round-topped, sometimes conical structure, the spadex to which the small perfect flowers are attached. The petals and calyx of the flowers are small, fused and not well differentiated and are often referred to as tepals. Each flower has 4 stamens, stout styles (at least for the overall size of the pistil) with the ovaries buried in the spadix.
The malodorous leaves appear later than the spathe and spadix. They come from the base of the plant, have an ovate9 to cordate shape, the blade reaching lengths of about 18 inches (~46 cm) and widths of about12 inches (~30 cm) with the petiole (leaf stem) being about 10 inches (~25 cm) long. The leaf veins form an anastomosing10 pattern.
The fruits are a more or less spherical (globose), 8 to 12 cm (~3.1 to 4.7 in) thick mass consisting of the enlarged spongy spadix. The spherical seeds are about 1 cm (~0.39 in) thick and are positioned just under the surface, covered by the persistent perianth11 and style12[5, 7 &12].
Distribution: Gleason and Cronquist, covering the northeastern U. S. and adjoining parts of Canada, state that the plant is found in swamps and moist ground. Smith describes the habitat in which skunk cabbage is found in Michigan as low wet woods, flood plains, open shady stream banks, swampy forests and wet thickets.
Blooming period: Gleason and Cronquist provides a blooming period of February to April. Smith provides a blooming period for Michigan as mid-March to mid-May. Doolittle, for Borodino, N. Y., a little south and west of Syracuse NY, describes the blooming period as “March 20 to April 15th, according to the season, the bloom lasting from three days to a week.” Harvey Lovell states that it provides the earliest source of pollen in many of the eastern states, blooming between late February to early April.
Importance as a honey plant: If skunk cabbage provides any honey it is very little. The beekeeping literature seems to indicate that it most likely provides none. That might be a good thing, given the smell similar to that of rotting flesh that emanates from the plant when it is bruised and its juices are exposed.
Pollen: In 1909 Doolittle provided a delightful description of bees working skunk cabbage at temperatures as low as 42oF (5.6oC) and commonly working it at 45oF (7.2oC). At these times the bees would cavort around inside the spathe on the spadix getting covered with a dusting of yellow pollen. He saw as many as seven bees within a spathe rolling around until they looked more like small caterpillars that have fallen into a flour barrel than they looked like bees, and described them as flying back home carrying the pollen more on their back than in their pollen baskets. Being nestled down in the surrounding moss with its dark spathe and “one little door”, he thought of the plant as providing a comfortable space so that the bees would not become chilled on cool or cloudy days as they sometimes are a little later in the season when they work alders and willows. This, he thought, allowed them to return safely to the hive, which might not be the case a little later in the season when they worked willows and alders, when on particularly cool days, many often perish on the return trip home.
He also tells how, “Immediately, as soon as this pollen comes in, the queen begins to ‘spread herself at egg-laying’, and the prosperity of all reasonably good colonies is assured.” For this reason he valued “the skunk cabbage more highly than any other pollen-yielding plant or tree”. He summarizes his feelings as “there is nothing with which I am acquainted that is so eagerly sought by bees, and nothing in the pollen line which so greatly stimulates brood-production.” In his final paragraph he tells his readers, “I never could find any trace of honey from skunk cabbage.”
While this is a delightful passage, there is more to it than Doolittle could have known in 1909. Step ahead to research performed in the early 1970s and a little more of the story is revealed. In general plants and mammals seem to operate oppositely. Mammals use oxygen and plants give off oxygen. Mammals use the oxygen to fuel oxidative processes that generate heat. Skunk cabbage can also generate heat through this oxidative processes. The large root of skunk cabbage serves as a storage place for large amounts of starch. In the spring, the starch is broken down and the products are oxidized to generate heat. As the air temperature drops, oxygen consumption is increased and more heat is produced. The spadix is not frost resistant and escapes freezing by maintaining a high respiratory rate which goes up as the temperature drops and thereby raises its temperature 15o to 35o C (27o to 63oF) above the February and March -15 to + 15oC (5o to 59oF) temperature. The plant can maintain this situation for at least two weeks.
Doolittle writing in 1909 would not have known this, because the data just cited was gathered in 1974, but the process probably helps explain why bees made it back to the hive when a little later in the season they may die in droves on cool days as they return home from willow and alder. While cavorting around inside the spathe, in addition to gathering pollen, the bees were likely getting a ‘pocket full of heat’13 for their return trip to the hive.
The Other Side of Beekeeping - June 2013
Two More Members of the Rosaceae
Scientific name: Prunus armeniaca
Synonyms: Armeniaca vulgaris
Origin: This is one of our many crop species whose origin seems a little in dispute. The species epithet1 would suggest that the species originated in Armenia. At one time this is probably what we thought because it has been continuously cultivated there since at least the 1st century AD. Archeological evidence now suggests that it had a much earlier origin in a more eastern area in Asia.
Plant description: Superficially the flowers of the genus Prunus (cherries, almonds, peaches, apricots etc.) look like Malus (apples) and Pyrus (pears).2 They all have 5 petals, and numerous stamens. The ovary of Prunus has a single carpel3 containing two ovules, whereas the ovary of both Pyrus and Malus and have 5 carpels each containing two ovules, the five styles of the five carpels usually being more or less united at their base (more so for apple than pear).
In general, the overall appearance of the apricot tree is between peach and plum. It is somewhat larger than plum, but more spreading like peach. Apricot flowers are usually more white like plum than pink like peach, but are usually not borne in clusters as is usual for plum. The pit is smooth, a bit like plum, but broader, flatter and more winged (where the two halves are joined) than plum and intermediate in size between plum and peach.
The tree is generally round-crowned and spreading with reddish bark and glabrous twigs and grows to a height of 10m (~32.8 ft). The leaves are ovate4, sometimes subcordate or subrotund and 5 to 10 cm (~1.96 to 3.93 inches) long and nearly as wide as long, and come to a point relatively quickly at the nonattached end. They are usually simply serrate5, but some varieties are doubly serrate.
The flowers appear before the leaves, are generally more white than pink, are borne singly or occasionally in pairs on very short stems or no stem (sessile) and are about 2 to 3 cm (~0.79 to 1.2 inch) wide.
The young fruit is somewhat pubescent, but becomes smooth or very slightly velvety at maturity. The mature fruit is generally yellow, sometimes tinged with red, and is a little flattened and 3 to 5 cm (~1.18 to 1.97 inch) thick. The stone (pit) is somewhat flattened and smooth, unlike the deeply sculptured peach pit, but is ridged along the suture that separates the two halves of the pit.[8, 9, 12 & 16]
Distribution: Apricot apparently is not a very invasive species though the species can occasionally be found in the wild as escapes from commercial and home plantings[9, 15, 18 & 34]. A search of the Web suggests that in the US over 90% of US apricot production comes from California with most of the remainder coming from Washington and Utah.6 In general because of the flower bud’s sensitivity to cold, apricots do not do well where winter temperatures drop below -5o F. Their blooming in early spring (before peaches) also makes them susceptible to spring frosts. These two factors greatly limit where the species can be grown commercially.
Blooming period: Richter writing about California bee forage, states that the species blooms in March. Burgett et al provide a blooming date for Oregon as early spring. Ramsay writing about Canadian bee forage, provides the blooming period as late April. Slate simply says that it blooms before peaches.
Importance as a honey plant: Apricot produces both nectar and pollen for our bees, but because of its early bloom would benefit them mainly for spring buildup.
Honey potential: Crane places apricot in her HP2 honey potential category of 26 to 50 kg/ha (~23.2 to 44.5 lbs/acre), which is where she seems to place all the primary commercial fruiting Prunus. Maurizio provides a sugar value of 0.31 to 0.84 mg7 nectar sugar secreted per flower over a 24 hour period.
Honey: Crane, lumping the honey from Malus (apple), Pyrus (pear) and Prunus (peaches, plums,cherries etc) together, describes the honey as “light, excellent delicate flavour and fine aroma, said to granulate quickly, with (a) soft fine grain.”
Pollen: Apricot pollen is collected by bees, and based on Prunus in general, Ramsay claims apricot pollen is an excellent source of protein. Stanley and Linskens in the chapter entitled ‘Nutritive Value of Pollen for the Honey Bee’ place pollen from fruit trees, which would presumably include apricot, in their ‘excellent’ class. Shuel provides a German reference that claims as the nutrient value for bees, pollen from fruit trees is among the best. From his vast search of the pollination literature, Free provides the information that apricots provide 0.61 to 1.68 mg of pollen per flower.
Additional information: In 1976 McGregor stated the apricot pollination situation very well with the statement, “The literature on pollination of apricots is meager and not in complete agreement.” Much early literature suggests that generally apricot cultivars appear to be self-fertile. Griggs for example, states, “With few exceptions, there are no problems with commercial varieties of peach, nectarines, or apricot. Such varieties are generally self-fertile and, in many instances, heavy crops are obtained even when there is limited activity by honeybees.” He did list three exceptions, however, ‘Riland’, ‘Rival’ and ‘Perfection’ , which were self-incompatible. Free states “Peach and nectarine (Prunus persica L.), apricot (Prunus armeniaca L.), and sour cherry (Prunus cerasus L.) are largely self-fruitful. This was also repeated in some of the Extension literature coming out of universities. Examples include: (2002), Purdue University ‘Pollination of Fruit and Nuts’, “Examples of self-pollinated fruits are sour cherries, apricots, and peaches”; (2002) University of Missouri ‘Pollinating Fruit Crops’, “Nearly all common varieties of apricot, peach, nectarine and sour cherry are self-fruitful (do not require cross-pollination)”; ( 2005) Washington State University, ‘Pollination of Fruit Trees “Many apricots such as ‘Tilton’ are self-fruitful. Provide another variety for Goldrich, Moorpark and Perfection. Rival requires an early blooming pollinizer such as ‘Perfection’ for best results”.
Scott-Dupree et al. seemed not to agree with much of the above when they wrote, “In general, most apricot cultivars are self-sterile and require pollination by honey bees to assure a good fruit set and yield”. I’m not sure why the obvious discrepancy. Perhaps it has to do with the particular varieties that are grown in Canada. Corner et al from his literature search in 1964 presented a small list of five varieties grown in Canada listed as self fruitful (‘Blenheim’, ‘Moorpark’, ‘Royal’, ‘Tilton’ and ‘Wenatchee’) and four as self-unfruitful: (‘Perfection’, ‘Reliable’, ‘Riland’ and ‘Sunglow’ ). Perhaps with the new varieties that have become available, older publications are no longer correct.
We now know something about apricot’s genetics that leads to compatibility or incompatibility. In 1993 Burgos et al investigated the cross- and self-compatibility relationships of eight apricot cultivars from the Marcia, Spain area, the foremost apricot-producing region of Europe. They performed two field pollination studies. In what they considered a natural self-pollination study they did nothing more than bag branches from eight cultivars to exclude insects. Pollen transfer would need to result from wind and perhaps other local disturbances. From the eight cultivars they found four cultivars that produced a fruit set that ranged from 0.7 to 12.3 %. The other four cultivars appeared to be totally self-incompatible (no fruit set). They considered the 0.7 figure to also represent an incompatible relationship. In the second study the researchers made pollen transfers that involved both the same self-pollinations as in the previous study as well as selected, but not all possible cross-pollinations, from the same group of eight cultivars. Stamens from all the flowers were removed to prevent uncontrolled self-pollination. In this study, those varieties that were self-sterile in the first study produced 0 to 2.3 % fruit set while the remainder of the crossings provided 16.2 to 54.1% fruit set. The authors provided, without proof, a number of plausible explanations for the very low compatibilities from the cultivars that had shown complete incompatibility in the previous test. They expressed some surprise at the amount of self-incompatibility they found (five of the eight cultivars) because it had been generally accepted that apricots were self-compatible.
