The plum is the first white-blooming tree seen in the woods early in the year. Plums blossoms have just started showing in the Mid-South. Plums can be seen in large thickets and scattered among the understory of forests. In the next few weeks some stands of plum in full bloom will give the woods the appearance of a late winter snowfall. Their locations often reveal pioneer homesteads long abandoned. When one encounters plums, pecans, mimosa, sassafras, yucca, forsythia, daffodil, catalpa, or wisteria in the woods, bricks and rubble of earlier dwellings are usually close by. We often find a number of varieties of plums in a woodlot, forest margin, or abandoned farmstead. Along with wild plums one may find Chickasaw plums, thought to have been cultivated by the Chickasaw Indians and early settlers. Many domestic plums require pollination by honey bees or bumblebees to produce fruit. Wild animals attracted to the fruit scatter plum seeds.
In today’s photo, an aging forager gathers pollen from a plum blossom. The old worker bee, a survivor of the winter, has lost much of the hair from her abdomen, giving her a black, shiny appearance. The bee clings onto the plum flower using the pads and hooks of her feet. Using body attachments shaped like combs and rakes, the worker preens the pollen granules from her hairy body, into pellets of gray-colored pollen to be carried on her hind legs. The arrival of pollen being brought into the hive in late winter serves to stimulate the queen to increase egg laying. Plums provide valuable nectar and pollen early in the year when it is most needed for winter survival and for starting the colony’s population build-up for the spring. The plum is a member of the important family of bee plants, the roses. Other roses include California’s almonds and other fruit trees: pears, peaches, cherries, and apples. Hawthorns, blackberries, strawberries, and greenbrier are also roses. The bees and beekeepers welcome the plums in bloom.