The Other Side of Beekeeping archive

November 2014

 The Other Side of Beekeeping

No article this month.


October 2014


 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Some More Members of the Asteraceae


Butterweed, yellowtop, wild mustard

Scientific name: Packera glabella

Synonyms: Senecio glabellus, Senecio lobatus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prairie groundsel, prairie ragwort

Scientific name: Packera plattensis

Synonyms: Senecio plattensis, Senecio pseudotomentosus

Origin: Native to North America

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


September 2014

 The Other Side of Beekeeping

More Members of the Brassicaceae


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

Scientific name: Brassica juncea

Synonyms: Brassica integrifolia, Brassica japonica, Brassica willdenowii

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scientific name:
Stanleya pinnata

Synonyms: Stanleya bipinnata, Stanleya integrifolia, Cleome pinnata

Origin: Native to North America

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

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

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


 August 2014

 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Some More Members of the Brassicaceae

Mustards in General


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


July 2014

 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Some More Members of the Ericaceae


Pacific madrone, madrona, arbutus, arbute, arbousier

Scientific name: Arbutus menziesii

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting more down to earth, ....


June 2014


 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Family Betulaceae - The Birch Family


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

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

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

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

Scientific name:
Corylus avellana

Origin: Europe, western Asia and northern Africa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honey: See ‘Honey Potential’ above.

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

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

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

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


May 2014

 The Other Side of Beekeeping

Family Asclepiadaceae


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

Scientific name: Cynanchum laeve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 2014


 The Other Side of Beekeeping - Buckwheat


Buckwheat, brank, sarrasin, blé noir

Scientific name: Fagopyrum esculentum

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

Origin: Asia, quite possibly China[5]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Other Side of Beekeeping - March 2014


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

Scientific name: Thymus serpyllum See ‘Synonyms’ below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Other Side of Beekeeping - February 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

Snowdrop bush, California styrax, bitternut

Scientific name:
Styrax redivivus

Synonyms: Styrax officinalis var. californicus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 The Other Side of Beekeeping - January 2014


Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Scientific name:
Balsamorhiza sagittata

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Camphorweed, yellow flower, false goldenaster

Scientific Name: Heterotheca subaxillaris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Other Side of Beekeeping - December 2013


Rubber rabbitbush, Rayless goldenrod

Scientific name:
Ericameria nauseosa

Synonyms: Chrysothamnus nauseosus, Chrysothamnus frigidus

Origin: The species is native to Canada, the western U.S. and most likely parts of Mexico.

Plant description: Ericameria nauseosa is quite a variable species. The USDA Plants Website[15] lists 2 subspecies, which together are listed with 24 varieties. The Flora of North America, North of Mexico[16] describes the species as consisting of 21 varieties, each with a synopsis of how those entities were at various times described and named.
The species is a shrub generally within the height range of 10 to 250 cm (~3.9 to 98.4 in) tall. The stems can be erect, ascending or spreading and range in color from white to green. The branches tend to be clustered, parallel and erect, often giving a broom-like appearance (fastigate) and are generally tomentose1.
The leaves are filiform2 to narrowly oblanceolate3 and range in size from 10 to 70 mm (0.39 to 2.7 in) in length and 0.3 to 10 mm (~0.01 to 0.39 in) in width. Their surface is glabrous4 or tomentose and often gland-dotted, but then lacking well defined circular pits.
The floral heads are arranged in rounded to flat-topped groupings up to 12 cm (~4.7 in) wide, where the central or uppermost inflorescence units develop and mature before the peripheral and lower units.
The involucres5 are obconic6 to subcylindrical and 6 to 16 mm (~0.24 to 0.63 in) long and 2 to 4 mm (0.08 to 0.1 in) wide. The 10 to 31 phyllaries7 are arranged in 3 to 5 series, often in vertical rows, and are ovate8 to lanceolate, 1.5 to 14 mm (~0.06 to 0.55 in) long and 0.7 to 1.5 mm (~0.02 to 0.05 in) wide, and are often tan. There are no ray florets9. There are 4 to 6 disc florets (generally 5) with the corollas10 6 to 12 mm (~0.24 to 0.47 in).
The fruit is frequently called a cypsela, which is a generally elongated achene11 with a group of bristle-like structures (called the pappus) at the unattached end. It is generally tan, turbinate12 to cylindric or oblanceoloid and 3 to 8 mm (~0.12 to 0.32 in) long and can be hairless (glabrous) or hairy. The pappus is whitish and 3 to 13 mm (~0.11 to 0.51 in) long.[16]

