Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Willow in Bloom

Along with helping individuals share their enjoyment of growing flowers and plants, garden clubs are effective groups for spreading information on horticulture and for raising awareness of environmental issues. The Memphis Herb Society invited me to speak to their group. I gave a presentation on the relationship between the herbs, people, and the honey bees and other pollinators. Many of the herbs are flowering plants that rely upon the bees for reproduction. In turn, the bees receive food from the flowering herbs. We use herbs for flavorings in our cooking, for medications, and often simply for enjoyment. Many of the culinary herbs, like thyme, rosemary, and sage, are excellent bee plants. Thyme is used to produce control treatments for parasitic honey bee mites. Herbs are used to produce many of our important medications. Some herbs, like lemon balm, bee balm, and hyssop, are grown for their fragrance. These herbs in the mint family are all important bee plants producing nectar and pollen. I encouraged the members of the Herb Society to make their plantings “pollinator herb gardens.” I told them that their herb gardens designed to attract, feed, and provide nesting areas for pollinators would eventually be connected to other pollinator gardens and pastures by a series of pollinator corridors.

One of the plants that I featured in my presentation to this environmentally conscious group was the black willow, which is now in bloom. Willows are trees that grow along the banks of waterways. They are important medicinal plants that were used by American Indians for their anti-inflammatory and antiseptic effects. An Italian professor extracted salicylic acid from willow flowers and buds in 1838. In 1899, Bayer created the name “aspirin” by rearranging the genus name for meadowsweet willow, “Spirea.” Willows attract large numbers of honey bees to river bottom lands to fly among golden-colored catkins. These are clusters of flowers without petals; the willow is evolving a reproductive strategy relying upon wind pollination to replace insect pollination.
--Richard

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