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Pink pollen and the mariposa lily

The green-banded mariposa lily is a striking flower in the Liliaceae family that is native to the dry regions of the Pacific Northwest. I first saw this lily last year on a trip to the Oregon high desert. At the time, I was impressed by its simple beauty and its ability to thrive on parched slopes of Ponderosa pine. But this year, I learned something else: it is brimming with pink pollen.

This past week I was bee hunting with my friends Naomi and Larry Price on their scenic chunk of Crook County, Oregon. We were photographing the bustling activity on the curly-cup gumweed when I wandered off to look at the lilies. Much to my surprise, the blooms were teeming with native bees. After my first few pictures, I realized the bees had bushy pink legs. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen pink pollen before.

The green-banded mariposa lily

The showy purple blooms of the green-banded mariposa lily, Calochortus macrocarpus, are a surprising addition to the thick layer of needles and grasses that characterize the Ponderosa pine understory. The erect stems appear randomly on the north- or northeast-facing slopes at middle to high elevations. The three sepals are pointed and longer than the three petals, and one to five flowers may appear on a stem. According to the Timber Press Pocket Guide to Bulbs by John E. Bryan, most varieties of mariposa lily take 4-7 years to flower from seed.

An amazing assortment of bees, flies, and beetles visited the flowers as I watched. Even after I scared them away, they returned within a few moments to roll in the pink pollen and gather enough for the kids. It was fun to watch.

Other sources of pink pollen

While researching this lily, I discovered that there are a couple of other North American plants that produce pink pollen. Bees foraging on Claytonia virginica, the eastern spring beauty, collect lightly-pink pollen. Another wildflower, Clarkia elegans, has purplish-pink pollen. Some of the pollen color charts I examined used pink as a background color, which indicates that pink is not a common color for pollen.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Four bees of at least three species are enchanted by this mariposa lily. Larry counted eleven small bees in the bloom before I scared most away with my camera.
Four bees of at least three different species are enchanted by this mariposa lily. Larry counted eleven small bees in this bloom before I scared most away with my camera. © Rusty Burlew.
The large bee with the enormous pink pollen load is most likely a Melissodes. The small bee coming in for a landing is also carrying pink pollen.
The large bee with the enormous pink pollen load is most likely a Melissodes. The small bee coming in for a landing is also carrying pink pollen. © Rusty Burlew.
I saw many different bee genera on these lilies, including Agapostemon, Halictus, Melissodes, Bombus, and some I couldn't identify.
I saw many different bee genera on these lilies, including Agapostemon, Halictus, Melissodes, Hylaeus, Ceratina, Bombus, and some I couldn’t identify. © Rusty Burlew.
This bee's leg, covered with pink pollen, almost looks like another anther. Note the tiny bee in the lower right.
This bee’s right rear leg, covered with pink pollen, almost looks like another anther. Note the tiny bee in the lower right. © Rusty Burlew.
In this photo you can see the eponymous green band on the outside of one of the petals.
In this photo you can see the eponymous green band on the outside of one of the lily’s three petals. © Rusty Burlew.

Comments

James Hagerman
Reply

Hi Rusty,

You should post about Naomi’s and Larry”s extensive knowledge and practice of trapping out feral bee colonies from trees as a source for bees for their apiary. Naomi’s an expert in this poorly understood area of feral honey bee colony transfers to managed hives where relocation of a colony is required due to human interactions requiring removal.

Her approach is unique in that she channels the bees into a hive body and once they accept the new pathway she inserts a one way funnel at the transfer tube and baits the box with a brood frame. The bees then populate the new box as their new hive over a weeks long period. The queen may exit the old cavity at the end of the process or they are re-queened as needed.

James Hagerman

Rusty
Reply

James,

I was lucky enough to see this in action during my visit. I’m hoping to write about it someday…I even have pictures!

Alice
Reply

That’s cool. Yep, I indeed thought it was another anther. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us, Rusty!

Heather Boerema
Reply

Exquisite Rusty!! You never cease to amaze me! Thank you for all your hard work.

Rusty
Reply

Thank you, Heather.

Seattle mike
Reply

Rusty. Ran into something I’ve not seen before. Picking the last of our raspberries (pretty over ripe by now) and honey bees all over them. Unusual? Seattle mike

Rusty
Reply

Mike,

Honey bees don’t have the mouth parts for opening fruit skins, but they will drink the juice once it begins leaking out. See “Do honey bees eat fruit?

Arjun
Reply

Does pink pollen also produce a variant of pink honey?

Rusty
Reply

Arjun,

I’m sure it doesn’t. Very little pollen gets in honey. In any case, I didn’t see any honey bees on the lilies.

Don
Reply

Beautiful photos. The Mariposa Lilies that are here in the mountains of S Central Colorado are a cream color and not particularly abundant. Gumweed, on the other hand, is very common in the drier areas and along the roadsides.

Anna S.
Reply

Absolutely beautiful photos — the combination of colors on the flowers and then the bees in all shapes and colors are awesome! I like it that you notice even the smallest bees 🙂

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