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Bumble Bees

Fringed Polygala Flowering

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I would like to dedicate this post to Jenepher Lingelbach, my very dear friend and giant contributor to the field of environmental education in Vermont. Thousands of people, both children and adults, benefitted from her enthusiastic and bountiful natural curiosity and her delight in sharing it with others.  Jen’s influence will be felt for many generations to come.

Fringed Polygala (Polygala paucifolia) is one of those wildflowers that I am irresistibly drawn to photograph and post about almost every year. Also called Gaywings, this diminutive flower (about 1 ½ inches long) is a member of the Milkwort family, and produces compounds reputed to increase milk production in nursing mammals. The flaring wings and propeller-like. fringe on the flower’s tip give it the appearance of a small magenta airplane. When pollinators (mostly bumble bees) land on the fringe-tipped petal, the reproductive structures are exposed. In addition to the showy flowers that are insect-pollinated, there are also inconspicuous flowers that are borne underground and which self-fertilize without opening. (Thanks to Roger and Eleanor Shepard, and Sara and Warren Demont for photo op.)

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Bumble Bee Queens Searching For Nest Sites

5-1-17 bumblebee 008This is the time of year when queen bumble bees have emerged from hibernation and are exploring for good nest sites, using both sight and smell. When searching for a suitable place in which to build a nest, a queen bumble bee flies in a distinctive zig-zag pattern low over the ground. If a certain cavity or hole interests her she will land on the ground and investigate by going into the crevice or hole.

Nest sites vary between bumble bee species. Most of the more common species prefer dry, dark cavities. Some nest underground, in places such as abandoned rodent holes, under sheds and in compost heaps. Of those that nest above ground, some make nests in thick grass, while others make nests in bird boxes and in trees.

Bumble bee nests are quite small, as they house only around 400 bumble bees (as opposed to a honey bee hive with a colony of 50,000 bees). At the end of the summer, if the nest has been successful in rearing new queens, they will leave the nest to mate and then go on to hibernate somewhere in the soil – ready to emerge the following spring to start their own colony. The original queen and the rest of the bees die as cold weather approaches.

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Trailing Arbutus Flowering

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The fragrant flowers of Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) are starting to open in central Vermont.  While this plant, also known as Mayflower, is an early-flowering plant, it appears to be even more so this year.  Fortunately the earliest flowers survived the recent cold spell and will undoubtedly provide food for the several species of queen bumble bees that are soon to emerge from hibernation.

THE TRAILING ARBUTUS

I wandered lonely where the pine-trees made

Against the bitter East their barricade,

And, guided by its sweet

Perfume, I found, within a narrow dell,

The trailing spring flower tinted like a shell

Amid dry leaves and mosses at my feet.

 

From under dead boughs, for whose loss the pines

Moaned ceaseless overhead, the blossoming vines

Lifted their glad surprise,

While yet the bluebird smoothed in leafless trees

His feathers ruffled by the chill sea-breeze,

And snow-drifts lingered under April skies.

 

As, pausing, o’er the lonely flower I bent,

I thought of lives thus lowly, clogged and pent,

Which yet find room,

Through care and cumber, coldness and decay,

To lend a sweetness to the ungenial day

And make the sad earth happier for their bloom.

—      John Greenleaf Whittier

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com  and click on the yellow “donate” button.