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Flowering dynamics and pollinator visitation of oilseed echium (Echium plantagineum)

Carrie A. Eberle, Frank Forcella, Russ Gesch, Sharon Weyers, Dean Peterson, James Eklund
PLoS One 2014 v.9 no.11 pp. 1-16
Apis mellifera, Echium plantagineum, Zea mays, corn, flowering, flowers, harvesting, honey bees, oilseed crops, oilseeds, omega-3 fatty acids, planting date, pollinators, profits and margins, seed oils, seed yield, seeds, sowing date, spring, summer, temperate zones, Minnesota
Echium (Echium plantagineum L.) is an alternative oilseed crop in summer-wet temperate regions that provides floral resources to pollinators. Its seed oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as stearidonic acid, which is desired highly by the cosmetic industry. We examined flowering dynamics, pollinator visits, and seed yield in a planting date study over three years in western Minnesota, USA. Seeds were sown in field plots in spring (early-sown) or early summer (late-sown), and flower abundance, pollinator visitation, and seed yields were recorded. Initial flowering commenced 41 to 55 d after sowing, and anthesis duration (first flowering to harvest) was 34 to 70 d. Flowers attracted large numbers of honey bees (Apis mellifera L.), as many as 35 per minute of observation, which represented about 50% of all insect visitors. Early-sown echium produced maximum seed yields of 750 kg ha-1, which were 2-29 times higher than those of late-sown echium. We concluded that echium in Minnesota can flower as soon as mid June, provide abundant floral resources for honey bees for up to two months, and produce seed yield profits that can rival those of corn (Zea mays L.).