You know what it’s like. You’re reading an article about honey bees, but the photo shows a yellowjacket. You’re reading a story about saving the bumble bees, but the photo shows a hover fly. You’re reading about mason bees, but you see a portrait of a bumble bee. What gives?
It turns out that bee lovers are not the only ones besieged by errors of identification. Botanist Dr. Lena Struwe writes an entire blog about botanical inaccuracies that she finds in advertising, on products, in editorial content, and—well—just about everywhere. She collects these findings and tries to get them straightened out. Her sidebar content sounds a lot like me when I’m pleading for people to use the right words so that we can actually communicate with each other.
A blog that’s fun to read
I’ve been following Lena’s blog, Botanical Accuracy, for about a year, and I find her posts delightful. For example, her Christmas post was about mistletoe. She provides photos of the actual plants, and then shows multiple examples where the word “mistletoe” is accompanied by illustrations of holly.
I loved her post on flowering ferns. Say what? People actually sell these but, of course, they are not ferns at all because no fern has flowers. In fact, the plants for sale are Incarvillea delavayi, a member of the Bignoniaceae family.
My absolutely favorite post was about chamomile tea and the different flowers shown on the boxes of these teas. She writes, “Stash’s non-organic chamomile tea unfortunately shows a fleabane plant. Fleabane has been used for, you guessed it, removing fleas and other parasites on our bodies and clothes.” Wow, how appetizing is that?
The importance to beekeepers
Botanical accuracy is important to beekeepers—at least, it should be. An example that comes to mind is the confusion between red clover and crimson clover. Honey bees are not fond of red clover and will generally ignore it. When those same bees encounter crimson clover, however, they think they’ve died and gone to heaven.
These two plants don’t even look alike. Red clover, Trifolium pratense, has a spherical dark pink inflorescensce. Crimson clover, Trifolium incarnatum L, has a pine-tree shaped inflorescence that is comprised of 75-125 blood red florets. People tend to refer to both species as red clover, but red clover isn’t actually red.
Back in 2011, I reported finding this statement in one of the popular bee journals: “Red clover (crimson clover) is generally considered poor bee forage.” Whoa! Make up your mind: which is it, red or crimson? Which bees? If you seed red clover for honey bees you will be sorely disappointed. Seed crimson clover and you may get some awesome honey.
The difference to bees has to do with the length of the corolla. Although honey bees are known as long-tongued bees, their tongues are on the short end of the long-tongued spectrum. They just can’t quite reach all the way down into the corolla of a red clover flower, but crimson clover flowers are a perfect fit. Bee species with longer tongues, including most bumble bees, do fine with either flower.
Put this blog on your reading list
Whether you keep honey bees or encourage your local native bees to dine in your garden, I urge you to take a look at Botanical Accuracy. I guarantee you will learn something. The posts are irregular—sometimes they are weeks apart, other times they are close together—but they are always enlightening.
Okay, just one more tidbit before I go. Did you ever wonder what part of the celery plant is fashioned into a stick, the kind that lies peaceably beside the carrots sticks? Turns out, those celery sticks are made from the leaf petiole, not the stem or some other nondescript part. Yes, those stringy, long, and rib-like green parts are actually leaves. If you don’t believe me, go have a look!
And thanks, Lena, for a great site.