It’s dragonfly time-have you noticed?
They aren’t just above the ponds either! They are agile fliers and are after other insects to eat.
Have a great week!
This year was the 10th year anniversary for the Blogging From A to Z Challenge, and the 8th year anniversary for us squirrels. In fact, we began our blogging in 2012 with this challenge.
We’re both proud and excited to complete our challenge. If you’ve spent any time poking around our website, you’ve likely noticed the line of ‘survivor badges’ our sidebar. We have not been able to find this year’s–and it’s not for lack of digging around! (Ok, Hickory found it–we have to complete a survey first. Ha, good way to get us to do that!)
On the A to Z site’s master list, we are number 592 of 685 blogs that sign-up this year. It’s the first time we’ve had a theme other than local nature observations from our neighborhood in suburban Washington, D. C. Our focus on woody plants that provide our bee neighbors bigger supplies of nectar and pollen is a very timely theme, one we are seeing more frequently in your human news as insect populations decline.
This is a scary thing for us. Our favorite food–acorns–are wind pollinated, but we squirrels eat a variety of other foods as well, including a lot of other nuts, berries, and yes, insects. We bet you humans might like a variety in your diet as well. I’m sure you can see where we are headed with this: we all need to be scared…and we all need to do something to help. Anything, no matter how small you think it may be.
Our April posts included: Fifteen flowering trees that help bees. Nine flowering shrubs that help bees. One insect that feeds on a tree. One structure that you can offer to supplement bee housing. We saw another blogger list his prior year’s posts in a review, so we’re offering that here.
The A to Z site suggested several questions that we might reflect on. We liked this one:
What was the best moment for you during this year’s challenge?
Our best moment was discovering that though we made a point about including native and honey bees, we honestly were thinking more about those hive bees, the colony dwellers. Right up until three-quarters of the way through the month when Hickory checked in on that mason bee house and discovered that the native bees were using it. That thing went up April 1st!
Within 3 weeks the bees were using half the tubes. We had no idea there were that many bees around. That many bees in need of places to lay eggs so desperately that they found this one house on a fence in one back yard.
See? Any little thing that you might do helps!
Read other 2019 A to Z Reflections here.
Thank you to Jeremy for the fantastic A to Z graphic–not just this year, but every year!
Thanks for being with us on this journey!
‘Y’ day is today for the Blogging From A to Z Challenge. We accidentally posted it yesterday. So for today, um…
…remember that blackberrY and raspberrY flowers also are a favorite with pollinators! Just because these trees and shrubs help the bees doesn’t mean they can’t help us squirrels, too!
Again, we know this isn’t exactly how the Blogging from A to Z Challenge is supposed to run–with our chosen alphabet letter at the end of the word instead of the start–but desperate times… Honestly, we should have saved Yellow Poplar for Y, used tupelo for T… and on and on, but you know, squirrels!
Nonetheless, you readers are getting a nice list of Trees and Shrubs for bees!
Blueberry, Vaccinium sp, is found as a wild plant and a cultivated one across the entirety of North America. The wild blueberry bushes in our mid-Atlantic states are Vaccinium angustifolium.
They grown in a partial shaded forest floor, whereas most cultivated blueberries prefer full sun. The soil can be dry to average and our native plants only grow to 2 feet high, while the cultivated shrubs are 8 feet tall.
All blueberries have a small urn-shaped flower that opens at the bottom.
Only the smallest of bees pollinate them, or bees with very long tongues. However, some bees–like honeybees, carpenter bees and short-tongued bees–cheat. they chew holes in the back of the flower postal the nectar without pollinating the plants! They bloom in the spring and set berries that ripen throughout the summer.
All of the wild blueberry relatives attract bees: cranberry, deerberry, lingonberry, bearberry and huckleberry
Sigh, another hard letter. But we squirrels are up to the challenge!
Ilex glabra, better known to you humans as Inkberry, is an evergreen shrub.
If you look back to I is for Ilex opaca you will see that the American Holly is a close relative–but it grows into a tree, and though we squirrels love our trees, we realize not everyone can plant one. Inkberry you can do and the bees will love you for it! They think the nectar on an inkberry is great. It has a small white flower similar to the American Holly, and unfortunately, we don’t have a photo of them.
Inkberry grows up and down eastern North America, but does best in the southeast. It likes part shade and moist to wet soils. Gardeners favor it because the bushes stay compact and green through out the winter, then set up with pretty purple berries. Take note: that’s only on the female plants and if you have a male plant planted nearby! But your friendly neighborhood squirrels like them and so do the songbirds.
Both willow, Salix species, shrubs and willow trees grow throughout North America.
