Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Reflecting on the Meadowlark Nature Festival

Bombus bifarius on Okanagan Sunflower

Ever since I found out there was an early-blooming Okanagan sunflower, aka arrowleaf balsam root. about 4 years ago, I have longed to see it in person. This week my dream came true as my friend Jasna and I headed to the Meadowlark Nature Festival in the South Okanagan. "I see arrowleaf!!!!", I exclaimed on the highway west of Princeton. Jasna found a place to pull over and we risked our lives crossing the busy roadway to explore the beauty.  We found arrowleaf balsam root, wild strawberries, Oregon grape, and some mystery wildflowers we'd never encountered before.

Hydrophyllum capitatum

We walked up a steep deer path and found this lovely specimen, which is ballhead waterleaf. Isn't it adorable?

Imagine my delight when I found one right at roadside level that was in bloom! There were about three flowers, and two were being worked voraciously by bumblebees.

You can see the resemblance to phacelia, which is what the flower used to be classified as, but it has since been moved by botanists to the waterleaf family.

We found the bones of what we can only guess was another overzealous botanist come to a bad end.

I was excited to see this painted lady sunning herself on a suitably hued rock.

Saskatoons were in bud and newly opened here, but the roadside at lower elevations was abundant with flowering Amelanchier. There were many plants getting ready to bloom.

We reveled in the scents and textures of this roadside stop.

This looks like an interesting critter nest.

Snags are an important source of nesting material for cavity nesting bees and a host of other plants and insects. Please do not carelessly burn these habitats for campfire wood.

Lithospermum ruderale

This was our first encounter with lemonweed, which we now know is an excellent spring bee plant.

Okanagan sunflower loves steep slopes. Here, it is best buds with the low-growing form of Oregon Grape.

Wild larkspur in all its glory. (This is the larkspur you want to plant for bees, NOT the tall cultivars which are lacking the pollen and nectar rewards.) You can buy seeds from local wildflower growers.
You must check out artist Jasna Guy's blog post on Menzies' Larkspur, with a stop animation of her drawings!!!!

When I was reviewing this photo of Bombus bifarius on dandelion, I noticed that yellow bit on her thorax. Can you see it?

Move in closer . . .

And closer . . . . What is that? I thought it was a piece of petal, but something made my spider senses tingle. I asked Jasna what she thought it was. "It looks like pollinia," she said, "The pollen mass of an orchid." Later on I asked bee scientist Lincoln Best what it could be. He confirmed it is likely the pollinia of Calypso bulb orchid which blooms at this time of the year. "Sometimes you see bees with more than one pair of pollinia, he explained." These are carried from the bumblebee to the sticky female parts of another calypso bulb orchid. So cool!

Our trip to the Meadowlark festival was off to a great start, our appetite whetted for adventures to come. Stay tuned for more blog posts from us as we reflect on our photos and memories.

In the meantime, check out this awesome stop animation of a calypso orchid flowering and going to seed.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Mother’s Day Apologia

And so it is Mother’s Day and I have been a mother for 16 years, a sort-of wife for 20 odd years. (Some would say very odd.) I have lived in this coastal city for that long, after leaving the infinitely generous and stretchy womb of Mother Prairie. And I feel it is necessary to apologize the to the lovely old mother lilac trees in our backyard. I’m sorry I did not get organized to book and pay the pruner and now you are heavy and laden with blooms which endanger your branches, (but which I relish with all my heart). I have been a naughty and selfish child.

And I apologize to the trees, especially those that feed the bees, as I have neglected my study of you for the study of the shrubs and herbs. It is because I am nearsighted and short of stature and when I climb up on things I fall and bad things happen. I am proud of my scars, but not so proud that I did not learn from those lessons.  I have gifted your feet with checkered lilies, geraniums and bleeding hearts. (There is more to come.) I must rip the blackberry, ivy and lamium from your base. Apologies for having left it so late.

I apologize to the hawthorn trees that bloom along 24thavenue, as I have not lauded your praises enough and walked among your blossoms with that appropriate awe that you so deserve. I can make that up to you. You feed so many bees. You clear our lungs and perk up our sluggish and overfed hearts. I must make amends. I will be hawthorn bathing with a spirit of abandonment in the next two weeks. 

