Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Smartweed in Bloom

Honey can vary widely in color, aroma, and taste depending upon the flowers that the bees are foraging. Flowering plants compete with each other for available insect and animal pollinators. Those that are successful in attracting pollinators are the more likely to reproduce and expand their territory. The plants compete by offering to the pollinators different aromas, flavors, and concentrations of sugars in their nectar. Since honey is made from concentrated flower nectar, the differences in the nectars make for differences in honeys. Flowering plants have evolved to present their blooms to the pollinators at varying times during the year. By staggering the bloom dates, plants are able to lessen the competition for available pollinators. This results in honeys that taste different at different times of the year. Having a continuous series of flowering plants coming into bloom also provides for good honey bee nutrition.

Smartweed, also known as pinkweed, is a prolific flowering plant of the damp ground along ditches and waterways throughout the Arkansas Delta. Smartweed is found around the levees of rice fields. Its pink blooms attract great numbers of honey bees in the early fall. After smartweed is pollinated by honey bees, it produces large amounts of seed which propagate the plant and provide food for ducks and other birds. Smartweed, related to buckwheat, is one of the plants that produce robust-flavored honeys, stronger in aroma and flavor than the light honeys of the spring and summer. Other plants adding nectar to the stronger fall honeys are bitterweed, and fall asters. We consider the smartweed quite a beneficial plant for the honey bees. It is almost always a consistent producer of large volumes of nectar at the time of the year when the bees need to be building up stores of honey for winter. Smartweed was used as a medicinal plant by the pioneers who treated the legs of lame horses and mules with a liniment made by boiling the plant’s leaves.

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