By Wendy Langhans
Ahhh. The smell of fresh coffee the first thing in the morning. Whether you brew it yourself or visit the local coffee shop, many people start their day with a dose of caffeine. But humans aren't the only baristas - certain flowers lace their nectar with caffeine too.
Sugar is the main ingredient in floral nectars. But the nectar from citrus flowers also contains between 11-17.5 milligrams of caffeine per liter, while nectar from grapefruit flowers contains a whopping 94.2 mg of caffeine per liter. And the bees seem to like it.
The main ingredient for our morning coffee.
Recently, scientists from the University of Haifa  conducted an experiment, offering bees a choice between "clean" artificial nectar (sugar and water) or "enhanced" artificial nectar (laced with sugar, caffeine and nicotine). They found that "Bees prefer nectar with small amounts of nicotine and caffeine over nectar that does not..." This brings to mind three questions:
1) Can bees can become addicted to caffeine and nicotine? The researchers say that they have demonstrated a preference, but not an addiction. More research is needed to answer this question.
Tree tobacco contains two alkaloids (nicotine and anabasine)
2) Can a chemical both attract and a repell at the same time? It sure looks like it. In the natural world, caffeine and nicotine function as insecticides, protecting plants from being eaten by insects. But plants "face an evolutionary dilemma: how to make their nectar attractive to legitimate pollinators but unattractive to detrimental consumers." One hypothesis  is that "...interactions between plants and nectar consumers (legitimate pollinators, nectar robbers and microorganisms) are mediated by the secondary compounds in the nectar."
3) Can I substitute grapefruit nectar for my morning cup of coffee? According to my calculations, my 8 ounce cup of morning coffee contains about 135 mg of caffeine. But at concentrations of 94.2 mg/l, an 8 ounce cup of grapefruit floral nectar would provide only about 22.3 mg of caffeine. I'd need to drink a little over 6 cups of grapefruit nectar to get the same amount of caffeine. As I explained this to my husband, he grinned and said, "Why that would be sweet enough to gag a bee."
Correction to last week's story:
Last week, I made an error in captioning a photo. Instead of " Wasp feeding on Phacelia", the captions should have read "Hover Fly feeding on Phacelia." My thanks to the sharp-eyed reader who pointed it out. I apologize for the error.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
For Facebook Users: 90 Days of Santa Clarita Valley Wildflowers.
Here's a new way to familiarize yourself with our local wildflowers. Become a fan of the page, "90 Days of Santa Clarita Valley Wildflowers" and from now through April, each day you'll receive a photo of a local wildflower and a link to a website where you can learn more.
Saturday, April 17, 8-10 AM. Early morning bird hike at Towsley Canyon. It's an easy 1 mile walk and beginning birders are welcome. For map, click here .
Sunday, April 18, 1-3 PM. Spring Wildflowers at East & Rice Canyons. It's that time of year! Join Wendy on a hunt for the colorful wildflowers. For map, click here .
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org  for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, April 7, 14, 21 & 28.
Saturday mornings, April 10 & 24
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.