Strung out on pollen

Now here is something you don’t see every day. This amazing photo taken by beekeeper Morris Ostrofsky of southern Oregon shows a honey bee carrying a thread of evening primrose pollen.

The genus Oenothera contains about 145 species of flowering plants, many of which have pollen grains that are strung together by viscin threads. Viscin is a clear, tasteless, sticky substance made from sap. The grains of pollen are loosely joined in wispy, cobweb-like strands which stick to visiting pollinators.

Some botanists theorize that plants evolved this complex structure so the pollen would stick onto insects that aren’t necessarily designed to carry pollen—nearly hairless creatures such as beetles and moths.

Other plants in the family Onagraceae also have viscin threads, although some—like those from fireweed, Epilobium angustifolium—are too small to see without magnification.

Thanks, Morris. I don’t see how you did it.


Update: Morris sent us some more information.

The variety of primrose is Hooker’s primrose.  Perennial and self seeds readily.  I found it while on a bike ride some years ago. One of the really amazing things about this plant can be seen around sunset.  Just as the sun goes down the ripe flower buds open at an astonishing speed.  They go from being completely closed to fully open in a mater of two to three minutes!   They have entertained many garden visitors.  That’s not all.

This grand opening is often followed quickly by the occasional Sphinx moth getting a snack and pollinating also.  The following morning when it gets warm and light enough for the bees to fly the flowers are then visited by honey bees some of which carry long threads of pollen back to the hives.  When they arrive  on the landing board it is quite obvious which plants those bees have been pollinating.  As it warms up further the flowers collapse never to repeat this choreographed dance again.   Although the flowers live for less than a day there are many more to take center stage every day until the first frosts.


A honey bee about to pollinate an evening primrose flower. Photo © Morris Ostrofsky.


The same bee, up close. Photo © Morris Ostrofsky.

Discover more from Honey Bee Suite

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


  • Good lord, you can see the individual grains! Great capture, Morris!

    And Rusty, do you suppose her co-workers had the same comment, “I don’t see how you did it!”?

    Shady Grove Farm
    Corinth, KY

    • Roger,

      Certainly, if you are going treatment-free, VSH is an excellent option. If treatment-free is not your goal, VSH is an expensive option. Remember, too, that when breeders select for certain traits, other traits are sometimes lost. I’ve heard a few reports of VSH bees being more aggressive, for example. These are just anecdotal reports and I have no idea how frequently this type of complaint arises or if the claims are valid.

      In any case, I think you need to decide what your goals are and then buy queens that most closely align with what you are trying to do. If, for example, you want locally-adapted bees, maybe raising your own is the best alternative, unless you have a VSH breeder nearby that you can purchase from.

      Like everything else in beekeeping, it depends.

    • Alex,

      My reference books mention evening primrose as both a nectar- and pollen-producing plant, but none give information on the quantities. Some people plant it for butterfly nectar.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.