One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Recognize these leaves?

Hint: The plant is blooming nw, but we bet you’d recognize it!

Give us a guess in the comments.

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Another hint: This is the plant in bloom.

It’s a shrub native to the southeast of North America, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia. A lot of humans seem to be planting them for their nice flowers and pretty fall leaf color. In the wild, the shrub grows in the understory, but does best in light shade to full sun.

Make sure it has forest-like rich soil and steady moisture. We squirrels haven’t seen insects or birds attracted to the Oakleaf Hydrangea, nor can we find any references to it being attractive to wildlife. Any real life stories out there?

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One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there,

What is this shrub?

Put your guesses in the comments and I’ll check back later!

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This new shrub joins others in out neighborhood, but this time the humans put it in full sun! Ms. Flora says that’s okay–Virginia Sweetspire, Itea virginica, can tolerate both. It even tolerates out heavy Virginia clay soil–but as the name should tell you, that’s because it’s native to Virginia!

The shrubs in the sun definitely has more flowers. The ‘spires’ bloom from the inside out, so it seems to bloom for a very longtime.

Pretty little star flowers. They seem to be attracting insects, but we haven’t had a whole lot of butterflies around this year, which makes us sad. Everyone, we hope you keep planting flowers to feed those bees and butterflies! Virginia sweetspire is supposed to be a easy one to keep and be interesting for humans all year long. We squirrels just want berries, but this doesn’t seem to provide any. Nevertheless, have a look at what else the Piedmont Master Gardeners have to say about it!

Trees & Shrubs for Bees ~ Our 2019 Blogging from A to Z Challenge Reflections

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!

Oops! We got our alphabet days wrong!

‘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!

Y is for blueberrY

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

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Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

 

X is for IleX glabra

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.

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Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

W is for Willow

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!

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Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

V is for Viburnum

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.

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Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

S is for Spicebush

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!

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Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

Q is for Quince

Heh, we squirrels thought ‘Q’ was going to be one of those tricky letters to get a woody plant that flowers for bees. (We are participating in the Blogging From A to Z Challenge, in case you didn’t pick up on that!) But no, Flowering Quince tops many of the bee-food lists. So, plant away!

 

Quince, Chaenomeles speciosa, is a member of the rose family that was brought to Northern America in the 1700s. The simple, five-petaled flowers lookouts like rose and apple blossoms, but they are a beautiful salmon pink.

Many of you humans plant quince and trim it up, but if you place it in a hedge and just let it go, it grows to 10 feet high and forms a nice loose safe-haven for squirrels and maybe some songbirds…ok, a lot of songbirds that will eat the fruits, which are tasty.

This shrub grows in a variety of soils and light conditions, but blooms best in full sun.

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Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing