Prickly pears just started their showy blooming in the Arizona highlands. The softest watery pink and yellow blooms open elegantly, sometimes covering flat paddles of the plant in funny looking mohawk-like patterns. The buds are so squeezed together, the little prayer hands pointed to the sky, you would think they won’t have space to explode, but there is no rush, they take turns to delight the bees, each one opening into a perfect cup.
In “Desert Solitaire” Edward Abbey wrote: “The prickly pear, for example, produces a flower that may be violet, saffron, or red. It is cup-shaped, filled with golden stamens that respond with sensitive, one might almost say sensual, tenderness to the entrance of a bee. This flower is indeed irresistibly attractive to insects; I have yet to look into one and not find a honeybee or bumblebee wallowing drunkenly inside, powdered with pollen, glutting itself on what must be a marvelous nectar. You can’t get them out of there– they won’t go home. I’ve done my best to annoy them, poking and prodding with a stem of grass, but a bee in a cactus bloom will not be provoked; it stays until the flower wilts. Until closing time.”
Ecstatic bees indeed seem to lose their minds in these golden pollen baths. I found this one in a prickly pear down the road, and for a moment I thought it was dead. It moved, and I thought it was just sleeping there on a cool windy day. Later in the season, female bees often kick out male bees out of the hives, since all business is done, and the boys end up spending their nights in the flower tents, under the stars. Older bees hook onto the flowers to die. Some types of bees will send all of their bachelors to the flower party to wait for the females to show up. But this one, in the pink prickly pear flower, was not sleeping or waiting. It was happily wiggling her tail to shake every bit of the pollen onto herself. In her golden sticky coat, she looked like one of those ladies strutting the expensive fur coat in the middle of summer.
Apparently, now we are finding out it is not just the color, the smell, and the nectar that plants so boldly display au naturel for the pollinators. It is also the magnetism! Yes, the positively charged bees are attracted to the slightest negative charges of the flowers. There, squatting over the roadside cactus, my fingers covered in spines, I watched her, this furry magnetic belly, stuck glued in that flower, no matter how much I moved the petals, she’d dig herself out a bit as if to say: hey, look, I am busy working here!; and then she’d drop back into the bottom of the cup, drunk with some mysterious ecstasy.