Happy Pollinator Week!

Yes, pollinators have the support of a week dedicated to them, just like squirrels do! (That shows you how important they are. Squirrel Week IX was back in April when we were doing out Blogging From A to Z Challenge, so we, um, missed it.)

Pollinator Partnership sponsors this activity to coordinate events and raise awareness about the need for pollinator health.

We’ve tried to do that here, without any coordination, and we trust that our human readers are interested in keeping our natural world healthy, not just squirrels activities. We put out a bee and wasp quiz after featuring bees in 2016. This is a fun look at our most common bees and was a lot of work for Hickory to collect for a Mystery post, so we will just post that here for you to return to: One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve — Bee Quiz.

Pollinators aren’t just bees…so maybe we will get together another post–quiz?– by the end of pollinator week. But for today, we have some bee identification resources for you.

In that bee quiz, we suggested using the Native Bees of North America on Bug Guide to identify your bees. We’ve found another site specific to Bumble Bees that is more detailed in breaking down each part of the bee that you need to look at to make an accurate identification: Bumble Bee Watch. You can even submit your bumblebee photos and go through the guided key to identify your local species.

We gave it a go, because Hickory and I have pretty good photos, right? Hmm. Take this group of the same bee foraging on a Purple Turtlehead.

We know the location, the date, the plant the bee is on. We have a great view of his side and tip of his abdomen. But the bee face is missing! And so is the very top of the bee’s thorax. And we can’t see how the yellow bands merge with the black ones, which can take many, many shapes. You need to have these bee parts to identify the bee!

Bumble Bee Watch has a very clear tips on how to photograph bees for identification. We get close enough–bumble bees are focused on getting their nectar and pollen supplies when they visit a flower, so don’t worry about being stung. But in the future, we will take more photos from different angles–especially if the bee is on the flower for as long as this one was!

Bumble Bee Watch has a nice gallery of dozens of bumblebees showing their identification features, flowers, and range. So even if you don’t submit a photo, you can learn a lot!

Have you tried to identify a bee? What resources did you use? We’re sure we haven’t found them all yet!

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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

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

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

J is for (Spiraea) Japonica

Ms. Flora is a bit miffed. Spiraea japonica, known as spiraea, spirea and Japanese meadowsweet, is not a native species. We try, we really do, to bring you our Virginia and North American natives first, but in keeping with the alphabetizing of the Blogging From A to Z Challenge, we needed a ‘J’. And not just any ‘J’, a ‘J’ that is woody-stemmed and a food source for bee species? (See, we squirrels do stick to some of our rules!)

Does anyone out there know of a native ‘J’–woody plant, that is? (How about a ‘K’? Struggling harder with that one!)

So here we go with Japonica:

See, a native bumblebee! They love it! Plus, spiraea blooms from June into July, in the heat of summer when flowers start to be in shorter supply for bees.

Spiraea is listed on Buzz About Bees’ list of flowering shrubs for bees, which is what caught our attention, even though we leap by numerous bushes every day and have noted the bees on them previously on The Squirrel Network. Right, we didn’t think them as valued for bees, and maybe you didn’t either–but now you can!

Different cultivars are available that grow different heights, so check what you buy and prune accordingly. They like a sunny location and will grow better there as proven by the stunted nature of these ones closer to the pin oak.

In loose bunches, they make a lovely tangled escape for us squirrels (and songbirds!), though the chipmunks living in this mound get a bit grumpy when we dash in.

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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

I is for Ilex opaca

And Ilex opaca is…American Holly!

If you re just joining us, The Squirrel Nutwork posts for the Blogging A to Z Challenge are featuring Trees for Bees!

Yes, many (all?) of those little holly berries came from the tiny holly flowers pollinated by bees. Please note, you must have both the male and the female trees to produce the berries.

This classic and native tree grows to 25 feet in our area as a beautiful understory with year-round evergreen color. If you live in the warmer climates of the southern U. S., your hollies might reach to 60 feet, but in either case it is a very slow going tree with thin, delicate bark. It grows in sun, part shade and shade.

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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

H is for Hawthorn

This is one tree we squirrels do not like to climb, even if it does have ‘haws’ on it that are worth fighting the birds for. The name should give you readers a clue why: hawTHORN.

Yep, those things are wicked.

The lucky bees just fly to the flowers to get their treat.

And they do, in droves, in late May. There are many different species of Hawthorn, Crataegus, and many are valuable as an early food source for bees. Check out the list on the EcoBeneficial blog.

The Hawthorn tree is perfect for suburban yards–they get from 15 to 30 feet high. But they do need full sun and are prone to a number of  fungi and rust diseases. More than 25 series of songbirds eat the haws, which some people refer to as pomes or apples.

But don’t forget the thorns!

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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

G is for Gum Tree

For our Blogging From A to Z Challenge, we are posting trees and shrubs that bloom and are attractive to bees.

Gum tree is also known as Black Gum, Tupelo and Sour Gum. But they are all Nyssa sylvatica.

Note, it is slow-growing and will grow in the understory of other trees, partially shaded.

The flowers of the black gum tree bloom in May and June, tiny yellow-green and in bunches. Bees pollinate them and the purple fruits form up in the treetops where we squirrels get to see al the is going on, and grab a snack. You humans won’t notice it, because this tree is tall–60 to 80 feet.  You humans will decide to plant a gum tree because of its beautiful fall foliage. And if you are undecided between it and another tree, pick black gum because it also feeds the bees!

Another ‘G’ tree to consider is Golden Rain tree, Koelreuteria paniculate. It’s not native, but the full panicles of flowers are highly attractive to bees. Check out Golden Rain tree here.

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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