Backyard Orchard News
Today, in honor of National Pollinator Week, we turn to the Picris echioides.
You either hate it or love it. Honey bees love it. Gardeners hate it. ?If you plant a lawn with Picris echioides, expect a visit from Code Compliance.
What's Picris echioides? Think of it as a bright yellow flower with tap roots strong enough to withstand a nuclear war.?Think European invasive weed. ?And you get: bristly oxtongue.
It looks like somewhat like a dandelion or sowthistle. It’s a broadleafed biennial weed with toothed leaves (ox tongue) found throughout California. It’s an important source of nectar and pollen, especially in the spring during the early bee brood rearing when many other flowers aren't blooming.
Bees produce a dazzling honey with it: the color of amber and the aroma of a freshly picked floral bouquet.
Watch a bee nectaring a bristly oxtongue and you're in for a real treat--if you can get past "noxious weed" epithets or thoughts of waging a nuclear war.
The bees today at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis were lovin' it.
This week (June 22-28) is National Pollinator Week, and what better time to celebrate the honey bee than now?
The White House Victory Garden, planted the first day of spring on part of the South Lawn, now has thousands of new residents: honey bees (Apis mellifera).
The two bee hives are a joy to see. America's First Family has First Hives in its First Garden with First Bees that will soon provide First Honey. The "commander-in-chef" will add First Honey to the White House favorite recipes.
Frankly, the South Lawn has never looked so good. The Rose Garden, where many a press conference takes place, pales in comparison. The Victory Garden is a victory for sustainable agriculture, nutrition, education, the economy and the environment--not to mention the incredible feeling of accomplishment and the surpassed taste of freshly picked vegetables.
UC Davis' counterpart to a Victory Garden is the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden to be planted this fall near the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Faciity. A Sausalito team submitted the winning design. The haven is expected to be dedicated in October. Honey bees will find a year-around food source, while visitors (the two-legged kind) will be able to savor the garden and glean new ideas for their own gardens.
Almond, apple, black elderberry, California buckwheat, California honeysuckle, coyote brush, lavender, Oregon grape, persimmon, plum, sage, tower of jewels...A veritable bee smorgasbord.
It will be National Pollinator Week every week and the honey bee will be the Poster Child every day.
That's the least we can do for the most important of all insects.
Quick! How many legs does a honey bee have?
If you said "three pairs" or "six legs," you'd bee right.
But have you ever noticed the honey bee in flight?
The worker bee packs pollen in her pollen baskets or corbiculae, located on the midsegments of her outer hind legs.
The legs are fringed with long, curved hairs that hold the pollen in place. Once she's gathered pollen, she moves it to the pollen press located between the two largest segments of the hind leg.
The pollen press basically presses the pollen into pellets.
Sometimes the pollen load looks as big as a beach ball and you wonder how she can carry that load back to the hive.
But she does.
The bee with the huge pollen load below is one of Susan Cobey's bees. She's a UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist and manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
President Obama caught a little flak when he smacked a fly during a recent press interview in the White House.
During the interview, a pesky fly buzzed around his head and then landed on his hand. Big mistake. The commander-in-chief nailed him.
The bug stopped there. "I got the sucker," he said.
That prompted the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to protest the fly "execution."
And now YouTube, Facebook, My Space, the bloggers and the tweeters are all getting into the act.
The President killed a fly.
So have I.
To be honest, I'm not one to participate in a catch-and-release program.
However, I do photograph them occasionally. See, there's this forensic entomologist at UC Davis named Robert Kimsey who shows fly images in his PowerPoints.
Last weekend I photographed a blow fly that landed on my pink-petaled cosmos. Did it for Bob. Honest.
Surely it's true that "You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar" but frankly, I wouldn't waste the honey. Or the vinegar. Or the time. And why would I want to catch flies anyway? The fly is not my favorite pollinator. It's a notorious disease transmitter.
Still, it can be pretty in pink.
Got the sucker.
Blow Fly on Cosmos
The Shadow Knows
John Emery is a spider man.
Oh, he’s not a super hero who clings to city skyscrapers and chases villains and rescues damsels in distress.
He’s the IT manager for Sue Mills,
But he's truly a spider man. He has "his" very own spider cocoon right outside his office window on
In a recent e-mail, he wrote: “My co-workers think I'm strange (they want to kill the spiders) and my friends (and wife) to whom I've been sending pics today (taken with my iPhone through a handheld magnifying lens, using a flashlight for lighting) seem unimpressed.”
So Emery kindly e-mailed some of his photos to the UC Davis Department of Entomology thinking we'd enjoy seeing them and share his excitement.
We did and we do!
"It's like a nature documentary right next to my desk," he wrote. "How lucky am I?”
Frankly, we’re a little envious, too. Today outside my window in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, a mud dauber cruised past and bounced off the window pane. A crane fly bumbled by. Several ants crawled unceremoniously across the ledge.
But a spider home outside my window? I wish!
“I’ve always loved the bees and the bugs,” Emery said. He annually attends the UC Davis Picnic Day, which, like any good picnic, includes bugs.
At this year's Picnic Day, he and his wife (a 2000 graduate of UC Davis with a degree in English), pointed out the insect displays in Briggs Hall to their three-year-old daughter. She didn't seem at all impressed. "She didn't want to hang out near any of the bugs,” Emery lamented. “She was already traumatized by the snakes we'd seen earlier” and “we had to leave.”
Meanwhile, the spiders aren't leaving. Not just yet. "They're probably yellow sac spiders,” said Lynn Kimsey, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, which houses seven million specimens (plus live displays of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, Vietnamese walking sticks and black widows spiders).
Unlike a web weaver, a sac spider builds a silken tube or sac. It does so in a protected area, such as under a log, in a corner of a room—or right outside John Emery’s San Francisco office window.
"Omigosh!" exclaimed Bohart senior museum scientist Steve Heydon when he saw the spider sac bulging with little ones. "Look at them all! I think they're yellow sac spiders, but without a specimen, I can't be certain."
Heydon IS certain, however, how many black widows are in an average egg case, a question he’s asked periodically during school tours at the museum. And, ahem, just how many are there? 175. He counted them. Took him an hour. No escapees, either.
Meanwhile, John Emery continues to make us all envious by capturing wonderful images of the spider family outside his office, using an iPhone and a handheld magnifying glass.
But wait! John Emery, our San Francisco Spider Man, is likely to become a bee man.
“I’ve recently been really, really wanting," he said, "to start a bee colony in my backyard.”