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Summer excursions – a life long fascination for meadows

Summer excursions – a life long fascination for meadows

My love for meadows is very old. In fact, I think it comes from my childhood. The smell of dry grass in summer, overlaid by sweet scents of flowers. A very typical exclamation from my father was “Do you smell this scent of honey?”. We then went to look for the source of the smell, to discover the flowers. I remember one occasion that impressed me particularly: I was about ten or eleven years old. We were on vacation with the whole family, in Spain. It was already evening and the colours were turning grey. But there was this smell of honey… We stopped at a beautiful meadow, with some trees on it. We stayed there for a while, enjoying the freshness of the evening, the sounds from birds and insects, and of course, the smell of honey coming from the flowers after a hot day.

After a while, an old man came along. Hearing us talk in Spanish, but in an accent he couldn’t classify, he asked where we came from. “Chile”, my father said. This old man looked at him, then stretched out his hand and said “Compañero!” (“comrade”). It turned out he was on the side of the Spanish Republic during the civil war and assumed (and he was right), that we had left Chile after the military putsch. We stayed together for a while, the adults chatting, us children nearby listening. At the end he gave us a big glass of his honey. Dark and thick, slightly bitter, one of the best honeys I’ve ever eaten. When I think of meadows, this evening pops up in my head.

Meadows as bee habitat

Nowadays, of course, my interest in meadows is also a professional one. They’re one of my favourite “playgrounds” for looking for bees – they offer both flowers and nesting habitat. Because of this, I was very enthusiastic when I read about a “Wild Meadows Path” not too far from where I live. The past weeks have been complicated and nothing is better for getting a clear head again than a long walk. So I decided to take a day off today and go for it. In the book I read about this path, it was mentioned to pass first wet meadows next to a stream. The attraction here was meant to be meadowsweet.

Meadowsweet, a quite common flower on wet meadows.

This pretty flower is quite common, but it’s unusual in this area to see meadows covered by them. In the book it was described that the amount of flowers gives the meadows a “woolly” appearance. But obviously, I was too late. This summer everything is earlier because of the hot weather. I still saw it in some quantity, as you may see by the featured image above. But, what draw my attention was another plant: yellow loosestrife. Meadows covered in it.

meadows, oligolectic bees, solitary bees, Macropis

A wet meadow covered in yellow loosestrife. Not what I expected and very exciting.

This plant wasn’t mentioned in the book. But it was far more exciting for me than meadowsweet: it’s the plant Macropis bees are specialized on. This bee is exciting, not only because of itsspecialization. Yellow loosestrife produces oils instead of nectar. Macropis bees collect it together with the pollen to provide their nests. Until now, I’d seen this bee only in the gardens of Hohenheim University. Though I always controlled wild plants when I saw them. And here I was lucky: in the masses of yellow flowers I spotted the typical “leg-stretch” they do when at the flower. I observed them for a while but didn’t get them on camera, of course. But here you can see this small amazing bee.

From wet to dry meadows

Also the rest of the walk was wonderful. The path after a while left the stream and went up through a beech wood. On the top of the hill there were meadows again; dryer than before with scabious, tansy and wild carrot.

solitary bees, meadows

Common tansy with a halictid bee collecting pollen.

A second attraction of this path according to the book was the betony – a favourite plant for wool carder bees. But I wasn’t lucky, I think the warm and dry weather shortened its flowering period this year. But I will come back next year and chase after them and after the Macropis bees again.

Finally, there was a third kind of meadow. A very typical one for the region between Rhine and Sieg – meadow orchards. And though there was no smell of honey in the air, they reminded me that evening in Spain.

meadows, solitary bees, pollinators

 

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