Distribution: The distribution of the different varieties of Ericameria nauseosa is somewhat complex. In general the species seems to prefer relatively dry and sometimes alkaline habitats. It frequently is part of other plant communities such as open yellow pine, pinyon-juniper, Joshua tree, sagebrush and others, and it can be found growing at altitudes between 100 and 3000m (~ 328 to 9842 ft)[16]. Scullen and Vansell13[14] describe the species (under the synonym Chrysothamnus nauseosus) as being” abundant along the draws and in the lower ground, apparently requiring a little more moisture than the sagebrush” and that it is “much more tolerant of alkali”.

Blooming period: Richter[10] in writing about California honey plants, indicates that the species blooms in September and November. Harvey Lovell[4], apparently treating the genus as a whole (“at least 18 species”), indicates that it blooms in late summer throughout the western states. From what appears to be information from a correspondent from Independence, CA (Inyo Co.), John Lovell[5] indicates the species is fairly abundant in waste places and blooms in September and October with the bees working on the flowers until they fade. Scullen and Vansell under the synonym Chrysothamnus nauseosus indicate that the species blooms in eastern Oregon during August and into early September. The species is generally a late season bloomer. Of the 21 varieties listed in the Flora of North America: North of Mexico[16], 18 are listed as blooming late summer-fall, 2 as fall, and 1 as late summer.

Importance as a honey plant: The taxonomic treatment of this group of plants is to most of us bewilderingly complex. It is dominated by two genera (Chrysothamus and Ericameria), each with a number of species and varieties, with some of these groups being placed in both genera by different authors. As a result, the beekeeping literature is sometimes reluctant about providing a full species name (genus and species epithet). Some of this is reflected in the discussion that follows.
Richter[10] places the species in his list of California bee plants that he considered provided a honey surplus during an average season. Vansell[17] in his summarizing table, considered the species to be a “fairly important” source of honey. The 1941 version by Vansell and Eckert[18] indicate the same importance, but added a pollen source evaluation column to their summarizing table that indicates the species is an “important” source of pollen. Scullen and Vansell[14] indicate that Chrysothamnus nauseosus (a synonym for Ericameria nauseosa) is the most important species of the genus in eastern Oregon and give it credit for providing both nectar and pollen to honey bees.
Oertel[8] from his questionnaires found the species to be of some importance in AZ, and the genus to be of some importance in NM. Robinson and Oertel[11] found the genus to be of some importance in their Mountain (CO, ID, MO, NV UT WY) and Southwest (AZ, NM AND TX) sections of the U.S. They did not include it, however, in their discussion of the plants they considered to be of considerable importance. Ayers and Harman[1] from their questionnaire responses, treated the genus as a whole, indicate that the genus is of some importance in OR, ID, UT, CO, NM, NV, and of considerable importance in CA, AZ, and CO.

