CHAPTER XVIII Edit
INTERRELATION OF BEES AND PLANTS
THE facts revealed by science are not always beautiful, however interesting they may be. But the discovery of the interrelation of flowers and insects, that partnership which has existed so long that it has modified both partners, seems to belong to the realm of art or poetry rather than to that of science. Since plants must needs spend their lives where they are developed from seeds, they may not roam abroad like animals to seek their mates. But this is a difficulty which they readily overcome, through sending their messages by the uneasy, flying insects; and of all these messengers, the bee is surely the flowers' favourite. Its fuzzy body, admirably adapted to be a pollen brush, its swift wings and its sedulous attention to business, all tend to make it the most important of the flower-partners. Thus, especially for the bee, have thousands of flower species developed nectar, in pockets placed cunningly to entice her to take upon herself a pollen load. And for countless ages the flowers have painted their petals various hues and shed on the atmosphere their perfume, to advertise to the bee- world that they had pollen and nectar to spare.
This partnership has naturally modified the in- sects less than the flowers, as the latter were obliged to develop innumerable devices for winning attention from their messengers ; naturally also the insects have been more largely modified in their mouth-parts and appliances for carrying pollen, than in other directions. Their habits have also been modified in a measure, and the bee has in some mysterious way been persuaded to work on one kind of blossom at a time. The poetic reproach that the bee is a heart- less rover, rifling the lily of sweets only to desert her for the rose, is as unjust as it is untrue. Repeatedly have we watched a bee at work in a bed of pinks. Though clover and other blossoms were near by, she passed methodically from pink to pink, and naught tempted her to fickleness. That the bees use pollen for bread, is a part of the bargain; for the flowers grow it in plenty for both themselves and their partners.
Each species of "honey-plant" has developed its own special device for securing the services of bees to carry its pollen; and no study is more interesting than the unravelling of these flower secrets. Even the novice may do this by asking the flower these three questions: "Where is your nectar?" "Where is your pollen?" "What is the path the bees must follow to get to the nectar?" For ready and accurate answers to such questions, the flowers are not to be surpassed ; and if there is any doubtful point, the bees are ready to help elucidate it. There are so many flowers that have become the special part- ners of the bees that it is not within the scope of this book to make an adequate list. Some of the more important are the flowers of trees, and some of farm crops; some bloom in gardens and some are mere weeds.
Fruit trees, when in blossom, give much pollen and honey at a time when these are greatly needed by the bees for rearing brood.
Peach, pear, apricot, plum and especially apple trees, when in bloom are encompassed about with the happy chorus of busy and grateful bees; and no other creatures can so successfully vocalise blissful contentment as they. Many careful experiments have proved beyond doubt that the help of bees is necessary for securing the pollenation requisite to pro- duce good crops of fruit. The wise and successful fruit-grower recognises this fact and, mindful of his true interests, does not spray his fruit trees with poisons while they are in blossom, lest he thereby kill his friends, the bees. Moreover, to use arsenical sprays, at such a time, is injurious to the petals and the fruit-producing organs of the flowers; and it is also too early to spray successfully against the codlin moth. In many states, legislation forbids the spraying of poisons during fruit-tree bloom, because it is a useless and wanton destruction of the bees.
Some time since great injustice was done the bees through the accusation that they punctured the ripe fruit for the sake of the juices. This was the special complaint of grape-growers. Investigations have proved that bees never puncture the rind of ripe fruit, although they sometimes are tempted to sip the oozing juices, after the rind is broken through some other agency.
Even before the fruit-bloom the willows offer a feast to break the fast of the hungry swarms. Half the winter the pussy-willow stands waiting in her furs to be ready with her grist of pollen, so that the bees may make bread during the first warm days of spring. The willows burned their bridges behind them eons ago and depend almost entirely upon the bees for fertilisation, since they are dioecious. Some apiarists have claimed that their bees get no nectar from certain species of willow; but this could hardly be so if trees of both sexes were present in a locality; for the staminate flowers offer pollen and the pistillate flowers give nectar to induce the bees to fetch and carry for them.
The maples are not much behind the willows in offering the bees food after their winter fast. The bloom of the red maple is regarded by most bee- keepers as permission from Spring to bring out the bee-hives from the cellar and tenements. All our common species of maple are very much visited by the bees.
The locusts often yield large crops of honey, although they vary with the seasons in this respect. Honey-locust, when in bloom, is covered with bees.
The tulip tree is one of the most beautiful of our
ornamental trees and it gives a great amount of dark, rich honey. In New York it blossoms in May and June and, like the locusts, is a great help to the bees after the fruit-bloom is over. This is a common tree in the woods of the South and is not rare in Northern forests. It should be planted even more generally than it is at present, for the sake of the bees.
