Saturday, May 8, 2010

Blackberries in Bloom

A state-wide meeting of beekeepers found a number of seasoned beekeepers sitting quietly. A beekeeper, new to the craft, commented, “My bees filled a super the first week of May with clear honey. What was the source of the nectar?” In unison six people answered, “Blackberry!” Blackberry is a native vine in the rose family, one of the important families of bee plants. The roses, which also include flowering roses, almonds, cherries, apples, plums, pears, crabapples, and hawthorns, are heavy producers of nectar and pollen. Blackberry secretes an abundance of nectar at the base of the flowers that is highly attractive to honey bees. From this nectar the bees produce a highly valued honey that is clear to amber in color. Blackberries occur along forest clearings and margins. Where there is adequate sunlight, large stands of the vines can be found. However, the availability of blackberry honey from wild plants is not always consistent from year to year. Stands of the plant often decline as forest trees shade the blackberry vines. Blackberries are also cultivated for their delicious fruit which is used to make preserves and fill pies. Commercially cultivated plantings of blackberries usually require honey bee hives to be brought into the fields for pollination, as native pollinators are often not available in adequate numbers.

If you click on today’s photo, you can see a honey bee foraging for nectar in a blackberry blossom. As the bee moves about the flower, she inadvertently brushes the exposed flower parts with her hairy body. Pollen granules from the flower’s anthers adhere to the hairs on the bee, and she carries them to the sticky stigma of another blackberry flower. Only with this insect pollination will there be fruit produced. The fruit and seed of the blackberry provide enjoyable food for humans as well as important food for wildlife and songbirds. The health of the environment can be measured in part by the abundance of wildlife, songbirds, and pollinators.

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