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Why the Buzz around the Bearberry Flower?

Updated: Nov 21


On one of my first walks through the fall rain on our woodsy 5-acre site in Lake County, I was surprised by a whiff of fragrance. That's not supposed to happen! I thought. Flowers don't bloom in the dead of winter. Yet after searching a bit I found the source to be the flowers of the Manzanita tree. Puffy florescences of pinkish white blossoms scented the air.

Then I noticed the bees. Bees in the rain? Doesn't the rain wash away the nectar and pollen...and the bees too?


The small blossoms hung down like little upside-down pitchers so that the rain couldn't enter. The petals were waxy like the leaves--imagine a gaucho's waxed overcoat--so that the water ran off easily. The water didn't soak through the petals to the pollen inside so the pollen was protected from running out.


Yet...we understand that the flowers need to get pollinated if berries are to emerge. How do the bees get the pollen inside these tiny vessels?


It turns out that the pollen can't budge without the help of insects. The bees live in underground nests with larvae that are hungry. They need to get to the Manzanita whose pollen offers the protein and nectar the energy.


The bees' next performance is an acrobatic feat and evolution's innovation.


The bee parents maneuver to drop the pollen in the following choreography. Being very agile, they land upside down on the Manzanita flower. The bee then vibrates its wings to prepare for the next gymnastic move. The vibration continues until the musical pitch or frequency reaches what we know as middle C.


At this precise pitch moment, pollen grains explode from the anther of the flower onto the bee's belly.


With its dusted belly, the bee buzzes to the next flower to fertilize it with pollen. Voila! Mission accomplished.


This buzz pollination is called sonication.


Amazing nature. The Amazing Manzanita.


The Spanish priests of early California gave this tree its name of Manzanita or little apple for its tiny fruit.


Science gave its name of Arctostaphylos Manzanita because the bears love to feast on the little grapes. In Greek, Arkto means bear; Staphyle means cluster of grapes. Hence bear grape or bearberry.


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