The basswood, of all honey-producing trees, is the most important and most beloved by the bees. It blooms in July and only for a brief season; there- fore, it is important that the colonies be strong and able to make the most of these few precious days of harvest. Basswood honey has a strong flavour when first gathered. But after it is ripened and sealed it has a delightful flavour. The way our forests have been stripped of basswood during the past twenty-five years is nothing less than heart- rending to the bee-keeper; for to him this tree ranks next to the white clover in importance. Mr. Root had a single colony take forty-three pounds of honey in three days from basswood, and Mr. Doolittle had a colony take sixty pounds in the same period. The tree is beautiful, and might well be used for shade along roadsides and also in ornamental plant- ing. It grows rapidly; young trees, transplanted from the woodland, blossom in five or six years thereafter. No bee-keeper should allow the bass- wood to be cut on his premises; and he should grow as many young trees as possible. "
Other honey-producing trees of note are the sour-
Wild crab-apple blossoms. PLATE XXVIII
Photographs by Ralph II'. Cu
PLATE XXIX. BUCKWHEAT IN BLOSSOM
wood (Oxydendrum arboreum) of the South, the guajilla of Texas, the cabbage palmetto of Florida, and the eucalyptus of California.
The flowers of sumac often yield much nectar and are sedulously worked by the bees. This picturesque shrub is not properly appreciated because it is so common. Its foliage is beautiful in the summer and is brilliant in the fall. Its blossoms, as well as its fruit, conduce to make it an interesting and ornamental shrub for planting.
HONEY PLANTS WHICH YIELD OTHER VALUABLE CROPS
To raise plants solely for the sake of the honey they produce has not proved a financial success so far in America. Mr. Root estimates that it would require 500 acres covered with plants blooming in succession to keep 100 colonies of bees busy; and, at present, most land here is worth too much to be put to such use. It is doubtful if artificial pasturage will ever prove a paying investment in agricultural sections.
However, many apiarists devote some land to honey-gardens, and such a garden may be a beau- tiful and interesting place, for many of the honey- plants are ornamental. Also, many apiarists have introduced certain honey-weeds on waste land in the vicinity of their apiaries with excellent results. ,
Fortunately, many plants very valuable to the agriculturist and horticulturist are the best honey- producers; and if a farmer has only twenty colonies of bees, it will pay him to reap one crop from his land and let his bees reap another.
Of all such plants the clovers are the most impor- tant. Not only do they make the best of forage and hay, but they also help to fertilise and aerate the soil, and should be a factor in every crop rotation. Clovers and other legumes have upon their roots nodules rilled with bacteria, which are underground partners of the plant. These bacteria fix the free nitrogen of the air and leave it in the soil available for plant food. Red clover.is not so great a source of honey as are the other clovers, since its corolla tubes are so long that usually it is only worked by bumblebees. But the long-tongued Italians are able to get considerable honey from red clover at times.
Crimson clover grew as a weed for a long time in America before it became an important factor in horticulture. It is an annual and its home is in southern Europe. It thrives best in loose, sandy soils and is of great value as a cover crop for orchards. It is a good honey-plant.
Alsike is a perennial and grows in low meadows, from Nova Scotia to Idaho. Its blossoms look like that of the white clover, except that they are larger and are tinged with pink. This is a valuable clover for pasturage, and also for hay, and it stands next to the white clover as a honey-plant.
The white clover is the very best plant for pro- ducing honey in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, and the flavour of its honey is famous the world over. While in hard soil, the white clover lasts only two or three years, it is perennial on rich, moist lands. It is a cosmopolitan plant and may be found in almost all regions of the temperate zones. It is an ideal plant for pastures and should be estab- lished everywhere on land not under the plow. It shows well its partnership with the bee by turning down its flowerets as soon as they are fertilised, and leaving those in need of pollen still erect. We have seen a head of white clover with a single floweret, erect and white, calling to the bees, while all of its sister flowerets were deflected and brown.
Among the medics we find the veteran of all clovers, the alfalfa, which has been under cultivation for twenty centuries, and came to America with the Spanish invasion. It was established in California in 1854, and has worked its way eastward. But it is only recently that it has been practicable to grow it in the East. This has been made possible by the discovery that it will grow on soil inoculated with its root bacteria. Alfalfa is a true perennial and may be cut for hay three times a season, and is of highest value as fodder or forage. It is a superb honey-plant, furnishing great quantities of light- coloured and excellent honey. It will support more bees to the acre than any other plant known. For artificial pasturage it is the most promising of all honey-plants.
