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Wayne Hinshaw: The buds and the bees

By Wayne Hinshaw

For the Salisbury Post

“Let me tell you ’bout the birds and the bees

And the flowers and the trees … .”

Hold on! Stop!

I’m writing about peach tree blooms and honeybees, not about Jewel Akens’ 1964 song about the birds and the bees. The lyrics to the song are often referred to when explaining to children the mystery of “where do babies come from?”

I am going to  explain the personal, very close relationship between the honeybee and peach blooms and where peaches come from out of that relationship.

It is kind of sexy, too, but we are safe with this story for all ages.

With the far too warm winter we are having, the peach trees are blooming now. They are not supposed to bloom for a few more weeks. With the trees full of delicate pink blooms, their beauty challenges the lovely cherry trees for springtime radiance.

Getting really close to a bloom with a honeybee gathering pollen, I was able to make some interesting photos that are remindful of  some alien place or even some creature of the deep sea. We normally don’t get inches from the inside of a peach bloom with a bee gathering pollen. But wow! With a macro lens and an extension tube, I was able to get real personal with the bee.

An  outer peach bloom has five colorful petals that we enjoy for their beauty. Inside the bloom is where the sexy part comes into play. There is one stigma in the center of each bloom. When the blooms are young, the stigma is green in color and it is the female reproductive part of the flower. The stigma extends down to the ovary.

Around the stigma are dozens of hairlike stamens. They are the male part of the reproductive system. They produce the yellow pollen. When the yellow pollen is introduced into the stigma by nature or the honeybees, the bloom is pollinated and a tiny peach grows in the ovary. All of this magic goes on in a fraction of an inch inside the bloom. That tiny, tiny ovary grows into a peach the size of a baseball or larger in a few months.

The honeybees you see gathering pollen from the bloom are all sterile female bees. Each bee can gather pollen from 50 to 100 flowers before heading back to the hive to unload the pollen. The yellow pollen sticks to the bee’s fuzzy hair on her legs and body. She has a pocket on her hind legs to carry the pollen. In the photos, it looks like a yellow bag of pollen.

The tiny bee, at her natural size, looks harmless enough, but when enlarged with close-up photography, she looks fierce and scary. She has a single stinger, but if she has to use her stinger, she will die from the sting.  She depends mostly on her yellow and dark striped color to look fierce for her protection. Her wings are transparent and look like a clear material stretched over a framework.

We can only hope the warm weather continues and there will be no freeze to kill the peach crop.

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