Heralds of Spring

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I spied this sleeping bumble bee, very likely a queen, on my way up the drive early this morning.  Curiosity got the better of me before I hit the kitchen door, so the books and computer came out before the teapot.  The U.S. Forest Service and Pollinator Partnership, along with a number of other organizations, have collaborated to publish “Bumble Bees of the Western United States,” made available on the Xerces Society website.  It’s packed with beautiful photos and clear, informative text and diagrams to help people better understand and identify these amazing native pollinators.  My son and I couldn’t properly identify this one without rousing her from her daffodil bed.  Maybe next time.

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2 responses to “Heralds of Spring

  1. Thanks for the reference. When the giant old rhododendron bush by the creek blooms in late May it seems alive with bees, according to the reference they must be Sitka bees. I read somewhere that rhododendrons are poisonous? I wondered if I should cut it down? Will honey bees make poison honey if a plant is poisonous?

  2. Brenda, I’m glad you liked the brochure. I’ve heard of poison rhododendron honey. It’s not toxic to the bees, just people. Grayanotoxins, found in the nectar of members of the Ericaceae family (e.g. rhododendrons and azaleas), can make people pretty sick for about a day, especially if the honey isn’t cured. The really famous incidents of honey poisoning were recorded by Greek historians Pliny and Strabo. When Xenophon (401 BCE) and later Pompey (69 BCE) invaded the peoples around the Black Sea, the locals, well aware of the qualities of the honey from their indigenous plants, allowed the invading army to gorge themselves on the rhody honey they robbed from wild bee nests. In the earlier invasion, the sickened soldiers just moved on with a proverbial bad taste in their mouths. In the second, the locals took advantage of the weakened state of the invading force to attack and defeat what would have otherwise been a superior force. Contemporary instances of honey poisoning are relatively rare; Rusty from Honey Bee Suite relates one that happened up north in 2011. Perhaps this is due to the fact that rhodies were far more prevalent in the landscape around the Black Sea than they are here, and also because such early nectar stores are typically used for brood rearing before us modern North Americans harvest our honey.

    As for your beautiful old rhody, I bet it sees more traffic from bumble bees than your honey bees. I’d leave the rhody for your neighborhood native pollinators to use–it sounds like it’s a great resource for them!

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