The work of Burgos et al using both actual crosses in the field as well as laboratory pollen tube growth studies, indicated that the compatible/incompatible situation in apricot is analogous to the system in almonds that relies on a single gene (Sc), which has a number of different forms (alleles) that are responsible for incompatibility. If a pollen grain carries one of these incompatibility genes and matches one or both of the corresponding genes in the pistil, the growth of the pollen tube is inhibited and fertilization doesn’t occur. This holds for both self- and cross-fertilizations. For fertilization to occur there can be no matching of these incompatibility genes in the pollen and pistil.
Egea and Burgos found cross-incompatibility in apricots, i.e. where one variety is incompatible with another variety. Three cultivars were involved (‘Goldrich’, ‘Hargrand’ and ‘Lambertin-1’), each having the cultivar ‘Perfection’ in their ancestry. Again, this presumably results from the pollen of one variety carrying an s-allele that confers incompatibility that is also found in the pistil of the pollen receiver.
There has been some thought expressed in the pollination literature that the fruit set is improved, even with self-fertile varieties, by both the presence of bees and the presence of other, but cross-compatible, cultivars in the orchard. McGregor, for example, points out that the pollen of apricots is sticky and is not amenable to movement by the wind, and just within-flower transfer in self-compatible varieties would be benefitted by foraging insects such as bees, and would potentially increase production. McGregor, concludes, “The available literature indicates that the apricot, like peach and nectarine depends upon pollinating insects to set a commercial crop on all cultivars”. Griggs suggests that fruit set is improved, even with self-fertile varieties, if another compatible variety is also planted with it. Free states, “Provision should be made for cross-pollination when planting an orchard, unless it is definitely known to be unnecessary for the cultivar and the local conditions.”
Honey bees seem to be the main insect pollinator, and McGregor under the subtitle ‘Pollination Recommendations and Practices’ states that apricot “depends upon pollinating insects to set a commercial crop on all cultivars. A heavy population of bees may be unnecessary, but they should be distributed throughout the orchard.” He agrees with Corner et al that one colony of honey bees per acre (~2.5/hectare) is probably adequate for successful pollination if they are distributed throughout the orchard.
Despite the statement by Scott Dupree et al that most of the Canadian Cultivars are self-sterile, they state, as does McGregor that “…..it is not necessary to have large populations of honey bees present in apricots in order to provide adequate pollination.” They go on in their summarizing tables to estimate the value of the general insect contribution to apricot pollination as 0.7 where 1= 100% (totally necessary). They also estimate the relative importance of honey bees in this figure as 0.8 again where 1= 100%, and finally estimate the dependence on honey bees with the product of the previous two figures as 56%. For comparison, this last figure for apples is estimated at 85% and for sweet cherries 90%. Finally the number of colonies recommended is 1 per acre (~2.5 per hectare).
Chamise, greasewood, chamoiso
Scientific name: Adenostoma fasciculatum
Plant description: Chamise is a diffuse evergreen shrub 0.5 to 3.5 m (1.6 to 11.4 ft) high that has a well developed basal burl. The bark of the trunk is reddish, and becomes exfoliating (shreddy) with age. The twig bark is also reddish and almost hairless (subglabrous).
The stipules8 are small and sharp pointed (acute). The many simple (not compound) leaves are generally 4 to 10 mm (~0.16 to 0.39 in) long and are narrow and elongate and pointed or narrowly clavate9 and have essentially no leaf stem. They are without teeth (entire), often resinous, and are placed on their stems alternately or in clusters.10
The inflorescence is a dense panicle11 4 to 12 cm (~1.6 to 4.7 in) long. The sepals12 are barely 1 mm (0.04 in) long; and the petals are about 1.5 mm (~0.06 inch) long. The flowers are white. The hypanthium13 is strongly 10 ribbed. There are 10 to 15 stamens in groups of 2’s or 3’s and a single pistil that does not extend above the petals.
The fruit is an achene.14[12, 18 & 33]
Distribution: Munz describes the distribution of chamise as being common, often the dominant vegetation on dry slopes and ridges below 5000 ft (~1524 m); that includes the Chaparral15; coast ranges from Mendocino Co. to lower California and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Wetherwax states it is found on dry slopes and ridges and chaparral below 1600m (~5250 ft). Coleman states that it often forms a distinct zone between the foothills and the yellow pine belt, and Richter claims that the species is “the most abundant and characteristic bush of the high Coast ranges.
Blooming period: Richter states that the blooming period is April to July. Munz gives the blooming period as May-June. Coleman states that it blooms June and July.
Both the 1931 and 1941 Vansell and Vansell and Eckert bulletins indicate that the species blooms April to June.
Importance as a honey plant: There seems to be some difference of opinion about the importance of chamise as a honey plant. Richter claims that the species is “eagerly visited by bees in Lake, Marin, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties, and no doubt elsewhere”, but he makes no claims for surplus honey productions. Oertel, from his questionnaires, found the species to be of some importance in California and Oregon. Oertel is one of the few, perhaps the only, researcher to find it of importance in Oregon. Neither the Burgett et al publication dealing with Oregon honey plants nor the Scullen and Vansell bulletin, upon which this booklet was largely based, seem to mention chamise. Robinson and Oertel did not include the species in their table of Important Nectar and Pollen Plants of the United States and Canada. Ayers and Harman, from their questionnaires, found the species to be at least of some importance in California. Coleman says that when there are not other honey plants in the area that the bees prefer (he provides the example sage), the bees will work the chamise eagerly and store a “considerable surplus from it”. Pellett, however, reports that in southern California beekeepers regard the plant of little value and state that bees seldom visit it there. John Lovell says only that the small white flowers that are produced in dense terminal clusters are very attractive to bees. He makes no claims for surplus honey productions, however. Harvey Lovell describes the honey as being light amber, but that it is “rarely obtained”. Vansell in his 1931 bulletin states that it is “the most abundant and characteristic bush of the high coast ranges and the lower Sierra Nevada.” He reports it as being “visited eagerly by bees in many places”, but he also states ,“acres of this plant in full blossom have been observed with scarcely a bee on it from hundreds of colonies in the vicinity.” The 1941 Vansell and Eckert bulletin changes the “visited eagerly by bees” statement above to “It is reported to be frequented by bees in many places, especially for pollen.” The remainder of the 1941 text remains essentially the same as in the 1931 bulletin. There are some differences between the two tables presented at the end of these two publications. In the 1931 table, the value as a source of honey is shown as being minor. There is no column for value as a pollen source. The table in the 1941 version reads the same for the value as a source of honey, but a column for value as a pollen source has been added to the table, and reads “important”. From the above I conclude that chamise might provide some honey, but not so much, or so often, that it is generally considered an exceptional honey plant. It seems that it might be a better pollen plant than a honey plant.
Honey: Coleman describes the honey as light amber, and of good quality. Harvey Lovell also describes the honey as a light amber. None of the other references cited above provide a description of the honey.
Pollen: Coleman states that it produces an abundance of pollen. Harvey Lovell also claims that it is an important pollen plant. As mentioned above, the 1941 Vansell and Eckert bulletin seems to indicate that the plant has some importance as a pollen source.
Additional information: Wetherwax in The Jepson Manual states that the plant has some horticultural potential, and that it does best under generally sunny conditions and is intolerant of frequent summer watering. The name greasewood comes from the fact that the species is highly resinous (oily) and, therefore, burns with an intense flame and plays an important role in California brush fires.
While heat treatment stimulates germination of chamise seeds, if the fires are not too intense, the basal burl mentioned under Plant description also sends forth new shoots. If the number of shoots is sufficient to provide enough photosynthetic material to support the underground root system, there will be a regrowth from the burl of the original plant after the fire.
I am greatly indebted to the Michigan State University Herbarium for the privilege of looking at and photographing their specimens as well as for the opportunity to use their library. I also greatly appreciate the courtesy and patience the herbarium staff extended to me!
1. Ayers, G. S. and J. R. Harman. 1992. Bee Forage of North America and the Potential for Planting for Bees. In: The Hive and the Honey Bee (J. M. Graham, Ed.), Dadant and Sons. Hamilton, IL.
2. Burgett, D. M., B. A. Stringer and L. D. Johnston. 1989. Nectar and Pollen Plants of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. Honeystone Press. Blodgett, OR.
3. Burgos, L., T. Berenguer and J. Egea. 1993. Self- and cross-compatibility among apricot cultivars. HortScience: 28:148-150.
4. Coleman, G. A. 1921(May). Beekeeping in our California National Forests, No. II, Honey flora. The Western Honey Bee. Vol. 9 (No 5): 149-151.
5. Corner, J., K. O. Lapins and J. C. Arrand. 1964. Orchard and honey bee management in planned tree-fruit pollination. Ministry of Agriculture, Victoria, British Columbia, Apiary Circular 14. (18 Pages.)
6. Crane, E. 1975. The Flowers Honey Comes From. In: Honey a Comprehensive Survey. (E. Crane Ed.) Crane, Russak and Company, Inc. New York, NY.
7. Egea, J. and L. Burgos. 1996. Detecting Cross-incompatibility of Three North American Apricot Cultivars and Establishing the First Incompatibility Group in Apricot. J. American Society of Horticultural Science 121:1002-1005.
8. Free, J. B. 1993. Insect Pollination of Crops (2nd Edition). Academic Press. Ltd. London.
9. Gleason, H. A. and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States (Second Edition). The New York Botanical Garden Press. Bronx, NY.
10. Griggs, W. H. 1970. The status of deciduous fruit pollination. In The Indispensable Pollinators. A Report of the ninth pollination conference in Hot Springs AR. October 12-15, 1970. pp185-210. Agricultural Extension Service University of Arkansas and U. S. Department of Agriculture. Fayetteville Arkansas.
11. Ledbetter, C. A. 2008. Apricots. In: Temperate Fruit Crop Breeding. (J. F. Hancock, Ed.), Springer Science-Business Media B. V.
12. Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium Staff. 1976. Hortus Third. A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the United States and Canada. Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc. New York.
13. Lovell, H. B. 1966. Honey Plants Manual. A Practical Field Handbook for Identifying Honey Flora. A. I. Root Co. Medina, OH.
14. Lovell, J. H. 1926. Honey Plants of North America. The A. I. Root Co. Medina OH.
15. McGregor, R. L. 1986. Rosaceae Juss., the Rose Family. In: Flora of the Great Plains. (Barkley, T. M. Ed.). University Press of Kansas. Lawrence, KS.
16. McGregor, S. E. 1976. Insect Pollination of Cultivated Crop Plants. Agriculture Handbook No. 496. Agriculture Research Service. United States Department of Agriculture. U. S. Government Printing Office. Washington D. C.
17. Maurizio, A. 1975. How Bees Make Honey. In: Honey a Comprehensive Survey. (E. Crane Ed.). Crane, Russak and Company, Inc. New York, NY.
