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flora and fauna

July 15, 2010

I discovered passionflowers on the north wall of the Raley’s parking lot several years ago. Up until then, I knew passionflowers only from the dried herb and the occasional picture. I was totally fascinated by them; I stole quite a few and even incited others to steal them. They were worse than me, though– they stole them for CHURCH.

Well, come on. No one was enjoying them. No one even parks up there, or walks by, except me. I’d take home a little branch and watch them pop open in sequence. And mainly, I was trying to save seeds, so I could plant my own. But no matter how, when, or where I looked, that vine never seemed to produce seed. After the flower, there was just an empty husk.

They ripped out the Raley’s vine and built a brick wall. But meanwhile, they put up a chicken wire fence around the library and planted a new one there. It looked the same as the Raley’s vine, and it grew fast, but one day I noticed it had FRUIT! Beautiful orange fruit, with seeds inside.

I planted those seeds in a terra cotta container, along with some others I picked off a slightly different vine on Lone Tree, on the way to Deer Valley High School. That one had golden fruit. Luckily I didn’t die from tasting either of them, because I was thinking “Passionfruit– like the liqueur, right?” but later I read online that a few varieties are toxic.

PASSIONFLOWER

I hardly expected them to come up, but they did, and I really didn’t expect them to bloom, because I read that often it takes several years for them to produce flowers, and this one didn’t have much room for expansion. But it did bloom– twice! and the first flower is now in the process of producing a fruit. The second flower only stayed open for half a day and reclosed, but when I discovered it there was a giant black bee in the center working as hard as it possibly could, and continuing to do so for several minutes. I’ve never seen one that intent, and I see a lot of them. They showed up several years ago, and now they’re everywhere.

I’ve been calling them black bumblebees, because they’re huge, and buzz very loudly. They look intimidating but they don’t seem aggressive at all. They pollinate everything, and whenever I pick flowers or pull out weeds they buzz around in a very agitated way, and I have to tell them “Look, there’s plenty more of this, and besides, I planted you something better.” Which is true– I’ve planted melissa, and lavender, and scarlet runner beans and corn poppies, all of which they like very much, and sow thistle they can get anywhere. Anywhere. Believe me.

Yesterday we accidentally broke a branch off a tree, and it turned out to have a bee nest inside it. Hollowed out cavities, which is why the branch broke so easily. Poor things– they buzzed and buzzed around it in total distress. The part that broke off unfortunately had some of their babies in it. We left it on the ground in case they could do something to save them.

Hours later they were still buzzing around, and as I was watching them I noticed sawdust raining down from one bee. And it suddenly dawned on me: they’re carpenter bees.

I went inside and looked them up on Wikipedia and that is what they are. They are not bumblebees because bumblebees have hair all over, and these have smooth stomachs. They are great pollinators and even the “obligate pollinator” of, get this: passiflora incarnata. I don’t think the one I have is an incarnata, but it’s pretty close. I seem to have created an ecosystem. When I told them I’d plant something they’d like even better, I meant it. I just hope they don’t think I’ve betrayed them.

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