"Where do bees get red pollen?" we were asked. "We've seen bees packing blood-red pollen at the entrance to a hive."
Well, one flower that yields red pollen is rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora). It's a drought-tolerant perennial, a succulent.
Interestingly enough, the blossom itself is neon pink or magenta, the kind that cyclists wear to be seen.
Rock purslane attracts its share of honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees and sweat bees. Other pollinators, including flies, land on it, too. It's a good plant to brighten your garden and to observe the wide variety of floral visitors.
Other flowers that yield red pollen include henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) and horse chestnut (Aesulus hippocastanum).
Bees collect pollen as a protein source to rear their brood.
"The importance of pollen to the health and vigor of the honey bee colony cannot be overstated," writes Norman Gary, emeritus professor of entomology, in his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist, The Care and Keeping of Bees. "Honey satisfies the bees' carbohydrate requirement, while all of the other nutrients--minerals, proteins, vitamins and fatty substances--are derived from pollen."
"Nurse bees consume large amounts of pollen, converting it into nutritious secretions that are fed to developing larvae," Gary points out. "During an entire year, a typical bee colony gathers an consumes about 77 pounds of pollen."
And some of it is red!
Honey bees in the pink?
If you plant rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora), a perennial succulent, be prepared for a posse of honey bees.
Our rock purslane is drawing so many bees that you'd never know there's a declining bee population and that there's a new sheriff (colony collapse disorder) in town.
They buzz, two or three at a time, toward a single blossom, and lug huge red pollen loads back to their hives.
We're glad to see there's so much interest in bees. A documentary making the rounds now is Queen of the Sun, an advocacy film probably playing in a theater near you. It's playing in Davis June 17 through June 23 at the Varsity Theater, downtown Davis. We saw it at a personal showing at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis a few weeks ago. The photography is stunning. Just as we prepared to watch it, one of the bee folks quipped: "This is a bee-rated movie."
For a good look at bee behavior, there's an online video titled "Bee Talker: The Secret World of Bees." Bee behaviorist Mark Winston, professor of biological sciences at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, B.C., guides us "beyond the biology of the creatures to show us that our honey-producing neighbors have broader implications for humans and the plant.”
For another good look at bee behavior, step out into your yard. (That is, if you have bee plants in your yard.) "Won't the bees sting you?" some folks ask. No worries. These bees are foraging. They're not defending their colony.
Unlike airplane pilots, honey bees don't file a flight plan.
They know where they're going because their sisters tell them with their waggle dances.
Pollen. Nectar. Propolis. All good.
Bees seem to really like the pollen on rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora). It's red, but they can't see red; red appears to them as black.
Gardeners who grow rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora) in their yards are accustomed to seeing bees gathering red pollen.
Beekeepers? When they open their hives and see all the different colors of pollen--including yellow, orange, pink, purple, white and red--do they know where the red might have come from?
Interestingly, last year a beekeeper in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., reported seeing red--red honey. Finally, she realized her bees had been sipping maraschino cherry juice from vats at a nearby maraschino cherry company and bringing red "nectar" back to the hives.
It didn't taste like honey. That's because it wasn't.
The New York Times noted: "A fellow beekeeper sent samples of the red substance that the bees were producing to an apiculturalist who works for New York State, and that expert, acting as a kind of forensic foodie, found the samples riddled with Red Dye No. 40, the same dye used in the maraschino cherry juice."
Bee can't see red but a lot of other folks did.
A light rainstorm strikes the garden, pummeling and shredding some of the blossoms.
As the rain lets up, a honey bee buzzes into a rock purslane blossom for a sweet shot of nectar.
She is not alone.
If you look closely, you'll see three green aphids on an unopened blossom next to her.
There are, entomologists say, about 450 different species of aphids in California.
One specie found the rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora).
Score: Beneficial insect: 1. Destructive pests, 3.
Caught between a rock and a...soft place...
You'll often see tiny sweat bees nectaring rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora) in urban gardens. This plant, a native of Chile, brightens landscapes with its pinkish magenta blossoms.You probably wouldn't wear this color if you were in the federal witness protection program. It shouts "Look at me!"
The old saying that "it's so loud it could stop traffic" applies here.
It certainly stops insect traffic. (The lure, though, is the pollen, not the color.)
Last week we watched a tiny female sweat bee (Halictus tripartitus) nectaring the rock purslane.
Then she crawled to the lip of the flower, peered at her surroundings, and took flight.