The Other Side of Beekeeping

 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 ... read the complete article please click here to subscribe