Buckwheat is, in many localities, doubly profitable as a grain and as a honey-plant; especially is it so in middle and western New York, where the hills in autumn are made brilliant with great fields of the wine-red stubble. Buckwheat is usually sown late in the season, often on ground where oats have al- ready been grown earlier in the year. It blossoms in August and even in September, and furnishes a wealth of nectar when there is little to be found else- where. The honey made from buckwheat is dark, reddish brown and brings a lower price in most markets than- do the lighter-coloured varieties. Though it is strong in flavour, it is preferred by many, and on our table it alternates with basswood and clover. It has always seemed poetic justice that the plant which produces buckwheat cakes should produce the honey to eat with them. The following are the good points of buckwheat as a crop: It is profitable, the grain always brings a good price; it grows well on poor soil; it is one of the best agencies for ridding a field of weeds. There is a certain gameness about buckwheat which we have always admired and which was thus characterised by a farmer of our acquaintance: "Buckwheat is a gritty plant; if it can get its head above ground it will blossom. I have seen it, during dry seasons, blossom when its stalks were so short that the bees had to get doum on their hands and knees to gather the honey." While this may be putting the case rather strongly, yet it expresses well the habits of the plant.
Black mustard, rape and turnips all furnish nectar for excellent honey. The seed of mustard and rape brings a good price, and the root of the turnip is always valuable.
The blossoms of the red raspberry yield a delicious honey, and the grower of small fruits may well add bees to his farm as a source of profit.
Most of the blooms in flower gardens, as well as vegetable gardens, are worked by the bees. Mignon- ette is a valuable honey-plant, as it blossoms for a long time. Marjoram, thyme and sage give rich, spicy honey. The sunflower is also a good honey- plant.
WILD FLOWERS AND WEEDS
We shall never forget our profound amazement when we saw, for the first time, in a narrow valley of the Mojave Desert a great city of white bee-hives. Nothing in that desolate landscape could we discern that bore the slightest resemblance to a honey-plant. The gray sage-brush which grew everywhere looked to us about as promising for honey-production as so much slag from a furnace; and yet this sage-brush of the desert gives the bees the best of pasturage. The bloom begins down in the valley and climbs the mountain side slowly, thus giving bloom for a long period.
There are two species of sage that yield honey, the white and the black, or button sage. They are allied to .the mints, which are generally good honey- plants. We learned to care much for the spicy sage-honey. A professor of Greek, who was for some time in the American school at Athens, tells us that the sage-honey is very similar in flavour to the famous honey of Hymettus, which is made from thyme.
The horse-mint is a very important honey-plant of the lower Mississippi Valley and of Texas. Its corolla tubes are so long that only the Italians and other long-tongued bees can get its honey. Catnip, motherwort and gill-over-the-ground and gall-berry all furnish an abundance of nectar.
The blue thistle emigrated to Virginia in colonial times, and now covers with a heavenly blue thousands of acres of the desolate, uncultivated, red Virginia soil. It is a great boon to the bees of the region, as its blossoms creep slowly up its stalks, thus affording nectar for many weeks. It is related to borage, which is another good honey-plant.
Spider flower (Cleome pungens), the Rocky Moun- tain bee-plant (Cleome integrifolia} , and figwort (Scrofularia venalis) have all been planted by bee- keepers in their honey-gardens, because they give such a great amount of honey per plant.
During September and early October the bees work busily on the various species of goldenrod and asters, and gather from them a considerable amount of honey, which is rich in colour and taste. The two common species of Impatiens also give the bees good fall pasturage.
Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) comes wher- ever forests have been cleared and burned off. It blooms late and yields a fine quality of honey. The unlovely Spanish needle (Coreopsis) also gives much honey. The milkweed yields good honey, yet it overdoes the matter by loading the feet of the bee with its pollen sacs, until the poor messenger dies of exhaustion under the burden of its message, or dies a prisoner in the blossom.
The cheerful and ubiquitous dandelion has this much in its favour, that it is beloved by the bees and often gives them honey and pollen at a time in the spring when they need it for brood-rearing.
Of all the weeds which will pay the apiarist to establish in waste places, the most profitable are the mellilots, or sweet clovers, of which there are two species, the white and the yellow. These are most beneficent weeds, for they carry nitrogen to the soil like other clovers, and they are easily exterminated by cultivation, so they are not to be feared.
Sweet clover in blossom fills the atmosphere of the country road with perfume, for it is almost every- where a roadside weed; and, as might be expected, it is most attractive to the bees. While the honey made from it is rather strong in flavour, yet it is of good colour, and sells well. When it is mixed with the honey from other flowers, it adds much to the excellence of the flavour.