18. Munz, P. A. 1959. A California Flora. University of California Press. Berkeley, CA.
19. Oertel, E. 1939. Honey and Pollen Plants of the United States. U.S.D.A. Circular 554. U. S. Government Printing Office. Washington D. C.
20. Oosting, H. J. 1956. The Study of Plant Communities. (Second Edition) W. H. Fereeman and Company. San Francisco, CA.
21. Pellett, F. C. 1976. American Honey Plants. Dadant and Sons, Hamilton, IL.
22. Ramsay, M. C. 1987. Plants for Beekeeping in Canada and the Northern USA. International Bee Research Association. London.
23. Richter 1911. Honey Plants of California. California Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 217. University of California. Sacramento, CA.
24. Robinson, F. A. and E. Oertel. 1975. Sources of Nectar and Pollen. In: The Hive and the Honey Bee. Dadant and Sons Inc. Hamilton IL.
25. Scott-Dupree, C., M. Winston, G. Hergert, K. McKenzie, D. Murrell, M. Dixon, R. Dogterom, R. Currie, J. Gates, J. Corner and S. C. Jay. 1995. A Guide to Managing Bees For Crop Pollination. Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists. Ontario, Canada.
26. Scullen, H. A. and G. A. Vansell. 1942. Nectar and Pollen Plants of Oregon. Oregon State Agricultural Experiment Station, Oregon State College, Bulletin 412.
27. Shuel, R. W. 1992. The Production of Nectar and Pollen, p423. In: The Hive and the Honey Bee. ( J. M. Graham Ed.) Dadant and Sons. Hamilton, IL.
28. Slate, G. L. 1970. Apricots, Nectarines and Almonds. Horticulture 48: 42, 47-48.
29. Stanley, R. G. and H. F. Linskens. 1974. Pollen, Biology, Biochemistry, Management. (Nutritive Value, Chapter 7). Springer-Verlag. New York, NY.
30. USDA, NRCS. 2012. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 1 September 2012). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
31. Vansell, G. H. 1931. Nectar and Pollen Plants of California. University of California Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 517. Berkeley CA.
32. Vansell, G. H. and J. E. Eckert 1941. Nectar and Pollen Plants of California. University of California Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 517 (1941 Revision) Berkley CA.
33. Wetherwax, M. 1993. Adenostoma. In: The Jepson Manual Higher Plants of California. (Hickman, J. C. Ed.) University of California Press. Berkeley, CA.
34. Wilken, D. H. 1993. Prunus. In: The Jepson Manual Higher Plants of California. (Hickman, J. C. Ed.) University of California Press. Berkeley, CA.
The Other Side of Beekeeping - May 2013
Some Wild Members of the Bean Family
The Genus Astragalus
Many species of Astragalus growing in North America have been described. By my count (2013) the USDA Plants website lists 426 species. In addition, it also lists numerous subspecies and varieties of these species. The differences between some of these species is most likely very small and it would take a specialist to be able to distinguish them all. The task would be beyond most of us, and often all that is recorded in the beekeeping literature is simply the genus “Astragalus.” The cases reported below represent some of those that are reported in the North American beekeeping literature.
Oertel, from his questionnaires, found the genus Astragalus to be important in ND, CO, IA, ID and TX. From their questionnaires, Ayers and Harman found the genus to be of some importance in CO, AZ, TX, and WY. The only species that Crane et al. mention in their ‘Directory of Important World Honey Sources’ is Astragalus sinicus (Chinese milkvetch), which they consider to have a high honey flow of 30 kg (~66 lbs) per colony.
Canadian milkvetch, milkvetch
Scientific name: Astragalus canadensis
Synonyms: Astragalus brevidens, Astragalus carolinianus, Astragalus halei, Astragalus mortonii (all apply to what are currently considered to be particular varieties of Astragalus canadensis).
Origin: North America and perhaps also into Central America. Gleason and Cronquist indicate that the species is found in Siberia. Perhaps it has a circumpolar origin. The distribution map provided by the USDA Plants Website, however, doesn’t show the species in Alaska.
Plant description: Astragalus canadensis is an erect, rhizomatous, usually robust perennial with stems to 150 cm (~4.9 ft) long. The lanceolate to deltoid stipules1 are fused (connate) and about 3 to 18 mm (~0.12 to 0.71 in) long. The leaves consist of 15 to 35 oblong or elliptic2 leaflets 1 to 4 cm (~0.39 to 1.57 in) long that are strigosebeneath with malpighian hairs.3
The inflorescences are racemes4 on relatively long 5 to 15 cm (1.97 to 5.9 in) peduncles5 that hold the spreading or downward bent, white, yellowish white or greenish cream colored 12 to 17 mm (0.05 to 0.67 in) flowers.
The 10 to 15 mm (~0.39 to 0.59 inch) pods are numerous, crowded, and erect, almost round in cross section, and have a prominent longitudinal ridge (keel) on the ventral surface. They are generally glabrous6, but infrequently are covered with short hairs.
Distribution: Gleason and Cronquist who deal with Northeastern U.S. and adjoining Canada, state that the species is found in open woods, on river-banks and shores, usually in moist soil. In Iowa, Pammel and King state that the species is common on black prairie soils and clay soils along borders of woods.
Blooming period: Gleason and Cronquist provide a blooming date range of June to August in the Northeastern parts of the U.S. and contiguous parts of Canada. Pammel and King provide a blooming date range of July and August for Iowa.
Importance as a honey plant: Pammel and King report observations made on A. canadensis on July 13, 1914, during which it was cloudy with a north wind. Insects working the plants included a fly, an ant, two bugs and a bee. The type of bee was unclear. A second set of observations was labeled only July 1914. During the second set of observations, one spike was visited during one hour by one fly, one ant, one bee (type unidentified) two bugs and a bumble bee. Despite the fact that the flowers had a pleasant odor, and the authors claim the nectar was “secreted in abundance”, they conclude that the species is not an important honey plant. Based on their admittedly limited observations, I would tend to agree, but there is no indication of either the size or flowering density of the observed patch.
chickpea milkvetch, cicer milkvetch, mountain chickpea, astragale pois chiche
Scientific name: Astragalus cicer
The compound leaves usually contain 17 to 29, occasionally 31, lance-elliptic8 or oblong leaflets 0.5 to 3.5 cm (~0.20 to 1.4 in) long that are pubescent9 at least on the undersurface. The inflorescence stems (peduncles) are 4 to 11 cm (~1.6 to 4.3 in) long and are shorter than the leaf immediately beneath it.
The individual flowers are yellowish white or cream colored and 12 to16 mm (~0.47 to 0.63 in) long. The fruit is a hairy, short-stemmed, firm-walled, broadly ovoid or subglobose10 structure, 6 to 14 mm (~0.24 to 0.55 in) by 5 to 8 mm, occasionally 10 mm (~0.2 to 0.32 in, occasionally 0.39 in).
Distribution: Gleason and Cronquist indicate that the species has been “casually introduced” into disturbed moist places in the Western U.S. and has been more rarely established eastward. They indicate that for some reason the species has become especially common in Ingham county, Michigan. Rabeler and Crowder suggest that this is at least in part related to the Grand Trunk Western Railway, which runs through the Michigan State University campus. Voss agrees, stating that the species has been well established along the railroad since at least 1974 and that it has “doubtless escaped from cultivation”.
Blooming period: McGregor reports that the species blooms at Fort Collins, CO during June and July.
Importance as a honey plant: Ramsay in her book Plants for Beekeeping in Canada and Northern USA mentions Astragalus cicer and indicates that it is attractive to honey bees, “but (the) specific value is unknown”.
Additional Information: Ramsay notes that the species may be useful in irrigated and dry land areas as a soil improver or forage crop, but that it is not commonly cultivated in North America.
The Other Side of Beekeeping - April 2013
Family Fabacaceae - the Pea or Pulse Family
Oleaceae—The Olive Family
Two references[2 &22] agree that the Oleaceae consists of 29 genera and 600 species. While the family exists in the temperate and tropical regions of both hemispheres, it appears to be particularly well represented in temperate and tropical Asia. There are five genera native to the U.S.
The Oleaceae consists mainly of shrubs and trees, but also contains a few herbs. The leaves can be simple, but are more commonly pinnately compound1 and are usually placed oppositely on their twig. Much less commonly they can be placed alternately or whorled. There are no stipules.2 In warmer climates, they are often evergreen.
The flowers are generally bisexual, but occasionally are unisexual. When unisexual, the male and female flowers are usually borne on different plants (dioecious). They are radially symmetrical3, often small and crowded, as for example, lilac. The Calyx4 is made up of four fused sepals that appear as four lobes. The lobes are on occasion apparently lacking (obsolete).5 There are generally four united petals, but on occasion are not fused. Occasionally, there may be no petals as sometimes in the genus Fraxinus (Example: Green ash= Fraxinus pennsylvanica). There are generally two stamens (an unusual feature of the woody plants of North America).
On rare occasions there are three or four. The stamens are generally (perhaps always) attached to the petals (epipetalous).
The female portion of the flower consists of two united carpels.6 The ovary has two locules7, each typically having two ovules (immature seeds) and is placed in the superior position.8 There is a single style ending with a two-lobed or single stigma.
The fruit is a berry, drupe capsule or samara.9
A quick means of identification: The Oleaceae is one of the few families with flowers having four sepals, four petals and two stamens. Some examples many readers will know include, forsythia, ash, privet and lilac.
The family is of some economic importance because of the edible olive, timber and several ornamentals
European privet, common privet, troèn, raisin des chien, fresillon
Scientific name: Ligustrum vulgare
Origin: The Mediterranean region of at least Europe
Plant description: European privet is a deciduous, much-branching shrub that grows to 12 to 15 ft tall with a similar spread and is a distinct dark green in summer. Young branches are green and minutely pubescent10 and turn a glabrous gray as they age.
The leaves are simple, without teeth (entire), a shape that ranges between oblong-ovate11 to lanceolate with lengths between 1 to 2.5 inches (~2.54 to 6.4 cm) and widths between 0.25 to 0.625 inches (~0.63 to 1.59 cm), and are oppositely placed on their stems. The petiole12 is 0.125 to 0.66 inches (0.32 to 1.68 cm) long.
The pediceled (with a stem) flowers are white and have a strong odor that many find objectionable and are arranged in 1.5 to 3 inch long panicles.13 The floral tube is 2.5 to 3 mm (~0.098 to 0.12 inch) long and about the same length as that of the petal lobes. The anthers are about 2 mm long (0.08 inch) and often protrude above the level of the spreading lobes.
The fruits are a lustrous black berry-like drupe about 0.33 inches (~0.83 cm) long. They ripen in September and persist through March and sometimes until later in the year.[3, 4 & 6]
Pammell and King state that the nectar is secreted by the ovary and collects at the base of the floral tube.
Distribution: The seeds of the species, and probably the genus as a whole, are frequently spread by birds and other animals. Gleason and Cronquist, writing about the plants of the Northeastern U.S. and adjoining parts of Southern Canada, state that the European or common privet is the most commonly escaped member of the genus, probably because it was/is so commonly planted.
Blooming period: Hortus Third, which covers the whole U. S., indicates that the species blooms during “early summer”. Michael Dirr’s ‘Manual of Woody Landscape Plants’ provides a blooming period of mid-June for the Central Illinois to Boston Corridor. Julia Morton indicates that the species blooms during May and June in South Florida.
