Spotlight on Gum Plant

G.squarrosa. Stutsman Co., ND. Notice thistle seeds stuck to flower heads.

North Dakota landscapes, both farmed and fallow, are golden-hued with the onset of sunflower, goldenrod and gum plant bloom. These three plants belong to the family Asteraceae, commonly called the Aster or Sunflower Family. While sunflower and goldenrod are well-known late summer sources of forage, gum plant also provides a source of nectar and pollen for bees. Native to North America, Grindelia species occur throughout the lower forty-eight with the exception of the southeastern states. Grindelia squarrosa, or curlycup gum plant, occurs in Great Plains rangeland and is the most wide-ranging species in the genus Grindelia. G.squarrosa is a biennial or short-term perennial with peak bloom occuring in August and flowering continuing into September.

Gum plant has several common names, including resinweed, tarweed, stickyheads and curlytop gum plant. Regardless of one’s preferred nomenclature, a gum plant by any other name would smell as resinous. The plant is often described as having a balsamic odor. In this case a review of Merriam-Webster’s definition of balsam, “one relating to an aromatic and usually oily and resinous substance flowing from various plants,” is helpful. Grindelia is easy to recognize by its characteristic odor and sticky flower heads. While drought tolerant curlytop gum plant provides bee forage during the dog days of summer, it is not a favorite honey plant as the crop yielded is of a low grade and crystallizes readily. In American Honey Plants, Frank C. Pellet writes, “The honey is yellow and of inferior flavor. It is often mixed with light honey in the super and the grade spoiled as a result.” In regards to G.squarrosa nectar and crystallization, Pellet writes, “[…] Colorado beekeepers say that the bees have to hurry home with the load to prevent it becoming candied in their sacs.” Despite potentially negative aspects of Grindelia honey, the late season pollen the plant provides is a nutritional bonus.

One last item of interest regarding Grindelia, though unrelated to honey bees, is its long history of medicinal use by American Indians which range from the treatment of dermatitis to whooping cough. A list of medicinal uses of Grindelia can be found in CRC Ethnobotany Desk Reference by Timothy Johnson. I’ll have to try out a decoction of Grindelia camporum, a native Californian species, if I ever have a reaction to poison oak when I return to Northern California!

Cultivated sunflower field. Stutsman Co., North Dakota.

Written By: Elizabeth Frost

Elizabeth Frost has written 10 post in this blog.

As a seasonal Field and Lab Technician I work within the California Tech Transfer Team from September through May serving Northern California queen breeders. From June through August I work within the Midwest Tech Transfer Team serving both migratory beekeepers and queen breeders in Minnesota and North Dakota. Services I provide include hive inspection, sampling for Varroa and Nosema, testing breeder queen colonies for hygienic behavior, and assisting in collaborative breeding efforts utilizing instrumental insemination. I received my Bachelor of Arts Degree in 2008 from the University of California, Davis with majors in English and Italian and a minor in Entomology. Prior to joining the Tech Transfer Teams within the Bee Informed Partnership I was a Field and Lab Technician at the Harry Laidlaw Honey Bee Research Facility from 2008 to 2012 under the direction of Susan Cobey at the University of California, Davis. I am based out of University of California Cooperative Extension, Butte County in Oroville, CA and University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN.


7 Responses to “Spotlight on Gum Plant”

  1. Rob Snyder

    The “Great Valley Gumplant” (Grindelia camporum) is in CA and hosts many differnt species of native bees. Its cool to see differnt species from the mid-west! The flower head looks slightly bigger, was it in dry soil?

  2. Frost

    I found quite a few patches of Gum Plant in really dry pastureland. I read that it can take hold in land that has been over-grazed, which isn’t too great for ranchers as the cattle won’t eat it, but it’s good for bees. The native bees I saw were staying on the flowers collecting pollen for a much longer time than the honey bee visitors.