What’s the buzz?
Honeybees are fond of milkweed blossoms. JEANNIE CARL/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
The other day one of our visitors came inside the building and said, “You aren’t going to believe me but there is a bee STUCK on a milkweed plant, and it can’t get off the plant!”
Of course, everyone in earshot had to go outside to see for themselves, and sure enough, there was a bee “stuck” to the milkweed. The poor bee was gently lifted off the blossom, and we watched as it went about flitting from milkweed plant to milkweed plant. As we spent more time watching the bees, we noticed others that were “stuck” and struggling to escape the blossoms. More rescues were made. Even something as small as a honeybee is sometimes helped at the center.
That activity made us wonder if the nectar and or pollen would be poisonous to the bees or if honey made from milkweed nectar would be poisonous. After doing some searching and asking questions, I discovered honeybees are fond of milkweed blossoms, so much so that the bees will desert other flowers when milkweed is available. The plants provide a good nectar flow, but the bees discard the pollen. Assuming enough milkweed plants are available, milkweeds will produce a good crop of honey that is mild in flavor and light in color. The milkweed plants are major “bee plants” and are considered beneficial to bees in the North Central states, the Northeast, Southeast, the Plains and the mountainous West.
These plants are common wildflowers in most areas of the country. Around a hundred species are found worldwide with slightly over half of those being native to the U.S. Members of the milkweed family can be found along roadsides as well as in fields, meadows, prairies, and thickets.
This brings me back to the information I found out about the pollen. They discard the pollen and do not use it because of its sticky nature. Also, it clings to the bees’ heads and legs, thereby affecting the ability to fly and their appearance. So, if they discard the pollen for these reasons, what do they do with other pollen that is collected? While the nectar is used to produce honey, the pollen is the protein source for the honey bee colony, and it is the only protein that bees eat. Without protein, no young bees could be raised, and the colony would die.
Maybe next time you are walking past some milkweed, you might stop and admire the beautiful blossoms and take notice if any bees are stuck. It would be the “bees’ knees” if you gently helped unstick them with leaf or stick. They will thank you by providing lots of honey!
Jeannie Carl is a naturalist at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center. The center is located at 151 E. White Bear Drive in Summit Hill. Call 570-645-8597 for information.