One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

We have a flower and an…insect for you identify today.

Give me your best guesses in the comments and I’ll check back later!

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Here’s a little hint:

This tree is blooming now–it’s a Hawthorn, Crataegus sp., sometimes called May-tree (it blooms in May), thornapple or hawberry–because all of those pollinated flowers become little red fruits or ‘apples’ in the fall.

The insect doing the pollinating is a honeybee – family identifiable by the yellow and black stripes on its abdomen. Many insects were visiting these flowers the day Nutmeg and I ran down to visit it, including what we think is a mason bee.

The all black abdomen matches the bees we see going in and out of the mason bee house.

The branches of the hawthorn are loaded with flowers and insects seeking the nectar and pollen. If you look closely, you might see a few that scattered off when I shook the branches!

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Tulip trees are in bloom!

We squirrels ran across a tulip tree growing along a street, and guess what? It had branches all up that side that get sun.

Why is this important? Because it was blooming!

You humans have to realize how rare that is to see these flowers that are usually at the uppermost reaches of the canopy! We do! So here is a real treat to see the tulip-like tree flowers we talked about back on our April 23rd T is for Tulip Tree post.

And there are many more buds to provide the bees with these large pools of honey over the next week or so!

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!

No, we have not buried ourselves!

We are just tired. Blogging for month takes a lot out of a squirrel. We are pulling together the entire Trees and Shrubs for Bees list for a post and that plus the unexpected heat, got he better of us.

While you wait for us, enjoy this new White Fringetree the humans win our neighborhood planted last year.

 

Z is for witch haZel

Again! (We used witch hazel in our 2018 Blogging From A to Z Challenge, too!) There just aren’t enough ‘Z’ names in nature. But we’re lucky witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, has a Z in there for our Trees for Bees posts.

The native witch hazel becomes a small tree–to 25 feet–in the shady understory of the forest, but there are also many shrub forms of this species available. They may bloom at different times, like very early spring.

The native tree’s flower blooms in the fall, right around Halloween, and the long, stringy, yellow petals look like spiders–making us squirrels think you humans named it because you thought the tree was ‘bewitched.’ Not so! The name comes from wiche, which means pliant– as in bendable branches.

That makes no difference to bees or other nectar-seekers! If it’s one of those warm fall days that we are prone to having, they want to eat! Witch hazel and the late fall asters are about the only things blooming in October-November, so planting this tree is a real benefit to insects.

And indirectly to us squirrels, I should fairly add. Once the bees pollinate those flowers, the nuts will form, a tasty treat for wildlife.

Of all the woody trees and shrubs we’ve presented for our April ‘Trees (and Shrubs) for Bees’ challenge, witch hazel is one of our favorites. Those crazy fall-blooming flowers are just a neat thing about about nature. We hope you put it on your planting list!

We will compile a complete list of Trees for Bees for you as a summary of this month…sometime this week!

And remember: Please don’t purchase plants that have been grown with pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids. You’re not doing anyone a favor with that these days. And if you haven’t yet, please watch Marla Spivak’s TED talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and what  you can do to 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

T is for Tulip Tree

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.

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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

R is for Redbud

Blooming in lines of pink across branches that Ms. Flora will not allow the rest of us squirrels to cross, Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis, is one of the most stunning of blooming trees. Or so says Ms. Flora, and she insisted we tell you that.

 

Where we live in suburban Washington, D. C., the redbud is blooming now, following the cherry trees, which followed the red maple trees–a continuous bloom for the honey bees and native bees in our area.

This small tree tolerates some shade at the edges of woods, growing to 30 feet high and just as wide. It really does sprout blossoms along the branches and trunk, and the seedpods can follow. If polinated!

Grab some of those seeds and try to plant one. They seem to readily sprout.

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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

 

P is for Prunus

Prunus is the genus name of the cherry family. We squirrels are well aware of the many types of cherry trees you humans have created to beautify your spring. Well, keep doing it! But could you lean toward those simple flowers, not the complicated ones?

Have you ever noticed that the bees can’t find their way to the center with the nectar and pollen? It’s the same with some of your more complicated flowers–just go back to the simple ones if you are planting for pollinators.

We will leave it to you to look at the various kinds. Wild cherries might even have self-seeded in your yard after a bird ate the fruit. All bloom better in full sun. They have widely varying blooming times, and some even bloom in the fall.

Members of the Prunus genus rely on bees to pollinate their flowers. The more flowers visited, the more cherries a tree will have.

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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


N is for Norway Maple

We squirrels are hanging our heads. Do you know how it is when you’ve buried one of your acorns, and you don’t know where? We lost our list of trees and shrubs for our Blogging From A to Z Challenge. We couldn’t think of what plant we had chosen for ‘N’ day today. Then when we finally unburied it, there was no plant…

It’s been awful. We couldn’t find a woody plant that begins with ‘N’. If we’d been bit more organized, Northern Catalpa would have worked. Or Nyssa sylvatica. That was the Black Gum tree. Another criteria for finding a tree to use is that we like to have a photo of it. Technically, that’s not necessary, but we know how you humans are about pretty pictures–

“Ahem!” Hickory twitches his tail. “Nutmeg, you’re the one who is all about the pretty pictures.”

Fine. That’s my criteria.

“Does it have to be nectar?” Hickory asked. “What about pollen sources?” And we searched.

Eureka! Good old Wikipedia had a list of pollen sources, and right there was Norway Maple, Acer platanoides.

Bees need pollen as much as they need nectar. This is their protein. They use it to make beebread, which is fed to the baby bees. Without beebread, new bees will die.

 

Bees carry pollen in pollen sacs on their legs, so look there to see if they have been collecting. Check out the list of pollens bees collect from the Wikipedia list–it identifies the colors which is a rather cool thing. With those notes and if you know what is in bloom, you might be able to identify which plants the bee visited, if you spot one with filled pollen sacs.

By the way, Norway Maple is not a native tree. In fact, it’s rather invasive and therefore not high one our list of things to plant. So double plant a Northern Catalpa, if you are going for a forest of bee trees!

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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