This year your blooms are overlapping with those of the cherry laurel. It will be interesting to see how you relate to one another in this way. The spring has been cold and wet, but you are resilient and I hope for sunshine for your haws. I hope the bees can visit you to make your fruit abundant for the song birds that depend on them.
I apologize to the redbud tree blooming near the Flower Factory. It took so long for me to learn your name. How rude. How boorish of me. We skipped the lineup inside the flower shop and I took photos of you instead. Better than dead flowers shipped by airplane from some godforsaken site of capitalist plundering. I’m sorry you have to see that day in and day out. It is soul-crushing I know.
The last time I visited you I climbed up on the bench to get closer to your beautiful blossoms. Two years have passed, and I no longer feel like I can take the risk. The torrential rain fall made the surface of the seat slippery. This makes me sad, but it is how we measure our age—by our relationship to trees.

And you, poor mock orange. You got the worst of it. The man cut you right down to the ground two weeks ago. Every morning since, I have mourned his stupidity. I have loved you for so many years. You have been there through the ripping pain of childbirth, friends made and lost, neighbors’ children conceived and fledged, the joys and sorrows of us all who pass by you on the way to the way through the way somewhere else and back again. There are tears in my eyes right now and my chest is aching with grief. You are the symbol of loss itself. The scent of your blossoms echoes in my memory. We have let you down. We should have done better. We should have loved you more. I will take your loss and use it to teach what we should not lose: the fight for beauty, phenological awareness, and sustainable cultivation. I will plant a new mock orange in your memory. Maybe a dozen. Perhaps I will steal one of your shoots under the cover of night and root your progeny. Is that what you want me to do? I’m listening.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Floral Reproduction and Cuckoo Bees at Tupper

One of the advantages of having the science classroom so close to the art room at Tupper is we can take advantage of the tools in Ms. Krickan's class. We love this 3D model of the inside of a flower. Biologist Erin Udal introduces the concepts of plant reproduction: plant sex!!!!

It's important to understand the anatomy of the bee's face and tongue in order to understand how the flower fits the bee and the bee fits the flower.

Erin brings a collection of her locally sourced bees, flies, and wasps to study under the dissecting microscopes. Each student has a field book to record observations during this project.

This active classroom is also used for planting in the Tupper Greenway right outside the door.

How NOT to put a pinned insect under a microscope! You should hold it in your fingers or put it in a glob of silly putty, otherwise the yellow jacket will lose its delicate appendages.

This poster comes in handy to show the biodiversity of North American Bees. We also use their book Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America's Bees by Wilson and Carril. Plus we use another handy dandy book called Victory Gardens for Bees. (-;

Learning about the gender of plants and bees helps create insights into that complex and murky area of human gender and sexuality.

Just as finches developed morphology to feed in an evolutionary niche, bees also have different shapes of heads and tongues to fit into different guilds of flowers.

 Artist and gardener Catherine Shapiro gave a demo on creating paint from natural pigments.

Students personalized their field journals with collage.

These are the rich colors made with natural pigments.

Catherine shows a highly coveted  research book: Natural Colorants for Dyeing and Lake Pigments: Practical Recipes and their Historical Sources by Jo Kirby.

Bees on the line! Watercolor and fineliner paintings in progress.

The next day we looked at flowers under the scopes.

Ms. Krickan explains the dissecting tools to grade 8 art students. These are all flowers from my garden: rhododendrons, forget-me-nots, bluebells, dandelions, and bleeding hearts.

Students draw outside in the greenway, and inside as they look at flowers under the scopes.

I took them out to show the nesting sites and practise netting and releasing bees.

After class I spotted to species of cuckoo bees at another nesting site  which we'll have to check out next class. This is a nomada species.

This is a sphecodes cuckoo bee.  Now that the sweat bees have started their nests, these parasitic "wannabees" sneak in and lay their eggs in a true bee's nest.

Here's the narwhal of the fly world: Bombilidae spp.

Watch for these honey-bee sized andrena mining bees in the apple blossoms.

The dogwoods are blooming, but I hardly ever see insects in the blossoms. Let me know if you do!

And here's my first seasonal sighting of an escaped Eastern Bumblebee--a farmed bee from the greenhouse industry that is implicated in the collapse of Western Bumblebee populations.

Looking forward to three days of lessons next week!