The bloom of the blackberry is milestone on the beekeeper’s calendar. Shirley Murphy told me her Tennessee River bees were bringing in large amounts of light gray colored pollen. When I took today’s picture, I knew the source of the pollen: blackberry. I had noticed my Arkansas Delta bees bringing in large amounts of the light gray colored pollen along with bright yellow pollen. After several days of cool, rainy weather, the sun broke out of the clouds briefly; and the bees burst from their hives and converged on blackberry thickets in great numbers. Blackberries are an important source of pollen for honey bees feeding a large population of brood.
The blackberry is a vine in the important family of bee plants, the roses. Members of the rose family supply great amounts of nectar and pollen to honey bees and native pollinators. Other roses include the flowering rose plants and a number of vines: greenbrier, raspberries, and strawberries. A number of roses are shrubs and trees, including hawthorns, apples, almonds, apricots, peaches, cherries, plums, pears, and crabapples. Today’s photo shows honey bees pollinating blackberry flowers. As the bees scrub through the flowers, they transfer grains of pollen from the exposed anthers to the sticky stigmas, allowing the plants to produce fruit and seed. Since blackberries bloom over a rather long period of time, there are buds, flowers, and unripened fruit showing in the picture. Later, there will be dark, ripe fruit as well. Cultivated blackberries are a favorite for pies, jams, and jellies. Wild blackberries provide food for songbirds and wildlife. Seeds are dispersed by birds, and 10-foot-tall blackberry thickets grow rapidly in full sun. In colonial times, the tough vines of blackberry plants were stripped of their thorns, and then they were used to bind bundles of straw to build skeps and roofing thatch. Skeps are dome-shaped bee hives that look like inverted straw baskets. Honey bees were brought from Europe to North America aboard sailing ships in skeps.