Honey: Richter[10], using a description apparently provided by a correspondent, indicates that honey bees work the plant vigorously, but the honey is dark, of poor flavor with a disagreeable odor. He continues, when the bees evaporate the nectar at night it can be “smelled all over the place”. Pellett[9] essentially paraphrases Richter.
John Lovell[5] characterizes the honey as dark and has so disagreeable an odor, and tastes so nauseous, that very few people will eat it and that many beekeepers remove their sections when the species begins to bloom.
Vansell[17] describes the honey as having a “very inferior quality”, being dark and of disagreeable taste and smell and that it is left in the hives for winter food. He adds that luckily it comes in after the better honeys from alfalfa, sweet clover and fireweed are harvested. Interestingly, the description by Vansell and Eckert[18] reads very much the same except that they describe the honey as light amber in color and the summarizing tables of both bulletins indicate that the color of the honey is light amber. Scullen and Vansell[14] under the synonym Chrysothamnus nauseosus describe the honey as amber with a strong flavor. Burgett et al.[2] provide the same description except they drop the strong flavor portion of the description and add that it crystallizes rapidly.
Harvey Lovell[4], apparently treating the genus as a whole, describes the honey as amber with a nauseating taste and disagreeable odor and is left for winter stores.
Nye[7], writing about Utah honey plants, writes about what he calls the “the true rabbitbush” but provides no scientific name14 and he does not include the plant in his summary table, the entries of which all contain at least a genus name. He indicates that the “honey is dark colored, strong flavored, and considered undesirable when mixed with alfalfa and clover honey.” He also provides the information that the plant continues to bloom, even after a moderate frost, a characteristic that others have noted about the species.

Pollen: In the same publication cited above, Nye[7] indicates that the pollen is orange.

Additional information: John Lovell indicates that after members of the genus bloom, the remaining inflorescence has a white tufted appearance and thus the name rabbitbush.
Pellett[9], in addition to paraphrasing Richter, writes about what he calls Chrysothamus lanceolatus . Assuming the taxonomic treatment was correct, it appears to me it is likely now called Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus subspecies lanceolatus. Pellett[pel] provided the following information from The Beekeepers Journal, December 1871 where it was said that the fragrance in the field was that of honey and was fed upon largely by bees. Because it withstood much frost, it provided an extra month of bee forage when apparently not much else was available. The honey and wax were described as being light straw color. This tends to substantiate my suspicion that other members of the genera Chrysothamnus and Ericamera, perhaps many, are also honey plants, perhaps important honey plants.

Broom snakeweed, brownweed, broomweed, matchweed, kindling wood matchweed, small rabbitbush

Scientific name: Gutierrezia sarothrae

Synonyms: Gutierrezia diversifolia, Gutierrezia lepidota, Gutierrezia linearifolia, Gutierrezia linearis, Gutierrezia linoides, Gutierrezia longipappa, Gutierrezia pomariensis, Gutierrezia tenuis, Solidago sarothrae, Xanthocephalum sarothrae

Origin: Native to both the Southwestern U.S., parts of Canada[6] and quite probably also into northern Mexico[3, 15].

Plant description: Gutierrezia sarothrae is a perennial species that appears in several forms. The USDA Plants Website[15] calls it a forb/herb, subshrub or shrub whereas the Flora of North America: North of Mexico[6] calls it a subshrub that is usually in the range of 10 to 60, rarely 100 cm (~3.9 to 23.6, rarely 39.4 in) tall, often with many slender minutely hispidulous15 stems.
The leaves near the base of the plant are absent by the time the plant flowers. The stem leaves have 1 or 3 veins, are linear16 to lanceolate, sometime filiform, and are 1.5 to 2, occasionally 3 mm (~0.06 to 0.08, occasionally 0.12 in) wide and are arranged in bundles (fascicles). The inflorescences are dense, flat-topped corymbiform17 structures generally about 0.25 inches (~0.64 cm) across that consist of occasionally 2, but usually 3 to 8 ray florets and occasionally 2, but usually 3-9 disc florets. The disc florets are usually bisexual (have both male and female parts), and fertile and only rarely staminate (male only). The ray florets are pistillate (female) and fertile and their corollas (the petals ) are yellow.
The involucres are cylindrical to cuneate-campanulate18 and 1.5 to 2, rarely 3 mm (~0.06 to 0.08 rarely 0.12 in) in diameter. The phyllary apices are flat.
The fruit is an achene that is densely covered with hairs that range from straight and stiff to long and silky. The pappus19 is made up of 1 or 2 series of scales20 that readily detach from the seed. The pappi of the ray florets are shorter than those of the disc florets.