Pammel and King record Ligustrum vulgare being worked by bees on nine dates at Ames, IA between April 27 to June 27 over the years 1919 to 1929. In only one case (June 17, !928) did they report no bees, and on June 6 and 11 of 1929, they indicated only some bees were seen. The remainder of the Ames observations indicated that the bees were busily harvesting nectar, and sometimes pollen, which seemingly indicated that the species was a good bee forage. They also provide a single observation at Denison, IA on June 25, 1928 that indicated that they saw no bees there on that date. Sanborn and Scholl indicate a blooming date range of April and May for Texas.
Importance as a honey plant: The USDA Plants Website lists 9 species growing in North America, all nonnative. The question becomes, relative to other privets, how important is L. vulgare as a bee forage? When dealing with horticultural entities, the answer to questions like this are usually probably dependent on the interaction of several factors. As a start, conceptually one way to approach this question would be to count the cultivars made from the different species. This would provide an indication of ‘desirability’ and therefore perhaps the planting frequency. Hortus Third, printed in 1976, lists 19 species, three with one named variety, two with two named varieties, one with seven named varieties, one with 12 named varieties, and L. vulgare with 14 named varieties (the most). The 1998 edition of Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, lists 16 species, six with no named varieties, the hybrid L x vicaryi with one named variety, L vulgare with three, L sinense with three and, L. japonicum with 16. This suggests that the popularity of L. japonica has increased over the years while that of L. vulgare has declined. Dirr provides insight into this change by providing the information that L. vulgare was once the favored privet species, but is being replaced with better species. L. vulgare is susceptible to anthracnose twig blight (Glomerella cingulata) and has caused the species to lose some of its original appeal. Yet, the total area occupied by L. vulgare is currently listed as larger than that of L. japonicum (see maps). There are probably several factors involved. L. vulgare has a wider climatic adaptability than L. japonicum. Dirr considers L. japonicum to be a zone 7 to zone 10 plant, whereas he considers L. vulgare to be a zone 4 or 5 to zone 7 plant. The situation is probably also based, at least in part, on the tenacity of the earlier distribution of L.vulgare, including plants that resulted from seed distribution by birds and other animals. To some, this spread is considered a highly undesirable characteristic of Ligustrum. To the beekeeping industry this is also of some importance because of the quality of privet honey (see below).
The Other Side of Beekeeping - March 2013
Family Fabacaceae - the Pea or Pulse Family
Cowpea, Black-eyed Pea, Southern Pea
Scientific name: Vigna unguiculata
Judging from the USDA Plants Website, Vigna unguiculata has been divided into several subspecies, each with its own common name as well as its own synonyms. This makes it somewhat difficult to know exactly to which subspecies the historical literature at various times refers. Cowpea and black-eyed pea to me, for example, were thought of as being the same plant. There are also other common names that have been applied to the species of which I was not aware (example: southern pea). Material provided on the USDA Plants Website is listed below.
Vigna unguiculata cowpea
Vigna unguiculata ssp. cylindrica catjang
Vigna unguiculata ssp. dekindtiana Black-eyed pea
Vigna unguiculata ssp. sesquipedalis yard-long bean
Vigna sinensis ssp. sesquipedalis
Vigna unguiculata ssp. stenophylla no common name provided
Vigna triloba nom illeg1
Vigna unguiculata ssp. unguiculata southern pea
Origin: Purseglove seems to claim at least for what he calls the wild Vigna unguiculata that the origin was tropical Africa. Hortus Third, on the other hand, seems to list it as Central Africa.
Plant description: As the synonym listing above suggests, there is considerable variation within the group. The plant can be prostrate, erect or climbing to about 3 feet (~0.91 m) or nearly bushy in form. It has an indeterminate growth pattern, i.e. it continues to grow indefinitely when environmental conditions are favorable, allowing the nearly glabrous2 vines to grow to lengths of 12 ft (~3.7 m). It is sensitive to cold and is killed by frost, but is tolerant of heat and dry conditions. The leaves are grouped in threes, and are 2 to 5 inches (~5.1 to 12.7 cm) across and if planted sufficiently close together, form a dense canopy over the ground. The inflorescence is made up of two to eight whitish, yellowish or purplish flowers that are shaped much like other bean flowers and are grouped together in pairs on a slender stem up to six inches long. The flowers are about 0.75 to 1 inch (~1.9 to 2.54cm) long and nearly the same across. There are three bracts at the base of each flower stem. The stamens are diadelphous3. The diagram in Purseglove appears to show the two groupings as 9 and 1, which is common in this general group of plants. The style4 bends upward toward the upper point of the keel petals and is bearded on its inner surface immediately below the stigma. The single ovary contains 8 to 20 ovules. Whether there are nectaries within the flowers seems unclear (see below), but extrafloral nectaries at the base of the corolla are reported numerous times in the literature. Gettys describes the plant secreting nectar from the stems and not the blossom as the young pods are forming and it is on this that the bees work “excessively”. Purseglove states that the nectaries take the form of cushion-like structures between each pair of flowers. J. Lovell states that the nectaries are on the flower stalks.
The fruits are elongated pods usually 8 to 12 inches (~20.3 to 30.5 cm) or more long. The seeds vary from 2 to 12 mm (~0.08 to 0.47 inch) in length and range in shape from globular to kidney-shaped. They can be smooth or wrinkled and range in color from white through green, buff, red, brown or black, and are variously speckled, mottled, blotched or eyed. The hilum5 is white surrounded by a dark ring. Growth is stimulated by abundant water and heat and seeds are set during more adverse conditions. Along the Gulf coast, some strains, at least in some years, never bloom.[13, 17, 22 & 24]
Distribution: The species originated in the tropics and requires more heat than corn, and like corn, does not thrive where the nights are cool. For these reasons, it is seldom grown north of the Ohio River. Within this area cowpeas can be grown on a great variety of well-drained soils, and are sometimes grown on very poor or acid soils for soil improvement.
Blooming period: In Texas, Sanborn and Scholl indicate that the blooming period is “June, August”. Milum indicates that the blooming period in Illinois is July till frost. Ayers and Harman provide blooming dates for what they called the Appalachian-Ozark Upland and the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain as July to August and June to September, respectively.
Importance as a honey plant: Some of the following data should be viewed in the light of the following information provided by McGregor. As a crop the acreage devoted to cowpea decreased from 899,000 acres (~363825 ha) in 1954 to 93,000 acres (~37635 ha) in 1967, over which time its value decreased from $8,600,000 to $3,150,000 and in 1967, the USDA ceased including the crop in its annual Agricultural Statistics report. It was almost certainly once more important to the beekeeping industry than it is currently.
Oertel, from his questionnaires found cowpeas to be of at least some importance to beekeepers in AL, DE, FL, GA, IL, LA, MO, NC, OK, SC, TN, VA, and NE and Robinson and Oertel included the species in their 1975 publication in Hive and the Honey Bee as one of the important nectar plants of the southern and southwestern parts of the U.S. Ayers and Harman found the species to of at least some importance in NC, SC, LA, MO, KY, and VA. Their questionnaires also indicated that there was some commercial pollination service for the species in MO and KY.
John Lovell claimed that in the Hollis, NC region, cowpeas were the most important source of honey in late summer, and at Fremont, MO honey bees were seen working the extrafloral nectaries throughout the day. Pellett reported from one of his correspondents that in East TX when cowpea is planted in sufficient acreage, it yields a surplus. Sanborn and Scholl indicate in TX the honey yield is good. Milum places cowpea in his tertiary or minor honey and pollen plants of Illinois category, indicating that the bees visit the flowers for both pollen and nectar, the quantity of the latter either being small, or that the plants are not generally abundant. Where grown in abundance some of these plants might be considered secondary honey and/or pollen plants.
Harvey Lovell considered cowpeas to be only occasionally useful to beekeeping despite the fact that he considered it an extensively planted crop. He goes on to say that when planted in dense stands, bees rarely visit the plants, but when planted in rows, the plants become attractive to bees. The extrafloral nectaries are worked almost exclusively in many locations, but the flowers are usually also visited. Below are provided some observations from individual beekeepers concerning the honey potential of cowpeas.
Almeda Ellis from Fremont, MO writes that she found bees working the extrafloral nectaries of the plant, but when she pulled the flower apart, she found nectar or at least something she interpreted as nectar, but the bees didn’t seem to know what to do with it. During another year, she found a similar situation, but did see a few bees pushing their tongues into the flower.
G. H. Latham from Rapidan, VA writes that his bees “always get a good deal of nice honey” from his plantings, which usually bloom during a honey dearth period, but he notices that they do not work the crop when a better honey plant is blooming at the same time.
J. D. Rowan from Tupelo, MS claims, “there is no finer honey-plant than the cow pea while it lasts, but it blooms only about a week. During this time, if the weather is fair, the bees swarm over the fields from early morn till dewy eve.”
C. C. Gettys from Hollis, NC writes that when a full crop is made from cow pea, it “is one of our most abundant sources of honey for late summer.” He goes on to tell his readers that it “furnishes nectar through a considerable period of otherwise scarcity”. He describes the plant secreting nectar from the stems and not the blossom as the young pods are forming, and it is on this that “the bees work on excessively.”
Honey potential: Unknown.
Honey: John Lovell describes the honey as thick, deep yellow with a very strong flavor. From the correspondent from East TX mentioned above, Pellett provides the information that the honey is a very dark color, with a mild flavor. Sanborn and Scholl state that in Texas the honey from cowpea is of fair quality, and light in color. Milum indicates at least in IL the honey is dark, with a mild to strong flavor. C. C. Gettys describes the honey as being “of good body, thick, deep, approaching dark yellow in color, and of strong taste like that of poplar or tulip6, only stronger, with a somewhat slight wild green-bean-like flavor.”
According to Harvey Lovell, the honey is yellow amber with a strong flavor.
Pollen: No description found.
Additional information: Robbins states that the cowpea is capable of self- fertilization, and suggest that this may be the usual situation even though the flowers are often visited by honey bees or bumblebees that are attracted primarily by extrafloral nectaries.
According to Purseglove the flowers open early in the morning, close before noon and fall the same day. The extrafloral nectaries attract ants, flies and bees, but a heavy insect is needed to depress the flower’s wings to expose the stamens and pistil. He indicates that apparently the degree of cross-pollination varies greatly depending on location. In the dry areas of California, he claims that there is almost total self-pollination whereas in more humid areas of the U.S., cross-pollination occurs. This had apparently also been reported from other parts of the world.
The Other Side of Beekeeping - February 2013
Family Euphorbiaceae - the Spurge Family
The Euphorbiaceae is a large and diverse family with many authors indicating it is made up of perhaps 290 genera containing more than 7500 species.[3 & 16] The group is probably best represented in tropical America and tropical Africa. There are about 25 genera occurring in the U.S., particularly in the Southeastern U.S.
Characteristics that can be used for first-encounter recognition.
The family generally consists of herbs and shrubs, though trees and a few cactus-like plants exist in the family.
Members of the family generally have a milky sap that is often sticky and frequently referred to as “milky latex”.1
The flowers are often highly reduced, with the female portion of the flower made up of three carpels.2
The seeds are often mottled with a small outgrowth known as the caruncle near the attachment point of the seed (carunculate seeds).
The family can more or less be broken into two groups. Following the system of Smith, I’ll call them the “Euphorbia type” and “Non-euphorbia type.”
