UCCE Master Gardeners of San Joaquin County
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Posts Tagged: honey bee

Stems

Just one word--stems.

Bees forage on the lavender in our bee yard, but sometimes you'll see them on the stems.

Male longhorned bees, Melissodes agilis, sleep together on the stems and it's fascinating to watch them stir in the early morning, wiggle around, and then buzz off--usually to dive-bomb any critter that's foraging on "their" flowers that they're saving for the females of their species.

But every once in a while, an early riser, a honey bee, will pause on a lavender stem to soak in the warmth of the sun. Got to get those flight muscles warmed up! Busy day ahead for Apis mellifera.

A longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis, awakens on a lavender stem. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis, awakens on a lavender stem. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis, awakens on a lavender stem. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee warming herself on a lavender stem. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee warming herself on a lavender stem. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee warming herself on a lavender stem. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, July 18, 2014 at 10:06 PM

The Colors of Pollinator Week

As we near the end of celebrating National Pollinator Week, June 16-22, look around and see all the insects foraging on reddish-orange flowers. And occasionally, you might see a reddish-orange insect like the showy Gulf Fritillary butterfly.

Orange, a color commonly associated with autumn, Halloween and Thanksgiving, is also a color that brightens many of our seasons and draws attention to special occasions, including Pollinator Week.

The reddish-orange Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) spreads its wings on a purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). A honey bee (Apis mellifera) and a sunflower bee (Melissodes agilis)  forage on a blanket flower (Gallardia). Another bee, the leafcutting bee, Megachile fidelis, and a green bottle fly take a liking to a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia).

Pollinators come in all sizes, shapes, colors and species, from bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles, to flies.

Many folks throughout the country observe National Pollinator Week once a year, but some organizations, such as the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, protect our pollinators and promote pollinator conservation every day.

On their website:

"Pollinators are essential to our environment. The ecological service they provide is necessary for the reproduction of over 85 percent of the world's flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of the world's crop species. The United States alone grows more than one hundred crops that either need or benefit from pollinators, and the economic value of these native pollinators is estimated at $3 billion per year in the U.S. Beyond agriculture, pollinators are keystone species in most terrestrial ecosystems. Fruits and seeds derived from insect pollination are a major part of the diet of approximately 25 percent of all birds, and of mammals ranging from red-backed voles to grizzly bears. In many places, the essential service of pollination is at risk from habitat loss, pesticide use, and introduced disease."

Indeed, pollinators pack a punch.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) spreads its wings on a purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) spreads its wings on a purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) spreads its wings on a purple coneflower(Echinacea purpurea) (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A sunflower bee (Melissodes agilis)  forages on a blanket flower (Gallardia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A sunflower bee (Melissodes agilis) forages on a blanket flower (Gallardia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A sunflower bee (Melissodes agilis) forages on a blanket flower (Gallardia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A green bottle fly rests on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A green bottle fly rests on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A green bottle fly rests on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee (Apis mellifera) on a blanket flower (Gallardia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee (Apis mellifera) on a blanket flower (Gallardia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee (Apis mellifera) on a blanket flower (Gallardia) (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A leafcutting bee, Megachile fidelis, on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A leafcutting bee, Megachile fidelis, on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A leafcutting bee, Megachile fidelis, on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, June 19, 2014 at 10:31 PM

The Bee and the Ginkgo Tree

I've always liked the ginkgo tree, despite the fact that honey bees don't like it. It's a non-flowering plant so there's no reward for the bees. In other words, a bee has no reason to visit it. No reason at all.

But one day a bee touched down--and lingered--on our ginkgo tree in our back yard, amid the lavender, catmint, salvia, lantana, blanket flowers, alyssum, foxgloves, gaura and tower of jewels.

Why? I don't know. But more about that later.

The ginkgo, the oldest tree species on earth, is considered “a living fossil.” It existed an estimated 250 to 285 million years ago, at a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth and before flowering plants and bees made their debut.

The ginkgo tree is tough, stubborn and resilient. It's a survivor.

Renowned botanist Peter Crane, dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, wrote extensively about this unique species in his book, Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot (2013, Yale University Press). He considers his book "a biography of the oldest tree on earth."

In a May 2013 interview with Environment 360 (e360), a publication of the Yale School of Forest and Environmental Studies, Crane traces the history of the ancient ginkgo back to the dinosaur age, to its cultivation in China 1000 years ago, and finally, to its presence today on city streets throughout the world.

The ginkgo “really puts our own species — let alone our individual existence — into a broader context,” Crane told Environment 360.

An excerpt from the interview:

e360: You've mentioned that ginkgo is something of a biological oddity in that it's a single species with no living relatives. That's somewhat unusual in the plant and animal world, isn't it? 