Distribution: Wilson et al.[19], writing primarily about Colorado bee forage, indicate the plant inhabits dry plains and hills from Saskatchewan south to Texas and California, and in Colorado it is widely scattered between 4000 to 10000 ft (~1219 to 3,048 m). In Utah, Nye states the species is found in “dry plains” in all four regions into which he divides the state.

Blooming period: Wilson et al.[19], working in CO, indicate the study they made on the species was done September 5, 1956, and described the flowering season of the species as “Fall”. Nye[7] writing about Utah bee forage, provides a blooming period of July and August.

Importance as a honey plant: Oertel[8], from his questionnaires found the species to be of some importance in KS. Robinson and Oertel[11] cited the plant as being of some importance for providing nectar and pollen in their mountain, southwest and Pacific areas, which included the states (CO, ID, MT, NV), (AZ, NM, TX) and (CA, OR, WA), respectively. They did not, however, include the species in their discussion of what they apparently thought were very important bee plants. From their questionnaires, Ayers and Harman[1] found the species to be of some importance in CO, AZ, NV, ND, OK, TX, and AR. The distribution map provided by the USDA Plants Website[15] as well as that provided in the Flora of North America: North of Mexico suggests that the AR report was possibly the result of a misidentification. Wilson et al.[19] describe snakeweed as providing one of the best fall flows in the Meeker, CO area (North Western Colorado) where large areas of the plant were observed blooming in the dry foothills surrounding the town. At the time of the study, the plants were “teeming with bees” gathering nectar and pollen from the species. Nye[7] indicates that the species is common in UT, and that bees visit the plant eagerly for nectar and pollen. In his summarizing table, however, he categorizes the plant as of minor importance for nectar production, but “somewhat” importance for pollen production.

Honey potential: Wilson et al[19] found the percent sugar in solutions from the honey stomach ranged from 27.6 to 37.6% with an average of 33.2%. The size of the honey stomach was considered to be medium, and the contents light yellow. Of the 16 bees collected, 11 (69%) had measurable honey stomachs. The observations were made September 5, 1956.

Honey: Wilson et al.[19] indicate that the honey is thought to be dark in color, but good for overwintering colonies .

Pollen: Wilson et al.[19] found that of the 16 bees collected in the study, 2 (12.5%) had pollen pellets, and largely based on this, considered the plant to be a minor pollen plant. They describe the pollen pellets as being bright orange. Nye[7], on the other hand, indicates that the pollen is golden-orange and easily and eagerly collected by bees. In his summarizing table, he considered it to be “somewhat” important to bees in Utah.

Texas snakeweed, broomweed, sticky snakeweed

Scientific name: Gutierrezia texana

Synonyms: Gutierrezia glutinosa, Hemiachyris texana, Xanthocephalum texanum

Origin: at least in the lower 48 states (see map)[15] and perhaps into Mexico.

Plant description: Texas snakeweed is an annual that grows from 10 to 80 cm (~3.94 to 31.5 in) and occasionally to 100 cm (~39.4 in) tall. The stems are glabrous, the leaves toward the base of the plant are usually absent at flowering. The stem leaves have 1 or 3 veins, are linear and 1.5 to 4 mm (~0.059 to 0.16 in) wide and become pointy toward their end.
The floral heads are in loose arrays, the involucres are campanulate21 to obconic and 2 to 4.5 mm (0.08 to 0.17) in diameter. The phyllary apices are flat. The individual floral heads consist of from 5 to 23 ray florets and 7 to 48 disc florets. The ray florets are pistillate (female) and fertile, their corollas yellow and 3 to 6 mm (~0.12 to 0.24 in) long. The disc florets are bisexual and fertile or functionally male (staminate).
The fruit is a cypsela22 1.3 to 1.8 mm (~0.05 to 0.07 in) long and is loosely covered with straight stiff, sharp appressed23 hairs that terminate microscopically with 2 prongs. The pappus consists of one series of scales 0.1 to 0.5 mm (~0.004 to 0.02 in) long that are sometimes joined together at the base.
John Lovell[5] provides the short description of the plants as: “coarse herbs with yellow flowers” and “a slender weed with clean stiff branches, a handful of which makes a good broom or brush.”