The pussy willow ‘flowers’, really a form of catkins, provide a much needed source of pollen for bees in the spring. Pollen is what bees use to make beebread and feed their new brood. We have photos of willow catkins with pollen…somewhere! We can’t lay our paws on them now, but here’s one before the flowering parts burst from their protective coating of fur–that is actually a fuzzy bud covering that protects the early catkins form freezing!
Willows will tolerate sunny to shady locations and prefer wet soils, but will grow in average, not dry soil. They bloom in early spring. You will need to check the individual species for heights!
Viburnum flowers look like you’d be putting out plates of food for the bees. However, we are finding only a few references that bees use the early-spring blooming varieties when there is little else blooming and the fall-blooming varieties for the same reason. Some reports say that the bees are gathering pollen. We squirrels are by no means experts on bee foraging, so perhaps inspect the viburnum flowers when you pass by them?
Viburnum is a shrub that flowers at the tips of the branches. The flower heads are large and flat with many small flowers inside the petalled edges. Below is Doublefile Viburnum, Viburnum plicatum.
And this viburnum with the leaf that looks like a maple is American Cranberry Viburnum, Viburnum trilobum.
The Honeybee Conservancy likes one of what Ms. Flora calls the ‘fancier’ versions of Viburnum, so check that out here.
There are enough varieties of viburnum that you should check the specific sun and soil requirements of each, but in general, the more sun they have, the better they will bloom, but partial shade is usually tolerated. They can reach up to 8 feet high and be even wider, to 10 feet.
Mason bee houses! You can definitely make a difference in your native bee populations when you make or buy one of these little structures. Osmia, the genus name of these mason bees, has about 150 different species in North American–27 of those are east of the Mississippi River. Naturally, they nest in hollow stems or crevices between stones. You humans are building more stone walls these days, but you tend to clean up your yards too much, or the plants that are popular aren’t hollow.
If you have hollow-stemmed plants, leave the stalks in a corner of your garden.
If not, construct something like any of these. You humans are good with searching for directions. We squirrels were a bit appalled to discover the simple house of bamboo tubes had been placed on one of our favorite fences. It gets the morning sun that we like to bask in. That began to attract bees right away.
Our fears were short-lived. The bees come to the tubes, duck in, do their business and fly off again. They aren’t interested in squirrels or people. Each tube is an egg-laying site. The different bees like different sizes, but we can’t seem to tell them apart. In their strong jaws, they collect mud or wet soil to pack between the eggs they lay to divide up the tube. First they go head in.
Then they come out and turn around and back into the tube.
Hickory figured out that’s when the egg-laying is taking place. It’s not on every trip, because the pieces mud that they can carry are small. See, there are a couple they dropped on the flat lip of the wood.
Needless to say, it’s been entertaining having them as neighbors. Invite the mason bees to your yard!
Way high in the tallest trees in our neighborhood, the tulip trees, Liriodendron tulipifera, are blooming right now–and humans would never know!
“Ahem.” Hickory twitches his tail. “We only know it ourselves, Nutmeg, because that windstorm last Friday broke branches and blew down a bunch of the uppermost flowers.”
Well…yes, as I was saying, the tulip poplar or yellow poplar, are straight and rapidly growing trees that reach 70 to 100 feet tall. They flower way up there, where their canopy branches have full sunlight. The orange and yellow-green blossoms, which yes, we and our human readers most often see when they blow down, are a pretty orange and yellow the size and shape of a tulip flower.
As you can see by the size of the ants that are also seeking the nectar of the flower, they are indeed large, and do provide a nice pool of nectar for the bees, which is quite easy for them to get to!
This may not be the tree for many of you humans to plant in your suburban yards, but anyone with more land on the eastern side of North America will want to encourage them. Their blossoms provide a fair percentage of bee nectar in late April to May.
Northern Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, one of those forest bushes that we squirrels have to skirt when running along the ground, and seems all but invisible to us. Except in the spring. Then, the branches are covered in small yellow flowers. And bees.
Both the male and the female plants that will flower, but only the female plants will set the fall berries. Apparently, there is a minute difference in the flowers to tell them apart, and they don’t set berries for a few years, so you humans are on your own for figuring this one out. Buy a lot of them? The bush grows 6 to 12 feet high and will tolerate a partly sunny location. Because it blooms in April, it serves bees in that early period when they are rebuilding their nectar stores and raising brood.
The Honeybee Conservancy has a lovely post on Northern Spicebush, showing its many seasonal colors off.
Spicebush is also the food plant of the Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar, so plant a few extra bushes if you have room!