Crane: Yes. When we think about flowering plants, there are about 350,000 living species. And in an evolutionary sense, they're equivalent to that one species of ginkgo. They're all more closely related to each other than they are to anything else. But the ginkgo is solitary and unique, not very obviously related to any living plant. One of the points I wanted to draw out in the book is that in the past there were a variety of ginkgo-like plants, but this is the only one surviving.

Gingko enthusiasts know that there are both male and female trees, and that city planners prefer to plant males on their city streets. Why? Because, as Crane puts it, the females “stink.” Their seeds, he says, "smell like vomit."

But back to the honey bee that landed on the ginkgo tree in our yard. 

I had just finished reading former publisher Richard Rico's Sunday column, At Ease, in The Reporter, Vacaville. “About two weeks before our Kathy — Kathy Thomas Rico — passed away, family members paid a visit," he wrote. "One said he wanted to plant something in her honor. Kathy was an ardent Master Gardener. He asked if she had a preference. Without hesitation, she said, ‘Ginkgo tree.'”

So, at her celebration of life in the Buck Estate Gardens, the family handed out gingko seeds.

Kathy Thomas-Rico, who died at age 54 of cancer,  was a wife, mother, retired journalist, a friend and part of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) family. She was a talented UC Master Gardener who contributed to the UC ANR blog, Under the Solano Sun.

And she loved ginkgo trees, particularly a beautiful specimen at the corner of West Street and Buck Avenue, Vacaville, on the same block as the Buck Mansion and Estate Gardens. When autumn turns its leaves a golden yellow, the tree absolutely glows. Kathy—or “Flash” as her fellow journalists nicknamed her for her propensity to complete projects rapidly--absolutely loved it.

In November of 2011, Kathy blogged about the tree in Under the Solano Sun: “You really ought to see what I think is the best example of fall beauty in all of Solano County. On the corner of Buck Avenue and West Street, in front of what is still called the old Hartley house, is an absolutely stunning Ginkgo biloba tree.  I'm not sure of its age, but considering its size and how slow growing these trees are, it must be close to a century old. This tree literally stops traffic when it goes gold, which should be right about now.”

After reading the newspaper column about her memorial service and the ginkgo seeds,  I stepped into our back yard to check on our own ginkgo tree, now about three feet tall. Suddenly a honey bee—the favorite insect of UC Master Gardeners--appeared as if on command.

Coincidence? Probably. But I like to think this was the work of an angel--a wife, mother, journalist, friend and a UC Master Gardener whom we all admired.

In remembrance:
Kathy Thomas-Rico, Jan. 20, 1969-April 16, 2014
Obituary

A honey bee lands on a ginkgo tree. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee lands on a ginkgo tree. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee lands on a ginkgo tree. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A beautiful ginkgo specimen at the corner of West Street and Buck Avenue, Vacaville. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A beautiful ginkgo specimen at the corner of West Street and Buck Avenue, Vacaville. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A beautiful ginkgo specimen at the corner of West Street and Buck Avenue, Vacaville. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 5:30 PM

What Can Gardeners do to Help Honey Bees?

Figure 3. Nectar and pollen-producing plants in full bloom.

[From the June 2013 issue of the UC IPM Retail Nursery & Garden Center News] Most people have heard about the decline in honey bees (Figures 1 and 2) during the last several years. Are there things home gardeners can do to help? Better Nutrition,...

Posted on Thursday, June 5, 2014 at 2:25 PM
Tags: honey bee (137), neonicotinoids (1), pollinator (1)

The Nectar Robbers

If you have a patch of salvia (sage) growing in your yard, watch for the nectar robbers.

Carpenter bees are among the insects that engage in nectar robbing. They drill a hole in the corolla of the flower, circumventing the usual plant-pollinator relationship. In other words, they're  “cheating” pollination by "stealing" the nectar. Scientists call this "robbing the nectar."

The most prevalent nectar robbers in our yard are the mountain carpenter bees, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex. They're better at drilling holes than the Texas oilmen.

If you watch closely, you may see a honey bee following the carpenter bee around. She's taking the easy way out, finding the hole pierced by the carpenter bee and then gathering nectar to take back to her colony. 

If a flower could communicate, it would probably say something like "Hey, you're doing an end run to get my nectar. Please don't use the side entrance--I have a front door."

Mountain carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex, engaging in nectar robbing. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Mountain carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex, engaging in nectar robbing. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Mountain carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex, engaging in nectar robbing. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Side view of nectar robbing by mountain carpenter bee on salvia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Side view of nectar robbing by mountain carpenter bee on salvia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Side view of nectar robbing by mountain carpenter bee on salvia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Honey bee looks for the hole drilled by a carpenter bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee looks for the hole drilled by a carpenter bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee looks for the hole drilled by a carpenter bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee engaging in nectar robbing. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee engaging in nectar robbing. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee engaging in nectar robbing. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 9:57 PM

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