Distribution: The Flora of North America, North of Mexico lists two varieties, one that is found largely in Texas and New Mexico (var. glutinosa) and is distributed in grasslands and pine-oak juniper woodlands at altitudes primarily between 500 to 2200m (~1640 to 7218 ft), but occasionally at altitudes as low as 5m (~16.4 ft). The other variety (var. texana) is distributed from Texas into the species’ northeastern distribution (see Map) and is found primarily in rocky prairies, grasslands, and roadsides over clays and loams and less commonly sand at altitudes between 0 and 700m (~0 and 2297 ft)[6].

Blooming period: Both Sanborn and Scholl[12] and John Lovell[5] state that the species blooms in September and October. Nesom[6] provides the information that the variety glutinosa blooms primarily during July to October and occasionally into November with the variety texana blooming primarily from July to September and occasionally into October.

Importance as a honey plant: Sanborn and Scholl[12] indicate that the honey yield is good during the fall and that it is used primarily for winter stores. J. Lovell[5] states that the honey is excellent for stimulating brood rearing and for winter stores. Oertel[8] from his questionnaires found the species to be important in Texas. Robinson and Oertel[12] reported the species to be at least of some importance in their Plains, Mountain and Southwest areas, which included : (KS, OK, NE, ND, SD) and (CO, ID, MO, NE, UT, WY) and (AZ, NM, and TX), respectively. The distribution maps[15] provided here suggest that the species is found in only in OK, MO, NM, and TX. The remainder of the states might, however, have other members of the genus, for example Gutierrezia sarothrae. Ayers and Harman[1], from their questionnaires, could not differentiate between what they thought would be the two main honey-producing species within the genus Gutierrezia ( G. texana and G. sarothrae), and found the genus to be important in CO, AZ, NV, TX, ND, OK, and AR and to be of particular importance in OK. The USDA distribution maps provided here suggest that in the states TX. OK, and AR were quite possibly reporting about Gutierrezia texana, but TX and OK could also have been reporting about Gutierrezia sarothrae.
Pellett[9] indicates the honey is dark and strong and valued mostly for winter stores.

Honey potential: Harvey Lovell[4] reports that in Texas, the bees can produce as much as 30 lbs of honey per colony. L. H. Scholl[13] provides some insight into production under less than ideal conditions in an answer to a letter by L. B. Smith from Rescue, TX who claimed that broomweed yielded a surplus about once every two years in September and October, but in 1906 seemed to fail along with almost everything else. Scholl[13] replied that while that may have been so in Mr. Smith’s area, over much of Texas rains came in time for broomweed to “have given the bees plenty to do” and “turned the pastures into one sheet of golden yellow”, and while cold nights and cool windy days interfered with nectar collection, Scholl’s bees stored an average of about 20 lbs of honey per colony.

Honey: In his letter to L. B. Smith (above), Scholl[13] describes the honey as “golden yellow, and has a somewhat strong taste—a little bitter, and hence not suitable honey for market”. He continues, however, “we are using it for home table use, however, for which it is yet passable for the average person”[13]. Two years later Sanborn and Scholl[12] changed this description a little, stating that the honey is dark amber with a strong flavor. To this description John Lovell[5] adds that the honey granulates quickly. Harvey Lovell[4] claims that the honey is dark-yellow with a slightly bitter taste, that it granulates quickly and that the honey is usually left with the bees for late brood rearing and wintering.

Pollen: While I have found no description of broomweed pollen, I presume that is similar to that of Gutierrezia sarothrae.

