A Short Break….

We are going away for a couple of days so I won’t be blogging now till next week.

Jungle Island

We are heading down to the south of Florida and amongst other things, will be stopping by Jungle Island in Miami to meet up with Jeff who is in charge of horticulture there.

Jeff contacted me months ago when I wrote about The Wonderful Sausage Tree and the Perilous Bench and had linked to Tropicaldesigns.com.
They have quite a bit of information about Sausage trees on their site but also the fascinating history of how  the “Jungle Island” site was developed after the old Parrot Jungle and Gardens were devastated by Hurricane Andrew back in 1992.

It’s so encouraging to realise that a major tourist attraction was planned with such care and consideration, from the plants, the subsoil, mulch, compost, choice of trees, irrigation, to the enjoyment of the visitors.

Read more here.

That was all in 2004 so it will interesting to see how it has all survived and what the ongoing issues are. Here I am, in my rather attractive vest thing, on my last visit to see the parrots.
Yes, it’s a few years ago now. I am so looking forward to seeing them again!


and a reminder of the Sausage Tree from another old Miami postcard


images from the wonderful site “Florida Memory” here

While I am there I will be keeping an eye out for my lovely euglossa bees who came to stay with me back in December (see my post Entertaining the Euglossas).

They live near Miami and if the article that Patricia so kindly sent me from the New York Times is true If You Swat, Watch Out: Bees Remember Faces”,  I will be expecting a tap on my shoulder from my little iridescent friends and a fond greeting.

Exhib  progress

Meanwhile, today I have been busy putting together a written proposal for the exhibition and making some tiny thumbnail sketches of the various bees.
If you have the luxury of planning an exhibition, it is as well to think about how it will look, the mix of images and the “story”, if there is one.  Having been a book illustrator I love to plan a narrative, in whatever form, and am used to putting storyboards together which is so useful for seeing the whole picture, as it were.

They won’t mean much to anyone else but it sorts out so much for me in my head, so here they are..


They are tiny but you would be amazed how much time went into them and what a help they will be! The finished things will probably vary quite a bit but it’s a start.  More next week ..

Orchids and Orchid Bees.. buckets and perfume

Yesterdays Euglossa encounter was my first introduction to the extraordinary world of orchid bees. They are fascinating:

The facts

CLASS: Insecta
ORDER: Hymenoptera, Bees, wasps, ants and sawflies.
FAMILY: Apidae, Honey, Bumble and Digger bees
GENUS: Euglossa Orchid Bees

Long tongued, metallic coloured bees which are mainly found in New World tropical rainforests.

They are called Orchid Bees because they pollinate over 700 species of tropical orchids, and some orchids rely entirely on these little bees for pollination.

Mixing the right scent

In general it is only the males that pollinate the orchids, not because they are looking for nectar or pollen, but for scented substances which they mix together to create their own alluring perfume.

With little combs on their front feet they scrape the scented oils from the surface of the orchids and store them in handy pockets located in those big hind legs. The exact mix of fragrance seems to be quite crucial.

A well scented male Orchid Bee sends out just the right signal to the female, demonstrating that he is a good forager and a strapping healthy and long lived bee.

Get the mix wrong and you will be shunned. To understand more about this wonderful symbiotic relationship, watch this excellent film from Science Online. It explains so very well all about the orchid structures and the bees’ part in the pollination. Nice voice over too.

A one sided arrangement.

The orchids which rely exclusively on Euglossa bees for pollination are the Catasetinae and Stanhopeinae sub tribes of Orchidaceae, which include the well known Mormodes and Coryanthes or “bucket” orchids.
These orchids do not produce nectar and rely purely for their pollination on luring the male euglossa bees with their promise of top class perfume ingredients.
It seems however that the bees can manage just fine without them, and since Euglossa viridissima have been seen in South Florida since 2003, where these orchids do not naturally occur, researchers have realised that they don’t need the orchids as much as the orchids need them.

The bees are able to find the exact needed compounds from leaves and other sources. If you speak Spanish there is more interesting info and photos in Infojardin forum here.

One of many excellent photo’s from Candle in Panama in the discussion forum. Euglossa viridissima en Mormodes fractiflexa by Candle


Drowning for love A very complex pollination strategy has been developed by the bizarre Coryanthes or “bucket” Orchids, strange orchids which look too much like bits of internal human plumbing for my liking.
As I have said before I have never been quite sure about orchids, sometimes they are just too sinister. (Wikispecies has a good piece about them here )

Eric Hansen in his book “Orchid Fever” has a vivid description of what happens:

“The orchid secretes a powerful intoxicating perfume that the bee finds irresistible. At the same time, a specialized gland secretes a clear, colorless liquid that drips into the bottom of the bucket, forming a small reservoir.
Within minutes of the flower’s blooming, male bees in a state of great agitation swarm around the flower, near the bottom where the fluid-containing reservoir is located.
They hover, seeking a foothold on the slippery tubular part that connects the bucket to the rest of the flower. Grasping the slippery tubule with their legs, the excited bees “bathe” themselves in the waxy perfume.

Because the flowers bloom for only a few days, there is a mad rush among the bees to get at the limited amount of special scent. They shove and jostle at each other. Occasionally, a bee loses his footing on the slippery surface or gets knocked into the bucket when his wings collide with a droplet from the dripping gland.

Once inside the bucket, the unfortunate bee’s ordeal begins. There is only one exit – a narrow dark tunnel that leads through the front wall of the flower to daylight and freedom. There is no room to turn around, so the bee must wriggle and squeeze his way forward, stopping to rest many times.

Just before he reaches daylight, he passes beneath two paired masses of pollen attached to the roof of the tunnel. At that precise moment, the pollen disengages and attaches itself on the back of the bee between his wings like a small backpack.

This nightmarish experience may take as long as 40 minutes. Once the pollen has been collected, the flower has served its purpose. The scent vanishes and the flower quickly wilts.

Wet and disoriented, the bee pauses to dry himself. It maybe a day or more before perfume from a second bucket orchid will arouse the bee’s interest. On the bee’s visit through a second bucket orchid, a catch mechanism on the roof of the escape tunnel seizes the pollen backpack.

In this way, the bucket orchid is pollinated, and with luck a seedpod will form. Freed of his backpack and remembering his own procreation duties, the bee flies off to a display site where he conducts an exotic courtship dance.

He performs fancy footsteps as a heady scent of perfume wafts from his hind legs. With such captivating artistic display and alluring scent, what female bee could resist the temptation to land and get better acquainted?


orchid-12 orchid-13

2 Photos of many published by gole orckide from Persian Hub here showing the orchid Coryanthes panamensis.. and the bedraggled bee escaping through the trap door.

The writer also quotes;

“Smithsonian horticulturist Tom Mirenda says that to them, the flowers’ smell is as luscious as “five kinds of dessert baking at once.” “


And here photo by Candle from Infojardin again, a blue Euglossa bee, with the two pollinia firmly stuck to its back ..I

read that the plant will only allow the bee to escape after allowing time for the “glue” to dry.. Amazing..

See another full explanation and some very good diagrammatic photographs of the whole strange and wonderful process, (see below), from Troy Meyers’ Conservatory site, here.


You can learn how to pollinate your buckets if you are not a bee and all about the completely-new-to-me world of “Flasking”. I think I have some more reading to do.

Entertaining the Euglossas, some notes from the Bee Boarding House

Just over a week ago a small, light as a feather, Fed Ex, overnight express box arrived at my door.
If it had contained the crown jewels I couldn’t have been more excited.
Sometimes the best presents are the ones you are expecting.
The little box was from a very Kind Researcher in Southern Florida with whom I had been corresponding about the beautiful and exotic Euglossa Orchid Bees.

I had tracked this Kind Researcher down via the internet and he couldn’t have been more helpful.
His enthusiasm and delight in Euglossas is rivaled only by his enthusiasm and delight in “Lili” a nice little red beetle from Nepal (which has to be another story and another blog post.)

In the box, under layers of bubble wrap, snug and safely packed in little labeled glass bottles, complete with air and overnight honey water snack, were two beautiful Euglossa bees.

“He” and “She” came with an additional supply of honey water, a dropper and full owners manual.

euglossa f blog

The little female bee just arrived.

Firstly these bees are just GORGEOUS.

They are big and they are an exquisite shimmering blue green with dark, dark wings. They are full of character and I was completely entranced by them. My simple plan was to simply take some photos and simply open the box and let them go. Everybody happy … well, except that is for the Invasive Species agency.

Unfortunately for the bees and for me, and although they live happily dancing around the fire bushes in Fort Lauderdale they were not allowed to fly free here.
In fact these bee are not supposed to be in Florida at all.
But having crept in from Central America, maybe as unwitting on board stowaways or in nests in exported timbers they have now established  a handsome presence in the south.

The repercussions of their arrival are as yet unknown.
Now I do understand these concerns and have no desire to be the main culprit in an orchid bee takeover of Orlando’s leafy suburbs. Visions of these sturdy little, armour clad, bees, elbowing out the natives, however aesthetically pleasing, are not good.
But there were only two alternatives.

The first unthinkable and unspeakable one involved the freezer, the other was to send them back, which seemed by far the best idea.  However my Kind Researcher was away for a few days and so the Euglossas had to stay.

The Male Euglossa Bee

Bee Palaces and Bee Entertainment

So how does a bee novice entertain 2 Euglossa bees? I must say here and now that I hate things in cages.
Birds and bees are things of air and sun and space and meant to fly. But these bees had to be contained.

On day one, we had the photo shoot and they were confined to some large glass tumblers, but that’s not much room for a lively bee, so I made them some more spacious homes in big plastic containers in an effort to keep them temporarily happy. But how do you know if bees are happy?
Like any good hostess  I read and re read everything I could about them, what they liked to eat, what they liked to do.  I noted, inwardly digested and committed to memory the list of flowers they liked. I did my 6 mile round trip to the Gardens to steal the exact exotic blooms from the butterfly garden.

Long tubular flowers whose deeply hidden nectar reserves would exercise their extremely long tongues. I did this just for them. I bookmarked the page that described the collection of mud and resin  by the female for her burrow, and brought earth, water and hollow twigs in case nest building instincts were pressing.
I underlined the passages in my Kind Researcher’s article about the astonishing scent gathering of the males from orchids and so I procured eucalyptus leaves, allspice leaves and a clove for him to play with, just to reassure him that I could find substitutes.
I set up twigs and leaves and hiding places and of course an endless supply of honey water in little pots made from tinfoil. In short,  I laid at their little bee feet the bee equivalent of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

male onleaf
“He”,  just visible by the yellow daisy, clinging to a live oak leaf, sleeping off another honey water binge.

The responsibility weighed heavily on me. I fretted.
Was sleepless and concerned.

We had cold inclement weather which meant moving them around the apartment from one sunny spot to another. They loved the warmth and the sun, it seemed to cheer them up, just as it does us humans.

Honestly, if these creatures had been the very last golden bees from the very last golden beehive from the very summit of Mount Athos, they couldn’t have had more loving care and attention lavished upon them.
My rewards?
Well to the casual observer not obviously substantial.
They didn’t  perform tricks or learn their names. The male who I christened Chris, spent most of his day loafing around, either adjacent to, or in, the honey water pot, drinking copious amounts and then “resting”.

male euglossa
His amazing long tongue mopping up a honey water spill.

“He” was however particularly endearing and stomped purposefully around his enclosure with his Cossack trousered hind legs. At night “He” found a leaf or petal to hang onto and ”slept” with his jaws firmly clenched and antennae at half mast.
But “She”, carelessly rejecting my sweet smelling flowers, my mud and hollow twigs, spent much time perched on the top most leaf of her palace garden, glaring at me malevolently or exerting huge amounts of time and energy trying to burrow out, biting fruitlessly at the plastic container and shredding bits of paper, which nearly broke my heart.
Every bone in my body ached to lift the covers, open the windows and say “ Go …Fly..”

felae blog

“She” glaring.

It was a long four days. The day came for their planned return.. they were alive and well and easily coaxed into their little well provisioned travelling compartments.
I took my buzzing box to the post office where to my silent dismay the Fed Ex lady turned the parcel upside down and slapped the shipping label on the bottom with a resounding thwack. “

They are bees”  Chris said on the way home  “ They are fine upside down”.
I slunk home and emailed the Kind Researcher, imploring him to lie to me if they arrived stiff and still in the morning.
According to his anxiously awaited email they arrived alive and kicking..

“I took them to a firebush and released them. The male flew off immediately while the female hovered in front of me for a few seconds before flying off.”

Kind Researcher, you wouldn’t lie to me… would you??    Facts and a film about these enchanting little orchid bees tomorrow.


Bee No 17: The Orchid Bee, Euglossa viridissima

euglossa viridescens sm

Watercolour on Arches 300 HP, image size 3 inches

Leaf of the Day: Winged Beauty

If any vine belongs in fairyland it’s this one, the enchanting Winged Beauty Dalechampia dioscoraefolia, Bow tie plant,or Costa Rican Butterfly Vine. These beautiful purple/ lilac structures are of course not leaves or petals but bracts which can reach as much as 5″ across. The “flower” is set above these two bracts. It is one of the euphorbia family which I looked at in more detail with Liz Leech at West Dean. It has slender stems, with very lovely heart-shaped leaves.There seems to be a white version too and, as I have been researching this, I find there are other varieties with even more fascinating flower structures.

Dalechampias are pollinated by the equally pretty little iridescent Euglossia orchid bees and when I get round to painting an orchid (it won’t be long as I am here in Florida) I will find out more about them. They are interesting little bees who spend much of their busy lives collecting fragrance as opposed to nectar and tucking it into their outsize trousers which make them look as though they are wearing jodhpurs.That won’t win any prizes in the apiology description class but you see what I mean in this excellent photograph from orchidspecies.com

The flowers structure in this vine is very odd but quite beautiful and I can see I have to go back and revise some more to understand exactly what is what here.I was interested in the front and side view of the “flower”. There are 3 bright red somethings attached to a round something which has a split covering revealing something very sticky ( I didn’t include the remains of an ant which were stuck onto this bit) with 3 small yellow flowery things on the top. Liz…I need your help. I had a problem with the instant shrivelling up of the leaves on this one too and they darkened as they dried out so I think the true colour is lighter blue. I just have to get quicker.

With the onset of a new month I am trying to make a rule to make at least 5 colour sketches each week no matter if they are finished or not. The next SBA assignment is to paint flower heads so I have to get some practice in.I want it to become as easy to pick up the paintbrushes and colours as it now is to pick up a pencil.

Winged Beauty