016 – The Connection in Midtown

You can support the wellbeing of pollinators in a variety of ways.

I admire this: when a person wants to support a cause, but they don’t have the ability to engage it directly, so they offer what they do have in partnership, as a small piece of the puzzle, and find joy in it. Here is a person who wants to “Save the Bees,” but he doesn’t have the interest or ability to directly engage in an activity like beekeeping. But he has a yard, and would like to host bees and put up a sign and set an example for his neighbors. And he knows his package-delivery-person keeps honey bees. So he reaches out and makes a new connection.

This year, the connection yielded up a couple boxes full of light amber, fruity flavored honey in the middle of spring. It is exceptionally clear. Over a lipid, like butter on toast or full-fat yogurt, the flavor simply sparkles like all that urban sunshine.

Early Prunus on Providence Road

At this particular location, I am fortunate to keep bees without supplemental feeding of sugar syrup. In Charlotte, our summers have long hot months with next-to-no sources for nectar forage. It is hard to believe with all the green growth, but from July to October can be lean months for a honey bee colony. So most local beekeepers incorporate sugar syrup into their apiary management, just so they don’t stress their bees unnecessarily. Sugar syrup is not unhealthy for bees, but it is not very healthy either — imagine going four months a year with only foods from the snacks/chips aisle — you wouldn’t starve but you’d need a detox later. But the bees in this person’s yard have not been fed any sugar, and they don’t seem to be overstressed. So I am happy for his desire to help the bees and my bees are happy for his neighbors who desire to let their clovers and other weeds grow.

Wood sorrel in historic Cherry neighborhood.

If you let your dandelions, your clovers, and all the “little purple flowers” grow up and bloom in your yard, all the bees around you — native bees too! — will be as happy and healthy as my honey bees with no sugar. And you will Love Me Some Honey!


Blooming in April: English Laurel

Prunus laurocerasus L. on Providence Rd. in Charlotte

“Good fences make good neighbors” sings the proverb, and while Robert Frost may beg difference, an urban or suburban beekeeper would certainly agree. In Charlotte, it is as easy to grow a fence as to build one, and one of the favorite screen and hedge plants is Prunus laurocerasus, the Schipka Cherry Laurel, sometimes called the skip laurel or English laurel. A shade-tolerant, drought-tolerant evergreen, various cultivars can be pruned to a low hedge and some can grow as high as forty feet. A stroll through some neighborhoods in April finds one nearly surrounded by cherry laurel in various stages of bloom.

  • Common Name: English laurel, skip laurel, cherry laurel
  • Botanical Name: Prunus laurocerasus L.
  • Plant Type: Evergreen shrub or tree
  • Typical Bloom Period: March-April
  • Nectar Usefulness: lower
  • Pollen Usefulness: low

Prunus laurocerasus is native to the regions surrounding the Black Sea. It grows large, thick, shiny leaves alternating on stems to form a dense thicket when pruned. An abundance of white flowers grow in clusters on a vertical stalk (raceme). Individual flowers have five petals and an abundance of stamens; the flowers are perfect and self-fertile — they do not require a pollinator to fruit. The fruits are clusters of drupes — fleshy outside and a hard shell covering a seed inside, a stonefruit — which start green and ripen through red to nearly black. Birds distribute the seeds to propagate the plant; it also spreads by growing roots from stems where they touch the ground.

A native cousin, Prunus caroliniana, looks nearly the same; it forms a less dense hedge and left alone will grow into a small tree. It blooms earlier in the year than the cultivated varieties.

Current industrial research on Prunus laurocerasus is mostly focused upon the layers of waxy outer coating on the leaves and upon the antioxidant food value of the fruits. Some cultivars of Prunus laurocerasus are developed to serve a market demand for their cherries in southeastern Europe. Do not eat very bitter fruits as part of your own exploration, however. Leaves, twigs and bark of the cherry laurel smell of almond when crushed; this indicates the presence of hydrogen cyanide, a poison. Know your cultivar and be very cautious with this plant.

Our bees respond to cherry laurel with mixed reviews. In more urban locations, the sheer abundance of the plant makes it valuable as a forage source. In Peter Lindtner’s book, Garden Plants for Honey Bees (Wicwas 2014), he rates Prunus laurocerasus low as a pollen source, and lower as a nectar source. So when something better is available (like other Prunus species), the bees are likely working there instead. Lindtner observes pollen pellets of cherry laurel to be light yellow to green.