The author is indebted to the Michigan State University Herbarium for providing access to the collections for the preparation of this column, especially the photography of selected specimens within the collection. He also appreciates access to the herbarium’s library. He is particularly indebted to Alan Prather for his discussions about, and insights into, the taxonomy of the taxa covered in this article.

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, Oregon.
3.    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.
4.    Lovell, H. B. 1966.
Honey Plants Manual. A Practical Field Handbook for Identifying Honey Flora. A. I. Root Co. Medina, OH.
5. Lovell, J. H. 1926.
Honey Plants of North America. The A. I. Root Co. Medina OH.
6. Nesom, G. L. 2006.
155 Gutierrezia. Flora of North America, North of Mexico 20:88-94.
7. Nye, W. P. 1971.
Nectar and Pollen Plants of Utah. Monograph Series, Utah State University Volume XVIII, Number 3. Logan, Utah.
8. 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.
9. Pellett, F. C. 1978.
American Honey Plants. Dadant and Sons, Hamilton, IL.
10. Richter, M. C. 1911.
Honey Plants of California. University of California Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 217. Berkeley, California.
11. 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.
12. Sanborne, C. E. and E. E.Scholl 1908.
Texas Honey Plants. Texas Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 102. Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, College Station, Texas.
13. Scholl, L. H. 1906.
Southern Beedom--Time of Yielding of Some Texas Honey-Plants American Bee Journal 46: 914-915.
14. Scullen, H. A. and G. A. Vansell. 1942.
Nectar and Pollen Plants of Oregon. Oregon State Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 412. Oregon State College, Corvallis, Oregon.
15. USDA, NRCS. 2012.
The PLANTS Database (, 1 September 2012). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
16. Urbatsch, L. E., L. C. Anderson, R. Roberts and K. M. Neubig. 2006.
148. Ericameria. Flora of North America, North of Mexico 20:50-77.
17. Vansell, G. H. 1931.
Nectar and Pollen Plants of California. University of California Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 517. Berkley, CA.
18. Vansell, G. H. and Eckert. 1941.
Nectar and Pollen Plants of California. University of California Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 517. (1941 Revision) Berkley, CA.
19. Wilson, W. T., J. O. Moffett and H. D. Harrington., 1955.
Nectar and Pollen Plants of Colorado. Colorado State University Experiment Station Bul. 503-S. Fort Collins, CO.

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)[2].

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[1] 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[17], or John Lovell[11] or in Harvey Lovell’s booklet[10].

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.[4] describe the species as looking like a “small sunflower”.

Distribution: Munz[13] 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[8] 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.[4] as well as Scullen and Vansell[21] 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[13] provides a blooming period in California as April and June. Burgett et al.[4] and Scullen and Vansell[21] 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[20] 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[1] 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[21] did not place the species in their Major Honey Plants group, but included it in their “Secondary and Minor Plants” Table. Burgett et al.[4], 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[21] include the information in their “Secondary and Minor Plants” table that the nectar sugar content of B. deltoidea is 45.8 %. Burgett et al.[4], 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[19] and neither the Vansell[23] nor the later Vansell and Eckert[24] writings about California honey plants report anything about the genus Balsamorhiza. The same is true for the books by John Lovell[11] Pellett[17], and the Harvey Lovell booklet[10], all of which were intended to cover the entire United States. On the other hand, both the Wilson et al. bulletin[25] covering the bee forage of Colorado, and the Goltz revision[6] 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.

Narrowleaf hawksbeard

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[3] 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[5] writing about the northeastern U.S. and contiguous parts of Canada, provide a blooming period of June and July. Barkley[3] writing about the Great Plains, provides a blooming period of June to August.

Importance as a honey plant: Ayers and Harman[1] 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[18].

Burro-weed, goldenweed,

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[7], 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[7] 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[14] 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[12], 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[7] provide a blooming period for Arizona of August to October. Martin and Hutchins[12] provide a blooming period of August to October for New

Importance as a honey plant: Ayers and Harman[1] 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[21] 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) .

