The Other Side of Beekeeping
The Other Side of Beekeeping - September 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 lists 2 subspecies, which together are listed with 24 varieties. The Flora of North America, North of Mexico 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.
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). Scullen and Vansell13 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 in writing about California honey plants, indicates that the species blooms in September and November. Harvey Lovell, 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 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, 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 places the species in his list of California bee plants that he considered provided a honey surplus during an average season. Vansell in his summarizing table, considered the species to be a “fairly important” source of honey. The 1941 version by Vansell and Eckert 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 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 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 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 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, 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 essentially paraphrases Richter.
John Lovell 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 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 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 under the synonym Chrysothamnus nauseosus describe the honey as amber with a strong flavor. Burgett et al. provide the same description except they drop the strong flavor portion of the description and add that it crystallizes rapidly.
Harvey Lovell, 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, 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 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, 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 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 calls it a forb/herb, subshrub or shrub whereas the Flora of North America: North of Mexico 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., 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., 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 writing about Utah bee forage, provides a blooming period of July and August.
Importance as a honey plant: Oertel, from his questionnaires found the species to be of some importance in KS. Robinson and Oertel 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 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 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. 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 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 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. indicate that the honey is thought to be dark in color, but good for overwintering colonies .
Pollen: Wilson et al. 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, 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) 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 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).
Blooming period: Both Sanborn and Scholl and John Lovell state that the species blooms in September and October. Nesom 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 indicate that the honey yield is good during the fall and that it is used primarily for winter stores. J. Lovell states that the honey is excellent for stimulating brood rearing and for winter stores. Oertel from his questionnaires found the species to be important in Texas. Robinson and Oertel 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 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, 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 indicates the honey is dark and strong and valued mostly for winter stores.
Honey potential: Harvey Lovell reports that in Texas, the bees can produce as much as 30 lbs of honey per colony. L. H. Scholl 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 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 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”. Two years later Sanborn and Scholl changed this description a little, stating that the honey is dark amber with a strong flavor. To this description John Lovell adds that the honey granulates quickly. Harvey Lovell 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 (http://plants.usda.gov, 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.