Who pollinates wild black raspberries?
On the nearly perpendicular hillside behind my house, fighting for space among the ferns and stinging nettles, the wild black raspberries grow. Sweet, intensely purple, and lightly hairy, these berries are my special treat. I collect them every summer, risking their savage recurved spines and the perilous embankment. At the end of each session, my hands are stained with blood and mauve, and my boots overflow with forest duff.
As I do this tedious work, I imagine the possibilities: ganache-covered chocolate cake relaxing in a pool of black raspberry coulis, ice cream the color of violets, or warm toast glistening with berry jam. And don’t forget key lime pie: a tart foundation for mounds of hollow-centered jewels.
So which bee is it?
So on a sunny afternoon last week, armed with a one-quart plastic container that once held yogurt, I ascended the hill. As I picked and cussed and backed nasty spines from my skin, I once again wondered who pollinates the black raspberries.
Since the plant is in the rose family like so many bee-pollinated berries, I assume it is bee pollinated. Every spring I try to catch a pollinator in the act, but nothing stands out. I’ve seen a honey bee or two, an occasional Andrena, and a few bumble bees, but no consistent visitors appear.
I was deep in thought about the mystery bee, my container nearly full, when I stepped backward onto a piece of broken limb. It rolled. I tumbled. In a flash I was sliding backward, head-first down the hill with an earthworm’s view of the firmament. Above me a pair of jays scoffed and jeered at my antics.
As I slid down the embankment, a place that smelled brown and composty, all I could think of was the container: Keep it upright! Keep it level! Feeling like the Statue of Liberty or the Olympic torch bearer, I slid down, down, down with one arm held on high. I watched it, concentrated on it, willed it to stay full.
Saving the berries
When I finally stopped, thanks to a young elderberry bush, I could see my boots silhouetted against the sky. Still, my berry bucket was level and brimming with fruit. Victory!
But the hardest part was yet to come. Turns out it is difficult when you’re upside down, nearly vertical, and holding a container of berries, to flip yourself over with the remaining hand. The ground was too steep to set the container anywhere and it was impossible to sit up. I kept grasping at things that came loose when I tugged. And when they came loose, other things got flicked about. Wiggly things with far too many legs.
Finally I was able to reach a sword fern, a plant with deep and tenacious roots. With the fern in hand I was able to get myself turned around and upright. It was then that I noticed everything in my pockets had fallen out; keys, hive tool, survey tape, and pocketknife had all continued on their journey down the hill without me.
I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I felt stupid for losing my balance and a little sheepish for prizing my black raspberries above life and limb. But then again, people who think hoards of stinging insects make fun pets are a little bit like that.
Honey Bee Suite