Friday, March 10, 2017

1887 - Mollie O. Large's Spider Plant: #2 of Root's Bee Plants

Who was Mollie Large?  

Her name just rolls off your tongue!  If a current horticultural business rule of thumb, that the name of a plant has a HUGE effect on its popularity, held true over a hundred years ago this bee plant had a leg up on the competition.
This illustration is from A.I. Root's 1882 ABC of Bee Culture, and he sold it in his seed catalog.

The first hint I found was the following from a 1909 Gleanings in Bee Culture.

Dear Friend:—Yes, such you seem to me, for I have read Gleanings, especially Home Papers, for years. I am a sister of the late G. G. Large, and was boarding with him when his wife (Mollie O.) sent you the spider-plant seed.
In fact, he got the seed from me. ...
Susie H. Megan, Owaneco, Ill.

The second source I found from 1884 clued me in she was a beekeeper!


I find, in reading GLEANINGS and other journals, that “bees are doing well,” “bees booming,” and but very few discouraging reports, while I am making bee-keeping a failure this spring; and I ask myself the question, “Why is it?”

There are several theories that come up; it may be this, that, or the other; but it is a genuine spring dwindle. I should like to have it solved, to avoid a repetition in the future. Some one in the A. B. J. states that heart's-ease honey is unfit to winter on; if that is a fact, it will give some clew to the trouble, as the great part of their stores was from that weed.

MOLLIE O. LARGE,   Millersville, Christian Co., Ill., May 16, 1884.

Finally, I went and looked where I should have known to go first thing, the ABC of Bee Culture by A.I Root himself. He tells the whole story.

The spider plant is  Cleome pungens.  

Henry Dobbie, in 1884, says:
Spider Plant (Cleome pungens) 
American beekeepers speak in glowing terms of this plant for bee forage. The secretion of honey is described as enormous, and unlike most bee flowers, the blooms open early in the morning and the afternoon, thus pre-venting the evaporation of the nectar.

In hot weather the evaporation of nectar from flowers is considerable; indeed, more so than is generally thought by bee-keepers. Therefore, honey-secreting plants that do not open their petals until after the scorching heat of the day is past, will be invaluable to the apiarist, especially as inthe case of the spiderplant, which produces honey in such abundance.

Mr. Root says, in speaking about the spider plant (page 221,“A B C ”) : “ Not only does a single floweret produce a large drop, but some of them produce a great many drops.Last evening we made observations by lamp-light, and before nine o’clock the globules of honey were of the sizeof large shot. 
The crowning experiment of all took place this morning. I was up a little after five o’clock, and with the aid of a teaspoon I dipped honey enough from three or four plants to fill a two-drachm phial, such as we use in the queen cages, a little more than half full. The honey in some of the flowerets had collected in a large quantity, so large that it spilled out, and actually streamed on the ground. 
I have called this honey, but in reality it is raw nectar, such as is found in clover and other flowers. The taste is a pure sweet, slightly dashed with a most beautiful, delicate flavour, resembling somewhat that of the best new maple molasses. The honey will be as white as the whitest linden, so far as I can judge. With the aid of a lamp, I evaporated the nectar down to thick honey.

You can see something of what the bees have to do, whenI tell you that I had in bulk only about one-fifth part as much as when I commenced. You can also see that we now have some accurate figures with which to estimate the amount of honey which may be obtained from an acre of honey plants.”

The seed should be sown in April in a pan or box, using fine soil. Give the protection of a frame or greenhouse(see chapter on the raising of plants from seed).Plants raised from seed in April and grown on, will flower in August. Plant these two feet apart each way.

This wonderful photo of a bee on the spider flower is from the blog, It's Not Work, It's Gardening

There are more bee and flower photos for the spider plant.  One clearly shows the HUGE droplet of nectar that forms at the center of the petals.  Look closely at this photo and you may see a blur...that is the droplet.

Below is an ad from our old friend Samuel Wilson, not for Mollie O. Large, but for the specie.  I just like the bees.  Plus my favorite horticultural engraver, Albert Blanc, did the art work!