Not a bad year for acorns

Most humans would walk by thinking this was a mulch bed.

We may not have mentioned it, but we’re not having one bit of problem finding acorns this year!

This s a fine mix of white oak and chestnut oak from two huge trees.

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One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

It’s mystery number 222! We squirrels feel like there should be some sort of celebration when we hit match numbers, but we don’t know what. So on with the mystery…

Do you know this plant?

Give me a guess in the comments and I’ll be back later to verify answer!

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These late leaf hangers-on are the leaves of the American Beech, Fagus grandifolia. This striking tree doesn’t grow in our close neighborhood, but is in the Northern Virginia area, often in stands (meaning that’s all that’s growing there) that are striking this time of year–silver bark and gold leaves. It’s intolerant of urban pollution, salt and soil compaction, so we’re not surprised it’s gone from suburban neighborhoods.

We did a little look-see online, and read that beeches love rich bottomland soil–the bottom of the hill where all the good soil slides down and collects. They tolerate shade really well, so will grow up with the other trees, then keep going and become the only species there, or with a mix of maples, birch and hemlock. So a beech may have out-lasted the other trees that started growing on that land.

Of course they flower–pretty small ones–and produce beechnuts! We squirrels love them, as do wild turkeys, raccoon, deer, rabbits, fox, pheasant, opossum…I think you get the idea–a lot of animals eat beechnuts!

Plant one if you can! Moist, rich soil that drains well, and not prone to foot traffic or snowplowing with salt.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Have you ever seen leaves this pretty?

Know what it is?

I’ll check in with your comments later for guesses but below is a tiny hint if you like…

Most plants we squirrels feature on The Squirrel Nutwork are native. This one is not.

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Need another hint? The bark peels into speckles…

This patchy bark belongs to the kousa dogwood, Cornus kousa, a native of East Asia.

Its leaves are very similar in shape to our native flowering dogwood, but the colors tend more to red and yellow than the natives purple tones, as seen below:

The amount of yellow and red varies intriguingly vary from tree to tree. Nutmeg and I will have to make a run-around to see if this is due to the amount of shading, or if the red advances as the season progresses.

Enjoy the show of these small trees!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Red things are falling on the ground, and they aren’t apples in our woods!

Any guesses for what this is? Leave me–Hickory–a note in the comments and I’ll be back later to check your guesses!

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Maybe you humans would have recognized this ‘drupe’ up on its tree?

If not, we squirrels will take that as your absolute dedication to knowing about us–because we don’t eat these! Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina, is eaten by many songbirds, game birds, deer, rabbits, chipmunks and rats. But we squirrels would rather stick with the good stuff, acorns.

Staghorn sumac has a tartness to it, so maybe those other animals don’t notice. Also, the trees are kind of skinny for a squirrel to be climbing and not very spread in the branching at the top.

Maybe because the big, compound leaves of the sumac seem to take the place of limbs.

Even if we don’t eat their fruits, sumacs are a pretty little tree that make especially thick groves, and turn beautiful red-oranges in the fall. Look for them in another month!

May-apples…Hawthorn

What do you know–some common names are correct! The Hawthorn is living up to one of its–May-apple–with the ‘pome’ fruits beginning to ripen now, in May.

We took a look at this small tree’s other names, and we squirrels feel they are just as descriptive of some hawthorn characteristics:

Whitethorn = the blossoms are white, the branches are covered in thorns, as seen in this post.

Thornapple = again, the thorns and the ‘apple’ fruits.

Hawberry = those do look like berries, though scientifically they aren’t. Haw is an old English name for hedge, which these trees would make a mighty fine one of, in our humble opinion, but we understand that this is what people call the fruits over there.

Thirsty Thursday

Folks,

This week’s water column isn’t about water per se, but about what water does.

We’ve had a lot of rain in northern Virginia the last few days. A LOT, what Miz Flora calls ‘That blasted weather’. She’s particularly miffed because the rain has brought down flowers–from trees. Notice those white patches along the roadsides?

If your nose hasn’t been tuned upward, there’s been a fragrance in the air–the sweet Black Locust blossoms.

Yes, we know that phrase is usually refers to magnolias, but trust me, black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, is sweet, or so we consider it, and it’s a favorite of the honeybees.

That’s what makes us squirrels particularly sad–huge numbers of bees collect from black locust during the week they’re blooming. These pea-shaped flowers hang in bunches, called racemes Miz Flora says, and they make for easy nectar-gathering.

Unfortunately, they’re also heavy, so after Monday’s storm, most of the flowers and many branches ended up on the ground, even though this strong wood has traditionally been used for fence posts.

Sigh. If you’re a friend of bees, you might want to slip them some extra food during our predicted week of rain. Good timing if you managed to get your planting done last week though! I see plenty of oaks sprouting from acorns we buried last fall.

Catkins Coming Down!

If you’re dodging these masses of catkins rolling across your suburban streets, you know how we squirrels feel trying to to navigate the woods. We’re up to our bellies in oak catkins! Last week the male ‘flowers’ of the oak trees shed their pollen, coating our tree branches yellow, and this week the spent tassels have come down.

It’s all part of nature, folks. These fine plant materials contain no seeds and make great additions to your compost. Personally, we squirrels are hoping for a good acorn crop form their pollination!