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Singular Fatality Attendant On Silkweed


Silkweed (_Asclepias Cornuti_) is also another honey-yielding
perennial, but a singular fatality attends many bees while gathering
it, that I never yet saw noticed. I had observed during the period this
plant was in bloom, that a number of the bees belonging to swarms,
before the hive was full, were unable to ascend the sides to the comb;
there would be sometimes thirty or more at the bottom in the morning.
On searching for the cause, I found from one to ten thin yellow scales,
attached to their feet, triangular, or somewhat wedge shape, in size
about the twentieth part of an inch. On the longest point or angle, was
a black thread-like point, from a sixteenth to an eighth of an inch in
length; on this stem was either hooks, barbs, or a glutinous matter,
that firmly adhered to each foot or claw of the bee, rendering it
useless as far as climbing the sides of the hive was concerned. I found
also among bees clustered outside of full hives, this ornament
attached, but to them it appeared no inconvenience. Among the scales of
wax and waste matter that accumulates about the swarms to the amount of
a handful, I found a great many of these scales, which the bees had
worked from their feet. The question then arose, were these scales a
foreign substance, accidentally entangled in their claws, or was it
something formed there by nature, or _rather_ an unnatural appendage?
It was soon decided. From the number of bees carrying it, I was
satisfied that if it was the product of any flower, it belonged to a
species somewhat abundant. I set about a close examination of all such
as were then in bloom. I found the flowers of the Silkweed, (or
Milkweed, as some call it,) sometimes holding a dead bee by the foot,
secured by this appendage. Both sepals and petals of this flower are
re-curved, that is, turned backward towards the stem, forming five
acute angles, or notches, just the thing for a trap for a bee with
_strings_ of _beads_ on its toes; when at work they are very liable to
slip a foot into one of these notches; the flower being thick and firm,
holds it fast; pulling only draws it deeper into the wedge-like cavity.
The bee must either perish or break loose; their instincts fail them in
this emergency; they know nothing about getting it out by a gentle pull
the other way. I never saw one do it except by accident. By examining
the buds of this plant just before opening, I found this fatal
appendage, by which great numbers of our bees are lost.[10] When I
point out a loss among our bees, I would like to give a remedy; but
here I am at a loss, unless all these plants are destroyed, and this is
impracticable in many places. After all I am not sure but honey enough
is obtained by such bees as do escape, to counterbalance what we lose.
This would depend on the amount of honey yielded by other flowers at
the same time.

[10] In Wood's Class-book of Botany, "Order CII.," in a plate
showing the parts of this plant, it is thus described: "Fig. 11,
a pair of pollen masses suspended from the glands at an angle of
the antheridium," &c.

One, when reading this simple botanical description, and seeing
the plate, or the Botanist with his glasses, when he minutely
inspects the parts, would not suspect anything fatal to bees
about it.

Whitewood (_Liriodendron Tulipifera_) yields something eagerly sought
for by the bees, but whether honey, or pollen, or both, I have never
been able to ascertain. All the flowers of this kind, with us, are too
high. It is very scarce, as well as Basswood, (_Tilia Americana_,)--that
in some places is abundant, and yields honey clear and transparent as
water, superior in appearance, but inferior in flavor to clover; it
also appears much thinner when first collected.

Next: Large Yield From Basswood

Previous: Catnip Mother-wort And Hoarhound Are Sought After

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