Vanderpool[22] 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[21]. Richter[18] 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.[25] 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[13] indicates that it blooms May to August. Richter[18], 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[17] 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.[25] 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[12] 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[23] 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.[25], 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[17] 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[10] 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[11] 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[10] states that the honey is white with a greenish tinge and has a good flavor. Milum[12], 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[23] in his summarizing table states that the honey is “white with a greenish tinge”.

Pollen: Vansell and Eckert[24] 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[5] 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[6] 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[17], 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[16] in 1939 writes about a cultivated stand in Manitoba that he calls only “cleome” and ”spider flower”, which Pellett[17] 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[6].
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[7] 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[7] 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[7] considers the species to be a zone 5 to 11 plant. Pammel and King[19] 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[5]. Gleason and Cronquist[10] dealing with Northeastern US and adjoining parts of Canada indicate that it grows in swamps and along streams. Julia Morton[16] 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)[6]. This agrees well with Munz[17] who states in California it is found below 3000 ft (~914 m) Sanborn and Scholl[23] 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[5]. Dirr[7] states that it blooms June, July and August in the central Illinois to Boston corridor. In California the species blooms June to September[17]. In Texas the species blooms in July[23]. Julia Morton[16] indicates that the species blooms from late May to September in Florida.

Importance as a honey plant: From his questionnaires, Oertel[18] 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[2], 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[13] 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[20] 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[21] 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[19] 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[16], Arnold[1] and Sanford[24] all mention the species in Florida, none seem to consider it a major honey plant there.

Robinson and Oertel[22] 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[20] 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[13] claims that the honey is mild, light-colored with a fine flavor. Pellett[20] 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[14] places buttonbush in his list of plants that provide both nectar and pollen. While the 1931 Vansell[28] bulletin does not rate the plant for pollen, the 1941 Vansell and Eckert[29] bulletin rates it as important for pollen production.

Additional information: The species has been recommended for roadside plantings in New Jersey[15]. 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[9] 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[7]. 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[27] 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[13] 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[8] writing about central and northeastern U.S. and adjoining Canada, simply indicates it is found in roadsides, cultivated fields and waste places. Arnold[1] 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[24] 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[31] writing about Florida plants in general, states that it is common nearly throughout Florida.

Blooming period: Pellett[20] 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[13] 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[8] 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[1] indicates in Florida that it blooms all year unless frosted. Morton[16] writing about Florida bee forage, indicates that it blooms all year. Sanford[24], also writing about Florida bee forage, provides a blooming date range of May to September. In Florida, Wunderlin[31] 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[18] from his questionnaires found the species to be of at least some importance in AL FL GA LA MS and TX. Ayers and Harman[2] from their questionnaires found the species to be of at least some importance in AL. Pellett[20] states that it is usually blended with cotton and velvet bean nectar and is secured pure only late in the season. Sanford[23] notes that it is usually used for overwintering colonies.

Honey potential: Morton[16] indicates that the species produces much nectar. J. J. Wilder[30] 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[3] 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[13] describes the honey as being light amber in color with a peculiar tart flavor. Arnold[1] 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[16] references Harvey Lovell[12] 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[30], 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 (, 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[27]
In addition, Bidens cernua is a synonym of Bidens amplissima, the Vancouver Island beggartick[27]

Origin: Bidens cernua is native to the lower 48 states and at least parts of Canada, but was been introduced into Alaska[27].


Plant description: Biden cernua is one of the very variable annual within the Asteraceae. The USDA Plants Website[27] 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[6] indicate that the plant grows in low wet places and is widespread within that area. Wilson et al.[30] 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[26] 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[26]. Gleason and Cronquist[6] indicate that it blooms in August to October in the Northeastern United States and contiguous parts of Canada. Wilson et al.[30] 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[19] below under Importance as a honey plant.

