bee forage

Honey, what’s that smell?

I’ve always heard that honey bees would collect pollen from skunk cabbage, but I’ve never actually seen them do it until yesterday. Skunk cabbage, Lysichiton americanum, is extremely attractive to flies, and the flowers I saw yesterday were loaded with flies as well as bees.

In Honey Plants of North America (1926), John H. Lovell writes that some beekeepers in the eastern United States prized skunk cabbage because it was one of the earliest pollen-producing plants and was responsible for early brood development. He goes on to say that the hood (or spathe) protects bees from the wind so they can collect pollen on days that otherwise might be too cold for foraging.

Lovell was writing about the eastern skunk cabbage which is similar to our western species. According to a Washington State University bulletin, “Western skunk cabbage derives its name from the malodorous, distinctive “skunky” odor that it emits. The brilliant color of the flowers earns it an alternative name of ‘swamp lantern.'” The bulletin also mentions that skunk cabbage is one of the first plants to bloom in the spring. It begins to emerge in February and may continue to bloom throughout March and April.

According to Lovell, skunk cabbage is strictly a pollen plant. If any nectar is secreted at all, the amount is miniscule.

I took the following pictures yesterday afternoon, which was sunny but cold. Both bees and flies flocked to the bright yellow flowers.

Rusty

Lysichiton americanum

Small flies can be seen hiding inside the spathe.

Two honey bees and a fly gather pollen.

Honey bee pollen sac getting full.

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