Characteristics of the Euphorbia type
Flowers are unisexual and both male and female flowers are on stalks (floral stems). The individual flowers are borne in a complex, highly reduced inflorescence known as the cyathium, which usually contains several, sometimes many, staminate (male) flowers, and a single pistillate (female) flower. The staminate flowers have no calyx, no petals and are reduced to a single stamen. The pistillate flowers also have no calyx or petals and consist of a three-chambered ovary and a pistil that usually splits into three major parts indicating the three-parted nature of the female flower involved. The styles are often deeply cleft into two lobes, the cleft usually originating at the unattached end. The ovary is in the superior position. Each of the three cavities of the ovary (locules) contains a seed which is often mottled and has a small structure called a caruncle attached to it at the point of attachment to the plant.
The individual flowers are borne in structures that closely resemble what most of us would think of as an individual flower. Each such assemblage (called a cyathium pl. cyathia) is composed of the individual flowers just described, a cup-shaped involucre3 and 1 to 5 petal-like structures around the margin that make the assemblage look like a normal small flower. The plants when injured produce a poisonous irritating milky juice.
Characteristics of the non-Euphorbia type
The individual species are either monoecious4 or dioecious. The flowers are unisexual and usually radially symmetrical. In the staminate (male) flowers the calyx can be missing or be 5-parted (5-merous), the corolla (all the petals taken together) is missing, and there are usually 5 or 10, but sometimes up to 1000 free or variously united stamens. The pistillate flowers (female flowers) can be with or without a calyx, the corolla (ring of petals) can contain 5 petals or be nonexistent. There are no functional stamens, but there may sometimes be staminodia5. The superior ovary usually has three locules6 (but rarely 2 or 4). There is a caruncle7 (rarely two) near the attachment point of the often mottled seed, but unless you become truly dedicated to finding this structure you won’t see it. The styles are often two-lobed (split).
Most members of the family are poisonous and should be handled carefully. Avoid contact with the milky sap. The eyes and lining of the mouth and throat can become badly inflamed and swollen through contact.
Some of the more important members of the Euphorbiaceae include:
Aleurites Fordii, the most important source of tung-oil used in paints and fast drying varnishes.
Bischofia javanica, an important timber tree of tropical Asia
Croton lacciferus, a host plant of lac-producing insects important to the varnish industry.
Euphorbia pulcherrima, the poinsettia we all enjoy at Christmas.
Hevea brasiliensis, the best and most important of the natural rubber trees.
Manihot esculenta, one of the most important tropical root crops yielding tapioca, cassava, starch and other food products. The plant’s toxic chemicals must be degraded during the cooking process to make these products edible.
Ricinus communis, castor bean used for the production of castor oil that is used medicinally as well as for the production of soaps, paints and varnishes.
Triadica sebiferum (Sapium sebiferum), Chinese tallow tree, which while grown largely as a fast growing ornamental, is also is a very good producer of what Pellett described as an amber colored, mild though excellent flavored honey that is produced in parts of the southern U.S.
In addition, there are numerous species of the family that are planted for their ornamental value.
Snow on the mountain, spurge, ghost weed
Scientific name: Euphorbia marginata
Synonyms: Dichrophyllum marginata, Lepadena marginata
Origin: North America, probably not into Canada, but quite possibly into Mexico.
Plant description: Euphorbia marginata is an annual with erect stems that usually falls within a height range of 30 to 80 cm (~11.8 to 31.5 in), but occasionally reaches heights of 4 ft (~122 cm) and is usually softly villous8 especially above, but occasionally can be glabrate.9
The sessile (stemless) leaves are arranged alternately on the stem and range from broadly ovate10 to elliptic through obovate to oblong with lengths between 2.5 to 10 cm (~1.6 to 3.9 in). Those within the inflorescence (perhaps better referred to as bracts) are generally smaller than the stem leaves and are frequently bordered in white and sometimes are totally white. Occasionally the white coloration is replaced by a pinkish hue. Notice the leaves in the margin of the page. They can be used for relative size and shape comparisons. The white bordered leaves occur only in the flowering area of the plant. These can best be seen in the Euphorbia marginata floral photo.
The inflorescence is an umbel-like11, 3 or 4-branched assembly which contains what looks to us non-botanists as clusters of several small flowers with white petals. These are not the actual flowers at all; the actual flowers are located in the center of the white petal-like structures, and the whole structure is called a cyathium (pl: cyathia). Each cyathium is surrounded by a cup-like, 5-lobed, deeply cut involucre that is unevenly fringed with hair-like structures. It contains a single female flower consisting of little more than a complete pistil (ovary, style and stigma) and numerous (35 to 60) male flowers that consist of little more than a single stamen. The white petal-like structures situated around the top of the cyathium each have a darker glandular structure at their base that John Lovell seemed to think of as nectaries.
The fruits are 3-lobed and 6 to7 mm (~0.23 to 0.27 inch) thick. The seeds are ovoid, about 4 mm (~0.16 in) long and frequently bear a net-like pattern.[5, 7 & 10]
Distribution: McGregor indicates in the Great Plains the species ranges from being infrequent to locally abundant and has a preference for calcareous soils of prairies, roadsides, pastures and waste places. It is relatively infrequent in the northern and southeastern portion of the Great Plains. The plant is sometimes grown as an ornamental and often escapes from cultivation.
Blooming period: Sanborn and Scholl provide a blooming date range for TX of June, October. McGregor provides it for the Great Plains as June-October.
Importance as a honey plant: Oertel from his questionnaires apparently did not find the species to be an important honey plant anywhere in the US. Ayers and Harman from their questionnaires found the species to be of some importance in OK.
Pellett stated that the plant is probably nowhere important as a honey plant, but is of special interest because the nectar is often reported to be poisonous. Pellett, apparently citing a 1921 article in the Beekeepers Item by a Miss A. M. Hasslbauer of the Beaumont District of TX (near both the Gulf of Mexico and the LA border), gives the plant credit for producing 10 to 15 lbs (~4.5 to 6.8 kg) of surplus honey on certain years. John Lovell, also indicates that the species is at times credited with producing 15 lbs of surplus and adds that the main interest in the honey is because it has been reported to be poisonous. Sanborn and Scholl indicate in Texas that the “honey yield (is) of no importance”. (See comments about poisonous honey under Honey below.)
Honey potential: As indicated above under ‘Importance as a honey plant’ the plants within a local area may produce as much as 15 lbs (~6.8 kg) per hive during some years.
Honey: Harvey Lovell states that the species is particularly common in TX where it produces an amber honey with a “rank, peppery taste”, which Howard Weaver claimed will burn your throat for an hour after eating it. Again, citing the Hasslbauer writing, Pellett relays the information that “the honey is very dark amber with a peculiar but not unpleasant taste.” Citing H. B. Parks, apparently from a personal communication, Pellett claims the honey is a dark red and strong flavored and that the new honey in the combs appears to be dark red. Parks apparently ridiculed the notion that the honey is poisonous. A search of the book, Honey—A Comprehensive Survey, edited by Eva Crane provided no indication that Euphorbia marginata produces a toxic honey. It did, however, indicate that some members of the Euphorbiaceae from South Africa produce a honey that causes a strong burning sensation in the throat. Atkins, however, lists Euphorbia marginata as being, or suspected as being, poisonous to bees. I conclude that if this is actually the case, the toxic substance or substances could be passed on in the honey.
Pollen: According to Pammel and King the species is “freely visited by bees”. They, however, provide only one citing, when in the Shenandoah area (southwestern IA) on August 27, 1928 the bees were gathering pollen and spent between 1 and 2 seconds on a flower.
Additional information: Ramsay writes that some authors report that Euphorbia marginata is toxic to bees. It seems to be well known that the white milky latex that flows from newly injured plants can be very corrosive to the skin and may cause severe burns or dermatitis.[5 & 7]
Leafy spurge, Spurge, wolf’s milk
Scientific name: Euphorbia esula
Synonyms: Tithymalus esula, Galarhoeus esula, Euphorbia intercedens, Euphorbia podperae, Euphorbia virgata.
Origin: Eurasia[5 & 10]
Plant description: Euphorbia esula is a strongly–rooted, vigorously colonial, herbaceous perennial that comes from a many budded rhizomatous12 root system.
It is a glabrous erect species which is frequently largely unbranched below the main inflorescence and usually falls within the height range of 30 to 70 cm (~12 to 28 in), but at times can reach 3 ft (~91 cm). The entire inflorescence is frequently made up of a few alternate flowering branches located below a more compact upper portion which more or less has the form of an umbel.
The leaves are pale green or at least not dark green. The stem leaves vary from long and narrow with parallel sides (linear) to being narrow and long with the widest point coming before the midpoint (lance-linear) to roughly the same shape with the widest point coming after the midpoint ( narrowly oblanceolate). The unattached leaf end ranges between obtuse, (blunt and rounded coming together at >90o) to a sharp point (mucronate). They are usually 3 to 8 cm (~1.2 to 3.1 in) long and 3 to 8 mm (~0.12 to 0.32 in) wide and have essentially one major central vein with the lateral veins being nearly obscure. There are usually 7 to 15 branches (often called rays) in the primary umbel.
The leaves just beneath the major part of the inflorescence can be shorter and broader than those further down on the stem and can be lanceolate to ovate while those in the umbel are broadly cordate13 or reniform14, and are placed opposite each other on the stem. You may not initially think of them as leaves.
The cyathia are in umbel-like cymes.15 The involucral bracts are reniform (kidney-shaped), sessile, entire (not toothed or divided), and the yellow green glands range from being strongly 2-horned to only strongly notched.
The fruits are 3 to 4 mm (~0.12 to 0.16 in) long and finely granular. The seeds are elliptic in long section and circular in cross section (ellipsoid) and 2 to 3 mm (~0.08 to 0.2 in) long.[5, 7 & 10]
Distribution: Wilson et al state that the species is found scattered over CO in cultivated areas between 5000 to 6500 feet (~1524 to 1981 m). McGregor indicates in the Great Plains, the plant is found in a variety of soils in fields, roadsides, stream valleys, open woodlands and waste places.
Blooming period: Wilson et al provide a blooming date range during 1955 for the Fort Collins, CO area as May and June. Gleason and Cronquist writing about the Northeastern U.S. and adjoining Southern Canada, indicate the blooming period is summer. McGregor, writing about the flora of the Great Plains, provides a blooming range of May to September.
Importance as a honey plant: Apparently none of Oertel’s respondents mentioned the species or at least I don’t find it in his classic 1939 Honey and Pollen Plants of the United States. Ayers and Harman, from their questionnaires found the species to be important in CO, ND, NE, and OK. Pellett, referencing a beekeeper from Manitoba, indicates that it was becoming an important weed in Manitoba and was a favorite with bees which seemed to prefer it to “any other bloom”. Wilson et al found the species to be quite popular with the bees in CO. Small amounts of nectar could be seen in the floral parts with the naked eye. In their study the flowers appeared at a good time when a source of nectar was needed for spring buildup. Harvey Lovell tells of a Montana beekeeper who obtained 50 to 100 lbs of poor quality honey from spurge. Presumably the spurge under discussion was E. esula since it is mentioned under that heading. Lovell also claims that it is important in Manitoba. Interestingly, Ramsay in her Plants for Beekeeping in Canada and Northern USA seems to make no mention of the species. Howes who wrote about his observations of bees foraging many European species at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England as well as other locations in Europe, had this to say about the spurges, “The greenish-yellow flowers of the spurges (particularly E. esula) are sometimes visited by bees for nectar, but on the whole do not offer much attraction and are generally neglected when other plants are available”.
