Tuesday, February 21, 2017

1889 - Seedsman Samuel Wilson's Mexican Honey Plant

The flamboyant seedsman Samuel Wilson presented this honey plant on his seed catalog's back cover in 1889.   He more than occasionally rubbed horticulturists the wrong way with his overly optimistic claims for his plants.  In this case he went a step too far and misidentified the specie.

In the review below, editor A. I. Root of Gleanings in Bee Culture questions Mr. Wilson's claim that is Cleome integrifolia.  

It is probably Cleome serrulata...photo to the right. 

For more great large photos of the flower and honeybees go to 
Malheur Experiment Station of Oregon State University.

This post is a copy from my bee blog as it concerned Samuel Wilson as much as it does bees.


Samuel Wilson, in his seed catalogue for the present season, gives a picture of what he calls the Mexican honey-plant, or cleome integrifolia, and labels it the greatest discovery of the modern age.     Now, there may be different varieties of cleome integrifolia; but the blossoms pictured in the above catalogue have very little resemblance to our well known Rocky-Mountain bee-plant. 

We have raised this plant for years on our grounds, and, as our readers are very well aware, we have for years sold the seed at 5 cents per package. As friend Wilson has always been considered a good and responsible seedsman, we can hardly understand why he should make this mistake. Very likely, however, it is no worse a mistake than many of the colored pictures of some of our new vegetables.

 In the first place, the picture is not at all correct, as compared with the cleomes that grow in our gardens; neither is it like the Rocky-Mountain bee plant that I found growing in its native state on the Rocky Mountains. The illustration shows the flowers literally dripping with honey. This, too, is a great exaggeration. 
The plant bears honey in the morning, much as the spider plant does; but I am sure never in any locality just as it is pictured. The leaves and unopened blossoms are pictured very correctly. We quote the following from the closing remarks in regard to it:

Mr. Jesse Frazier, one of the largest apiarists in the United States, and one of the most prominent and reliable citizens of Fremont Co., Colorado, says: "No other plant known to the civilized world can vie with the cleome integrifolia in producing honey as food for bees. And no other honey is as clear and of as good quality."     He further says, "I have frequently weighed my bee-stands for a number of mornings and evenings, and found many of them to increase as much as 9 lbs. a day."

Still further on he says:

As yet the seeds of this valuable plant are very scarce. Our agent, after traversing the mountains of Mexico for nearly two months, procured only about 100 pounds.

 Single packet, 25 cts.; 5 packets, $1.00. Each packet will have directions for cultivating, and contain seed enough to plant a row sixty feet long, which will produce sufficient honey for one colony of bees.