We are rapidly coming up to Halloween! In years past, Ferrebeekeeper has celebrated this scary holiday with these week-long special topics: Flowers of the Underworld, Echidna Mother of Monsters, and the Undead. This year I want to write about dreams and dream monsters—so look for a whole series concerning suchlike dream phantasms on the last week of October! Spooky!
Before we get to dream monsters we have plenty of seasonal topics in the real world to get through. Today’s post is once again about pumpkins—but instead of talking about their color, their long agricultural history, or their seasonal mythology we will instead cut right to the quick and write about pumpkin reproduction. For pumpkins have male and female flowers and thus require a very special third party in order to reproduce. Originally pumpkins were (mostly) pollinated by two related genera of new world bees—the squash bees Peponapis and Xenoglossa (which together constitute the very Roman-sounding tribe Eucerini).
These large bees live symbiotically with pumpkins, squash, and cucumbers (the plant genus Cucurbita) and have historically had almost exactly the same range as cucurbits. Bees of this tribe are about the same size as bumblebees and are pollen specialists adapt at dealing with the narrow-necked but elastic flowers of squash and pumpkins. The bees also have large coarse hairs on their legs to better carry the exceptionally large pollens of pumpkins and heavy squash. I remember after planting a pumpkin patch as a child I fearfully avoiding my vegetable charges because of the fierce buzzing of the doughty bees hiding in the many flowers strewn through the maze of abrasive vines. Brrgh, my skin still shivers to recall the noise, smell, and texture of that part of the garden (which, as an added bonus, was located in clinging gelatinous red-clay mud).
Sadly the thirteen species of Eucerini bees, like many native bees, have been hit very hard by commercial pesticides. Modern industrial pumpkin growers sometimes call upon honey bees to undertake pumpkin pollination, but the hard-working domestic bees are not nearly as adept at the task as their wild native kin.