Honey potential: As mentioned above Harvey Lovell indicates that a Montana beekeeper produced 50 to 100 lbs of honey (presumably per colony) from the species.
Honey: The Montana beekeeper who described his yields to H. Lovell describes the honey as being amber, of poor quality, with a strong flavor.
Pollen: If bees work the species in earnest as indicated by Wilson et al,they will probably bring back leafy spurge pollen to the hives as well. Howes reports, without identifying the actual species, that, “Bees collecting nectar and pollen from spurges at Kew have been observed with dark brown pollen loads.”
Additional information: The species is a troublesome weed, particularly on well drained soils.
For readers interested in evolutionary questions, the Euphorbiaceae poses some interesting questions. There apparently are currently no known members of the family that produce truly perfect flowers. From what we can piece together from fossil evidence, etc, it would be a good bet that the progenitors of the family produced incomplete flowers (only one sex). One of the interesting questions then becomes, what were the driving forces that caused the evolutionary placement of actual male flowers into essentially female flowers? The cyathium of Euphorbia marginata with its false petals and the production of nectar by many of the members of the family, suggest that insects, maybe even bees, were somehow involved in the family’s evolution.
Acknowledgements: The author is indebted to the Michigan State University Herbarium for the privilege of studying the specimens of the two species included in this writing as well as the use of its library facilities. He is also much indebted to Alan Prather for our discussions about the morphology and likely evolution of the Euphorbiaceae. They greatly benefitted the author’s understanding of the family and the writing of this material.
1. Atkin, L. E. 1992. Injury to honey bees by poisoning. In: The Hive and the Honey Bee. (J. M. Graham Ed.) Dadant & Sons. Hamilton, IL.
2. Ayers, G. S. and J. R. Harman. 1992. Bee Forage of North America and the Potential for Planting for Bees. In: The Hive and the Honey Bee (J. M. Graham, Ed.), Dadant and Sons. Hamilton, IL.
3. Baumgardt, J. P. 1982. How to Identify Flowering Plant Families. A Practical Guide for Horticulturists and Plant Lovers. Timber Press Inc. Portland OR.
4. Crane, E. 1975. Honey--A Comprehensive Survey. Crane, Russak & Company. New York, NY.
5. Gleason, H. A. and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States (Second Edition). The New York Botanical Garden Press. Bronx, NY.
6. Howes, E. N. 1979. Plants and Beekeeping. Faber and Faber. London
7. Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium Staff. 1976. Hortus Third. A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the United States and Canada. Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc. New York.
8. Lovell, H. B. 1966. Honey Plants Manual. A Practical Field Handbook for Identifying Honey Flora. A. I. Root Co. Medina, OH.
9. Lovell, J. H. 1926. Honey Plants of North America. The A. I. Root Co. Medina OH.
10. McGregor, R. L. 1986. 88. Euphorbiaceae Juss., the Spurge Family. In: Flora of the Great Plains. (T. M. Barkley, Ed.) University Press of Kansas. Lawrence, KS.
11. Oertel, E. 1939. Honey and Pollen Plants of the United States. U.S.D.A. Circular 554. U. S. Government Printing Office. Washington D. C.
12. Pammel, L. H. and C. M. King. 1930. Honey Plants of Iowa. Iowa Geographical Survey Bulletin No. 7. Iowa Geological Survey State of Iowa. DesMoines, IA.
13. Pellett, F. C. 1978. American Honey Plants. Dadant and Sons, Hamilton, IL.
14. Ramsay, M. C. 1987. Plants for Beekeeping in Canada and the Northern USA. International Bee Research Association. London.
15. Sanborn, C. E. and E. E. Scholl. 1908. Texas Honey Plants. Texas Agricultural Experiment Stations, College Station, TX.
16. Smith, J. P. 1977. Vascular Plant Families. An Introduction to Vascular Plants Native to North America and Selected Families of Ornamental or Economic Importance. Mad River Press, INC. Eureka, CA.
17. USDA, NRCS. 2012. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.
usda.gov, 1 September 2012). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
18. Wilson, W. T., J. O. Moffett and H. D. Harrington. 1958. Nectar and Pollen Plants of Colorado. Bulletin 503S, Colorado State University Experiment Station. Fort Collins, CO.
The Other Side of Beekeeping - January 2013
Three Historically Important California Sages
Introduction: This column deals with three historically important members of the mint family (Lamiaceae), black, purple, and white sage. I found considerable differences in the historical literature concerning relative importance, blooming dates, geographical distribution, and even honey quality. The reader will find indications of these discrepancies in this writing. In general, relative importance in decreasing order, and time of bloom, follow the sequence black, purple and white. For geographical distribution, I have relied heavily on the relatively modern texts California Flora by Munz and the 1993 version of The Jepson Manual. For overall time of bloom, the work by Munz, as well as other overall times of bloom provided by the beekeeping literature were used. Both the Munz data and that found in The Jepson Manual would rely heavily on herbarium specimens and records.
black sage, ball sage, button sage, blue sageScientific name: Salvia mellifera1
Synonyms: The USDA Plants Data Base doesn’t list any synonyms, but Richter seems to recognize the name Audibertia stachyoides as a synonym during his day (1911), and the USDA data base lists Audibertia as a genus synonym under several Salvia species.
Origin: California, and probably south into Baja California (the mountainous peninsula in Northwestern Mexico).
Plant description: Salvia mellifera is generally a shrub, sometimes growing to 7 ft (2.1 m), but usually is in the 1 to 2 meters (3.1 to 6.6 ft) height range. It can also rarely take a prostrate form. The stems are often glandular pubescent2, the hairs simple with some being glandular.
The leaves are oblong-elliptic to obovate3 with very small rounded teeth around the margin (crenulate) and are usually between 0.75 to 2.5 inches (1.9 to 6.4 cm) long. The upper surface is more or less hairless, green and puckered (rugose), the under surface is covered with soft white tangled or matted soft wooly hairs (tomentose).
The inflorescence consists of interrupted (not continuous) spiked4 clusters 1.6 to 4 cm (0.62 to 1.6 inch) wide. The lavender–pale blue, rarely rose, corolla5 is about 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) long with the corolla tube being about 5.5 to 9 mm (0.22 to 0.35 inches). As the flowers age, they turn blackish, but do not fall from the plant. This, and the dark green coloration of the upper surface of the leaves are the reasons for the common name, black sage. When patches of blooming black and purple sage (S. leucophylla) are viewed on a hillside at a distance, the one patch looks dark and blackish, the other purple. The upper lip is 2-lobed and the stamens and style protrude slightly beyond the petals. The fruits are generally brown, 2 to 3 mm (0.08 to 0.12 inch) small nutlets6[1, 7, &9]
Distribution: The USDA website map indicates that California is the only state in which it is sufficiently common to have been entered into website’s database. The species is also found in Northern Baja California.
In the Jepson Manual, the species is considered common and is found in the Coastal-sage scrub, lower chaparral at 0 to 1200m (0 to 3937ft.), Central Western California , Southwestern California, and Northern Baja California.
John Lovell indicates that while white sage grows on the mesa lands, both the black and purple sages are abundant on the foothills and sunny slopes of canyons.
Blooming period: Of the three sages (black, purple and white), black sage is the first to bloom, although there is a considerable overlap between the three species. Richter provides the following blooming date ranges for black sage: Mt. Diablo, Los Trampas Ridge, near Hayward, San Mateo Co., Glenwood and Loma Prieta, southward to southern California: April to May; Coast ranges and ascending to 5000 ft in the San Bernardino mountains: March to June; San Diego County: February to May. J. Lovell gives a comprehensive blooming period of the middle of March or first of April until about the first of July. Both the Vansell and Vansell and Eckert bulletins, in their summary tables, provide a blooming date range of April to June. The Jepson Manual provides a blooming date range of March to June.
Importance as a honey plant: Richter writing about California honey plants states, “This is the best honey producer on the coast, the flow being dependent upon winter rains with a warm spring quite free from cold winds and fog. When in bloom a certain amount of warm weather is required before it will produce nectar. As a general rule, every fifth year an excellent crop is obtained, and every third or fourth year a total failure is experienced. That which is commonly known as “California white sage honey” throughout the United States and Europe is not from the white sage, but the black sage.” Note that things may have changed somewhat since this was written (1911). Richter also comments that the sage worm7, during cloudy weather, becomes sufficiently abundant to destroy much of the bloom. He also comments that dodder and a rust (Puccinia sp.) also do damage in certain areas. Vansell and Vansell and Eckert[17 &18] also mention the detrimental nature of the sage worm in their general discussion of California sages.
J.E. Pleasants in his column ‘California Beekeeping’ states, “The black sage is king of them all. When climatic conditions are favorable I think black sage can be relied upon to produce more “gilt-edge” than any other plant in the West, and for body and flavor it is hard to excel. It blooms for weeks. The blossom is small and inconspicuous, but what a flow of nectar it can yield!”
Pellett generally credits black sage honey as being the principal source of sage honey and comments that most of the honey going to market under the name of white sage honey is actually produced by the black sage. He also was of the opinion that “Quite probably it is the best honey plant on the Pacific Coast.”
J. Lovell states, “The three sages most valuable as honey plants in California are the black, white and purple sages.” He also indicates that the black sage does not yield nectar freely unless there has been sufficient rainfall during the winter and is followed by a clear warm spring. At least in Lovell’s time, the rainfall varied greatly from year to year. He cites 1882 with 2.94 inches and 1905 with 22.12 inches with the average being about 12 inches. Lovell goes on to say that “Although the plants are well adapted to live in semi-arid regions, if there is a drought they dry up and become valueless to the beekeeper”.
Both the 1931 and 1941 bulletins by Vansell and Vansell and Eckert[17&18] state that black sage yields best with copious rainfall after a drought and that it is one of the “chief” honey plants of the Pacific Coast, and it along with the other sages early in California honey production gave California its reputation for fine honey. In the summary table of the 1931 bulletin it is considered “Very important” as a honey source, while in the 1941 version it is considered a “major” source of honey.
Oertel from his questionnaires found black sage to be important in California.. Robinson and Oertel did not specify black sage in their table of important honey plants, but do include Salvia, which they list as being important in their Pacific region, which while undefined, presumably included California. In the text, however, they do include the three sages covered here (black, white and purple) that previous writers had considered to be the preeminent sages of California.
In a similar manner, Ayers and Harman from their questionnaires found the genus to be very important in their section III where the species grows. Their questionnaires upon which the table is based, however, did not identify specific salvias for consideration by respondents, and respondents did not mention it in the part of the questionnaire that provided space for them to add species that they thought were important honey and/or pollen producers, but were not represented in the main part of the questionnaire. Perhaps this is because there are many salvias growing in California8, most of which probably provide some good bee forage if growing in sufficient quantity. I can’t help wonder, however, if modern development hasn’t deteriorated the black sage habitat so that the species is not as important as it once was. Notice above, however, that the Jepson Manual printed in 1993 still considered the species to be common. See also ‘Additional information’ under white sage below.
Honey potential: John Lovell cites a 1920 black sage honey flow reported by a T. O. Andrews that occurred in Riverside County that was the best flow there in 25 years. Strong colonies averaged a production of over four pounds per day for 15 days.