Importance as a honey plant: Oertel[18] 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[2], 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.[30] 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[20], apparently referring to a mix of B. laevis and B. trichosperma, (now treated as a synonym of B. coronate by the USDA Website[27]) 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[12] 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[11], 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.”

Wilson et al.[30] 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[27] 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[6] and to a lesser extent, from one representing the Great Plains[3].
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[6] 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[19] state, in IA, it is commonly found in thickets and fields. Barkley[3], writing in Flora of the Great Plains, states that it is “infrequent in open wooded sites, especially damp or drying stream banks.” Ramsay[21], 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[3] 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[18], 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[2],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[20] 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[5] 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.

Again while I doubt that there is any data for S. lateriflorum specifically, Crane[5] 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[12], 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

Skunk cabbage is native to North America, probably eastern North America including both the U. S. and Canada.[5]. Both Gleason and Cronquist[5] and Hortus Third[7] 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[5] 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[5], covering the northeastern U. S. and adjoining parts of Canada, state that the plant is found in swamps and moist ground. Smith[12] 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[5] provides a blooming period of February to April. Smith[5] provides a blooming period for Michigan as mid-March to mid-May. Doolittle[4], 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[8] 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[4]. 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[4] 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[6], 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


Apricot, abricotier

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.[11] Archeological evidence now suggests that it had a much earlier origin in a more eastern area in Asia.[11]

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[23] writing about California bee forage, states that the species blooms in March. Burgett et al[2] provide a blooming date for Oregon as early spring. Ramsay[22] writing about Canadian bee forage, provides the blooming period as late April. Slate[28] 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[23].

Honey potential: Crane[6] 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[17] provides a sugar value of 0.31 to 0.84 mg7 nectar sugar secreted per flower over a 24 hour period.

Honey: Crane[6], 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[22] claims apricot pollen is an excellent source of protein. Stanley and Linskens[29] 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[27] 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[8] provides the information that apricots provide 0.61 to 1.68 mg of pollen per flower.

Additional information:
In 1976 McGregor[16] 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[10] 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[8] 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.[25] 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[5] 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[3] 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[3] 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[7] 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[16], 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[10] suggests that fruit set is improved, even with self-fertile varieties, if another compatible variety is also planted with it. Free[9] 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[16] 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[5] 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[25] that most of the Canadian Cultivars are self-sterile, they state, as does McGregor[16] that “… 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

Origin: California and probably into at least Northern Mexico[12].

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[18] 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[33] states it is found on dry slopes and ridges and chaparral below 1600m (~5250 ft). Coleman[4] states that it often forms a distinct zone between the foothills and the yellow pine belt, and Richter[23] claims that the species is “the most abundant and characteristic bush of the high Coast ranges.

Blooming period: Richter[23] states that the blooming period is April to July. Munz[18] gives the blooming period as May-June. Coleman[4] states that it blooms June and July.
Both the 1931 and 1941 Vansell[31] and Vansell and Eckert[32] 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[23] 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[19], 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[2] publication dealing with Oregon honey plants nor the Scullen and Vansell bulletin[26], upon which this booklet was largely based, seem to mention chamise. Robinson and Oertel[24] did not include the species in their table of Important Nectar and Pollen Plants of the United States and Canada. Ayers and Harman[1], from their questionnaires, found the species to be at least of some importance in California. Coleman[4] 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[21], however, reports that in southern California beekeepers regard the plant of little value and state that bees seldom visit it there. John Lovell[14] 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[13] describes the honey as being light amber, but that it is “rarely obtained”. Vansell in his 1931 bulletin[31] 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[32] 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[4] describes the honey as light amber, and of good quality. Harvey Lovell[13] also describes the honey as a light amber. None of the other references cited above provide a description of the honey.

Pollen: Coleman[4] states that it produces an abundance of pollen. Harvey Lovell[13] also claims that it is an important pollen plant. As mentioned above, the 1941 Vansell and Eckert[32] bulletin seems to indicate that the plant has some importance as a pollen source.

Additional information: Wetherwax[33] 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!

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