Honey: Richter describes black sage honey as being water white, of heavy body, especially north of San Luis Obispo, that it has a rich delicious flavor, and does not granulate. He then adds after a semicolon “moderate amount of yellow pollen” which I interpret as the pollen being in the honey, but also see comments under pollen below.
Both the 1931 and 1941 bulletins by Vansell and Vansell and Eckert[17&18] say that the honey is of the non-granulating type and in their summary tables indicate that it is water-white.
Harvey Lovell says the honey “does not granulate”, that it is water-white, and has a mild flavor and is among the most famous of the western honeys.
Pollen: Vansell and Eckert indicate that bees working sages for nectar become covered, especially anteriorly, with a conspicuous bluish white pollen, making them conspicuous among the other returning bees, and are called “sage-heads’ by beekeepers. They also indicate in their summary table that black sage is an “import” source of pollen.
Additional information: The Jepson Manual indicates that the species has horticultural merit, but requires excellent drainage, moderate summer watering and does best in full sun. Cultivars are available in the trade that provide good groundcover and can serve as a stabilizer for restoring degraded areas.
Purple sage, San Luis purple sage, white leaved sage, silver sageScientific name: Salvia leucophylla
Origin: North America, in the California area and probably also south into Baja California.
Plant description: Salvia leucophylla is generally a much-branched, grayish-white, tomentose9 shrub that can range between being prostrate to erect and generally is less than 1.5 m (4.9 ft) in height. The leaves are generally oblong lanceolate10, between 2 to 8 cm (0.79 to 3.1 inches) long, but sometimes are somewhat truncated to a more cordate shape. The leaf edges exhibit small teeth and are sometimes rolled under. The flowers are arranged in clusters 1.5 to 4 cm (0. 59 to 1.6 inch) wide. The rose-lavender corolla is about 2 cm (0.79 inch) long, with the corolla tube being about 6 to 13 mm (0.24 to 0.51 inch) long with the upper lip about 6 to 8 mm (0.24 to 0.32 inch) long, and the lower lip slightly shorter. The fruit is a 2 to 3 mm (0.08 to 0.12 inch) brown or dark gray nutlet.
Distribution: The Jepson Manual indicates the species is found primarily on dry open hills from 50 to 800 m (164-2625 ft). Geographically this includes the Outer South Coastal Ranges, the South Coast, the Western Transverse Ranges, the San Gabriel Mountains and southward into Baja, CA. Both the 1931 Vansell, and 1941 Vansell and Eckert[17 &18] bulletins suggest that the species is of more limited distribution than black sage, being distributed up to only 1500 ft (457 m). The difference in reported elevation may result from a better, more complete survey in The Jepson Manual than was available in 1931 and 1941, or the Vansell and Vansell and Eckert bulletins[17 & 18] may reflect only plant populations they considered capable of supporting honey production.
Blooming period: Purple sage is generally considered to start blooming after back sage has begun to bloom, but there is usually overlap in the two blooming periods. There is some variability concerning the blooming date of the species, probably because it is found at different elevations and, therefore, in different temperature regimes. Richter states that depending on location, it blooms April to July. Munz sets the time of bloom as May to July. In their summary tables Vansell and Vansell and Eckert[17& 18] indicate May to June.
Importance as a honey plant: Certainly at one time purple sage provided one of the premier California honeys, perhaps only second to that of black sage, but all three of the sages covered here may not be as important as they once were. See the closing statements under ADITTIONAL INFORMATION for white sage. Richter states that the species is not as abundant as black or white sage, “but (is) a splendid (nectar) yielder.” Both the Vansell and Vansell and Eckert bulletins in their summary table considers the plant to be “very important” for honey production.
Honey potential: In addition to the statement about honey quality found below under HONEY, Professor Cook also stated that “the quantity is often phenomenal.” According to him, this comes from the fact that the flowers are borne in long racemes or compact heads, and since the separate flowers do not bloom all at once, but in a succession, the plants are in bloom for weeks. He considered the three sages in general (black, purple and white) to be “marvelous honey-producers”, first, because of the generous secretions of each flower, and second, because of the immense number of these flowers and their long period of bloom.
Honey: Richter has this to say about honey quality from purple sage, “Honey water-white, unexcelled for flavor; of heavy body and does not granulate” also “a splendid yielder and the finest flavored of the sage honey(s)”. Professor A. J. Cook made the following statement about the quality of California sages in general which would include the purple sage. “Chief among the honey-bearing mints are the incomparable sages of California. These are not excelled even by the clovers or linden. The honey is white, delicate of flavor and must even rank among the very best in appearance and quality.” John Lovell states that the honey is water-white, and does not granulate readily and “its flavor is considered a little superior to that of the other sage honey.” The summary tables of the Vansell and Vansell and Eckert bulletins[17 & 18] also claims the honey is water-white.
Pollen: The Vansell and Eckert bulletin[17&18] considers the species to be “important” as a pollen source.
Additional information: The Jepson Manual includes the species among those that have horticultural merit. The accompanying photos, kindly provided by Las Pilitas Nursery, clearly substantiate that this is so. The species does best in a more or less sunny situation and requires very good drainage. In some locations it will benefit from moderate summer irrigation. Horticultural varieties are available in the plant trade, and the species provides a good ground cover and stabilizer.
White Salvia, white sage, greasewoodScientific name: Salvia apiana
Origin: Southern California, and probably Northern Baja California.
Plant description: Salvia apiana is a perennial shrub/subshrub, usually in the range of 1 to 2 m (3.3 to 6.6 ft) tall. The current year’s growth is generally upright, and occasionally the plant can grow to nearly 3m (9.8 ft). The species tends to have its leaves basally distributed (clustered low on the branches) with the flowers above.
The 3 to 9 cm (1.2 to 3.5 inch) long leaves are generally an elongated lanceolate shape with minutely rounded teeth around the leaf edge (crenulate) and are covered with simple (not branching) dense white hairs that are appressed to the leaf surfaces giving the leaves a whitish appearance.
The entire inflorescence is frequently 50 to 150 cm (19.7 to 59 inches) long and is made up of interrupted (not continuous) clusters of relatively few flowers (compared to some of the other mints). The individual flowers are arranged on more or less spike-like11 structures, these in more or less raceme-like12, interrupted panicles13. The entire structure is sometimes described as a loose panicle. The Calyx14 is 8 to 10 mm (0.32 to 0.39 inches) long. The entire corolla is 12 to 22 mm (0.47 to 0.87 inches) long, and is mostly white, often with some light, lavender coloration especially in the upper lip. The upper lip ranges in length from 1.5 to 2 mm (0.06 to 0.08 inches). The lower lip is abruptly bent upward so it obstructs the view of the tubal opening. Two prominent California plant manuals[1 & 10] provide quite different lengths for this structure [4 to 5 mm (0.16 to 0.2 inch) or 8 to 18 mm (0.32 to 0.71 inch]. I suspect this is a matter of what is interpreted as the lower lip. Both the stamens and the pistil extend beyond the petals (exerted). According to John Lovell, it is the basically white flowers that give the plant its common name, white sage. The light brown and shiny fruit is a keeled nutlet 2.5 to 3 mm (0.1 to 0.12 inch) long.
Both the Vansell and Vansell and Eckert bulletins[17& 18] indicate that the structure of white sage blossom gives the bees some difficulty in securing nectar until a quantity of nectar has been secreted. I assume the structure of the lower lip is at least partly responsible for this.
Distribution: The USDA Plants Website indicates California is the only state for which the website has records of the occurrence of Salvia apiana. In general the species is distributed from San Luis Obispo County southward into Baja California. Its US eastern boundary is the western edge of the desert.
The Jepson Manual provides the information that its ecological distribution is generally at less than 1500 m, (5921 ft) on dry slopes of the coastal-sage scrub, chaparral15, and yellow-pine forest areas. Its geographical distribution is along the South Coast, the Transverse Ranges, the Peninsular Ranges, and western edge of the Desert and southward into Baja California. Concerning the upper elevation at which this shrub is found, P. C. Chadwick writing nearly a hundred years ago (1914) provides an interesting/insightful view resulting from an excursion he, his son, daughter, and daughter’s friend made into the San Bernardino mountains, at a time before the paved roads of today had been cut into the mountains, to study at which altitudes different bee forages extended. They found white sage and wild buckwheat, probably Eriogonum fasciculatum, growing at nearly 7000 ft (2134 m) but no higher. Both the Vansell and the Vansell and Eckert bulletins[17 & 18] state that San Diego Co. is the chief source of white sage honey, which they report as occurring up to 2500 ft (762 m). John Lovell (1926) writes, “On the dry plains or mesa lands and foothills of southern California there are thousands of acres of this beautiful shrub, and one may ride through avenues of it for miles. One range is described as a mile wide and two miles long, consisting of practically unbroken white sage.”
Blooming period: There seems to be a considerable amount of variation in the blooming date range of white sage. In part this is because it grows at different elevations and would likely bloom later at higher, cooler elevations than at lower, warmer elevations.
Richter states that the species is very common in dry plains toward the foothills where it ascends to about 3000 ft (914 m) and blooms April to July He also claims that it is common in the Santa Barbara area and southward where it blooms May to August.
According to John Lovell, white sage is the last of the three major honey-producing sages to bloom, but says there is considerable overlap between the three species. He provides a blooming date range for white sage as starting the latter part of May and lasting for 6 to 8 weeks. Munz provides an overall blooming date range of April to May.
Honey potential: Among the three major California honey-producing sages, white sage seems to rank third for most, perhaps all, characteristics that are desirable for a honey plant (see also HONEY below). J. P. Pleasants of Orange, California (about 27 miles south and a little east of Los Angeles), after describing the honey producing virtues of black sage, comments that while white sage is in a number of ways a nicer-prettier plant than black sage, adds, “This queenly plant is much more inconsistent than its plainer sister. Some years it produces a good harvest, others very light.”
John Lovell states that the white sage secretes much less nectar than does either the black or purple sage, and where both the black sage and white sage are common, the black sage produces ten pounds of honey for every pound produced by white sage.
H. Lovell, however, states that white sage can yield from 90 to 120 lbs in a good season. Most of the literature seems to indicate that this would have to be a very exceptional season!
Honey: There seems to be some difference of opinion about the qualities of white sage honey. Some references indicate that there is a general feeling that the honeys from different sages are much the same, as exemplified by the following quote from Prof. A. J. Cook, “I think the honey from all the sages is so much alike that it would be indistinguishable.” This is opposed to the following passage in John Lovell’s Honey Plants of North America attributed to M. H. Mendleson (no reference given). “The white sage can seldom be depended upon for a crop, and the honey is inferior to the flavor of that stored from the other two species. The white sage honey invariably granulates while the black and purple, when well ripened and gathered in the interior, remain liquid; but on the coast they invariably candy.” Richter, comparing the purple sage with the black sage, seems to somewhat agree, stating the white sage is “not as good a yielder nor has the honey as fine a flavor.”
Pollen: Vansell and Eckert, in their summary table consider white sage to be an important source of pollen.
Additional information: While, of the three major important Salvia honey plants of California, the white sage ranks third in importance, sometimes a distant third, it does have a number of desirable ornamental landscaping characteristics. Pleasants has this to say about it when comparing it to black sage, “The white sage is a much prettier plant. Its soft gray leaves and tall blossom spikes make it quite showy; while its pleasing aromatic odor breathes the essence of wild perfumes.”
The Jepson Manual also indicates that it has horticultural merit, but requires excellent drainage, is intolerant of frequent summer watering, does best in full sun and is good for restoring and stabilizing degraded areas.
P. C. Chadwick in 1911 wrote a short article under his ‘Bee-Keeping in California’ column entitled ‘Sage Ranges Doomed’ in which he predicted that in 30 years the sage ranges would “be almost a thing of the past.” He felt this would happen for several reasons including: an influx of those seeking refuge from the less desirable climate of the East and North, new crops and livestock being raised on the hillsides then occupied by sage, and stresses to the natural water supply. If Mr. Chadwick were alive today, I can’t help wonder what he would be thinking!
The author is indebted to the Michigan State University Herbarium for providing the opportunity to study the variation within the three species covered in this article and also for permission to photograph some of this material. He is particularly indebted to Dr. Alan Prather for conversations concerning the floral anatomy of the group of plants covered here.
The author is also indebted to the Las Pilitas Nursery for providing the two photos of Salvia leucophylla used in this article.
1. Averett, D. E. and K. R. Neisess. 1993. Salvia. In: The Jepson Manual. Higher Plants of California. (Hickman, J. C. Editor) University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
2. Ayers, G. S. and J. R. Harman. 1992. Bee Forage of North America and the Potential for Planting for Bees. In: The Hive and the Honey Bee (J. M. Graham, Ed.), Dadant and Sons. Hamilton, IL.
3. Chadwick, P. C. December 15, 1911. Beekeeping in California; Sage ranges doomed. Gleanings in Bee Culture. 39:748.
4. Chadwick, P. C. February 15, 1914. Beekeeping in California; Bee-life in the San Bernardino Mountains. Gleanings in Bee Culture. 42:134-137.
5. Cook , A. J., 1905. Our country's undeveloped apiarian resources. American Bee Journal 45:541-542.
6. Cook, A. J. 1906. Mints as honey-plants--Moths. American Bee Journal 46:530-531.
7. Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium Staff. 1976. Hortus Third. A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the United States and Canada. Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc. New York.
8. Lovell, H. B. 1966. Honey Plants Manual. A Practical Field Handbook for Identifying Honey Flora. A. I. Root Co. Medina, OH.
9. Lovell. J. 1926. Honey Plants of North America. A. I. Root Co. Medina OH.
10.Munz, P. A. 1959. A California Flora. University of California Press. Berkeley.
11.Oertel, E. 1939. Honey and Pollen Plants of the United States. U.S.D.A. Circular 554. U. S. Government Printing Office. Washington D. C.
12.Pellett, F. C. 1978. American Honey Plants. Dadant and Sons, Hamilton, IL.
13.Pleasants, J. E. 1914. California Beekeeping--Some native honey plants of Southern California. American Bee Journal 54:192-193.
14.Richter, M. C. 1911. Honey Plants of California. University of California, Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 217. Berkeley, California.
15.Robinson, F. A. and E. Oertel. 1975. Sources of Nectar and Pollen. In: The Hive and the Honey Bee. (Dadant and Sons, Eds.) Dadant and Sons. Hamilton, IL.
16.USDA, NRCS. 2012. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 1 September 2012). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
17.Vansell, G. H. 1931. Nectar and Pollen Plants of California. University of California Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 517. Berkeley CA.
18.Vansell, G. H. and J. E. Eckert 1941. Nectar and Pollen Plants of California. University of California Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 517 (1941 Revision). Berkeley CA.
The Other Side of Beekeeping - December 2012
Some Honey Plants from the Brassicaceae (Mustard) Family
Gordon’s bladderpod, bladderpod mustard, bead-pod
Scientific name: Physaria gordonii1
Synonyms: Lesquerella gordonii
Origin: North America.
Plant description: Physaria gordonii exhibits a considerable amount of variability. Kearney and Peebles in their Arizona flora treat the species as an annual, while they consider other species of what they called Lesquerella growing in Arizona to be perennials. Barker in Flora of the Great Plains also lists Lesquerella gordonii as an annual, but the USDA Plants Website, lists it as an annual, biennial or perennial as does the Flora of North America under the name Physaria gordonii.
The species ranges in color from green and sparsely pubescent to densely silvery-canescent2. The lower branches tend to spread close to the ground, with the tips ascending. Upper branches are more ascending through their whole length. There is a considerable amount of variation in the height of the mature (blooming) plant. A few of the specimens in the Michigan State University Herbarium are no more than 6 inches (15.2 cm) tall, but were nevertheless blooming when collected. Barker, on the other hand, states an upper limit of 45 cm (17.7 inches). The basal leaves generally range from 1.5 to 5 cm (0.59 to 2 inch) in length and from 4 to 15 mm (0.16 to 0.59 inch) in width. The shape varies from elliptic to obovate3. Some texts include lyrate-pinnatifid4 as well. My examination of the considerable number of specimens in the Michigan State University Herbarium, which were collected by several collectors from several locations (including different states) suggests to me that lyrate-pinnatifid leaves are relatively uncommon. I found only one leaf in the whole collection that I might consider to be lyrate-pinnatifid. The three types of leaves that were the most common are pictured in the margin. The stem leaves generally range in length from 1 to 4 cm (0.39 to 1.57 inches) and from 1 to 10 mm (0.04 to 0.4 inches) in width. In shape they vary from linear to oblanceolate,5 and are often falcate and entire or with wavy edges, or are shallowly toothed with the teeth pointing outward, not forward (dentate). The upper leaves have no petiole6, the lower ones have a gradually narrowing to a slender stem. The four bright yellow to orange petals are widely spreading when fully open. The narrowed base of the petal at the point of attachment (claw) is sometimes whitish and the flowers themselves sometimes fade to a reddish color with age. They generally vary in length from 6 to 8 mm (0.24 to 0.38 inch). The fruits are nearly spherical and open longitudinally along more than one seam (capsules) and are about 4 to 8 mm (0.16 to 0.32 inch) long and about 4mm (0.16 inch) in diameter and can be smooth or pubescent. The capsule is tipped with a slender point. A herbarium specimen of a stem with early fruits is shown in the margin.[2, 9, 22 &27]
The Other Side of Beekeeping - November 2012
Family Vitaceae, the grape or vine family
The Vitaceae is made up of 12 genera, 4 of which occur in the US, and about 700 species worldwide. The family is largely tropical or subtropical with relatively few members in the world’s temperate regions. Most of the family are vines that bear tendrils1 used for climbing. The vines of some end in discoid suckers that allow attachment to a substrate (trees, buildings fences etc.). The alternately placed leaves are simple or compound, and when simple they are often relatively large, palmately lobed, or veined. They frequently, but not always, are accompanied by stipules.2
The very small greenish flowers are usually arranged in many-branched cymes3 or in a paniculate inflorescence, which is usually displayed opposite a leaf. The display in the margin is a portion of an Ampelopsis brevipedunculata vine. Notice how the stems that once held the flowers and now hold the ripening fruits come off the vine opposite the leaves. The individual flowers can be either unisexual or bisexual and are radially symmetrical. The calyx is minute or truncated. The corolla usually consists of 4 or 5 lobes (rarely 3 or 7) that are inserted on the disk or on the marginal lobes of the disk. They can either be separated or united at their tips. The petals often fall very early, sometimes with the opening of the floral buds, and if the petals of the corolla are united they fall as a unit. There are four or five stamens (rarely 3 or 7) that are situated opposite the petals. The ovary is superior, usually with 2 locules4 (more rarely 3 to 6), each with two ovules and is below or partially enveloped by a glandular disk. The fruit is a berry.5
Key identifying characteristics include the reduced calyx, the early falling of the petals and the small free stamens placed opposite the petals. The early falling of the petals can be confusing because one might think of them as never having had petals (apetalous).
Grape, one of the family’s members, was one of the early plants used by man, providing both food and drink and later shade from an arbor or pergola when living became gracious. The woodbines, especially Boston-ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) and sometimes Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) adorn our buildings and gardens. Tender forms of the genus Cissus and related genera make good houseplants.[4, 8, 12 & 25]
Heartleaf peppervine, raccoon grape, muscatel
Scientific name: Ampelopsis cordata
Synonyms: Cissus ampelopsis
Origin: North America
Plant description: Ampelopsis cordata is a high climbing vine that is covered with lenticles6 and has few or no tendrils on the flowering branches. The leaves are glabrous (not hairy), or nearly so except near the attachment point of the long leaf stem. In shape they are deltoid-ovate7, 6 to 12 cm (2.4 to 4.7 inches) wide with serrate-dentate teeth8 with a few being occasional shallowly 3-lobed, and the leaf tip is acuminate9.
There are few if any tendrils on the flowering branches. The inflorescence is a long-stemmed, repeatedly forking glabrous (hairless) arrangement and arises opposite a leaf. The species has both functionally staminate and pistillate flowers.10 The staminate flowers have 5 minute calyx lobes, 5 egg-shaped (ovate) petals 2.5 mm (~0.1 inch) long, 5 stamens situated opposite the petals that are attached at the base of an irregular cup-shaped disk, and a vestigial pistil. The pistillate flowers have 5 calyx lobes to 0.2 mm (.08 inch) long, five greenish petals to 2.8 mm (0.11 inch) long, 5 vestigial stamens, an ovary about 8 mm (0.3 inch) long, which is half embedded in the cup-shaped disk. The style is about 1.8 mm (0.07 inch) long. The fruits are somewhat flattened spherical-shaped berries that become turquoise blue, contain 1 to 3 seeds and are 7 to 10 mm (0.28-0.39 inch) in diameter. The fruits are frequently confused with grapes, but are inedible.[10 & 16]
Distribution: In addition to what is suggested by the accompanying map, the species distribution extends into Mexico. In Central Illinois it is mainly a floodplain plant, but in the Ozarks, where it has a less limited distribution, it becomes almost weedy. In the Great Plains the species occurs on rocky wooded hillsides, stream valleys and fence rows. Harvey Lovell indicates that it grows in “low swampy ground”.
Blooming period: Gleason and Cronquist, covering the Northeastern United States, provide a blooming date of June, and McGregor who deals with the Great Plains, indicates that it blooms May to July.
Importance as a honey plant: There is not an abundance of information in the beekeeping literature concerning this species. Pellett mentions the species and claims that it “is the source of some honey in the Dadant Apiaries in mid-summer”. Under the synonym Cissus ampelopsis, Pammel and King record bees working the species “freely” on the campus of Iowa State University at Ames, IA on July 3 and 7, 1927, with the bees spending one to two seconds on a flower. Milum in his Illinois Honey and Pollen Plants places it in his tertiary or minor honey and pollen plants list, indicating that either the amount of nectar produced is small or the plant is not generally sufficiently abundant to be more important, but where growing in abundance the plant might well be listed in his secondary honey plant list. Ayers and Harman from their questionnaires were unable to distinguish between species within the genus, but report the genus to be of some importance in MS and LA and to be of considerable importance in AR. All of these areas are within the areas in which the species grows and may be part of the basis for these results.
Honey potential: Harvey Lovell in his Honey Plants Manual indicates that the species yields “considerable” amounts of honey in Arkansas and adjacent states.
Honey: Harvey Lovell claims that the honey is “light amber” (and), “well flavored”.
Pollen: Unknown, but the accompanying photo of the species suggests that the bees would likely collect pollen from the species.