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!

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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!

Q is for Quercus

Quercus, you ask? Unless you’ve been a Squirrel Nutwork follower for a few years. Q is one of the more difficult letters to find in nature names, so we’ve recycled this one every two years.

Quercus is home for us, the oak trees we live in, their acorns we eat. According to the National Wildlife Federation’s article on The Wildlife Benefits of Acorns and Oaks, so do more than 100 other vertebrate species–including turkey, crows, deer, raccoons, opossums, blue jays and quail. Insects? Yes, and we once heard it was over 200 different species, but now we can’t find that reference.

Clearly, oaks are an important species throughout North America. So why are you humans hesitating to plant them?

You are, we know because we see fancy little cherry trees and non-native crepe myrtle going in instead. Please give Quercus another thought if you have a tree to plant.

Need more photos of oak trees? We did a great job showing them back on Q day in 2016.

Please, if you have any Q suggestions for us to file away, please give them to us! (We’ve used Quince, Quartz, Quail and Queen Anne’s Lace in the past.)

M is for Maple

Back on April 2nd, on ‘B’ day, we featured red maple blossoms. After thinking it over, we squirrels decided we have given this species the short end of the branch, only because it doesn’t produce acorns. So let’s have another look at maple trees, specifically, the red maple!

As we noted on ‘B’ day, red maples bloom early, often being the first, but certainly the most prolific, early bloomer in the eastern mid-atlantic area. So, nice start to spring with that red blush over the trees. (And food for the bees!) Then theses trees become red all over again when their seeds–the samaras–set on.

We’ve generously written about those, too, here. Clearly, these trees are well named!

Then the red maples go all green for the summer.

Nice, dense shade from these spreading giants. And in the fall…

Look out! It’s a red spectacular!

Winter isn’t boring either.

Nice suburban tree! Too bad it doesn’t grow acorns.

K is for Keep Calm and…

Keep them messy!

Now this isn’t the perfect suburban forest floor–it’s got a few of those invasive vines in it, but the leaf litter under the hollies and oaks is an oasis of acorns and bugs, and even a few mushrooms pop up, all tasty to us squirrels.

I certainly can’t find any of that here:

The ground has been raked clean of acorns. The small nooks where insects can winter over and feed on decaying leaves are gone. And daffodils? You humans do realize they are poisonous, right? No squirrel with any woods-smarts touches them!

You humans might like a neatly mulched area of woods, but it does exactly zero for wildlife.

Even if our suburban woodlands aren’t perfectly native, Keep them Messy, please!

B is for Blossoms

We know you humans are enjoying the spring blossoms, but one of our first spring bloomers in up in the air…

Have you noticed a blush of red in the trees? Red maple trees are a prolific bloomer–providing bees with much needed pollen to feed their young bees and revive the worker numbers.

And for our regular readers expecting a ‘Motionless Monday’ post today–this is the best bloomer we’ve found!

 

Loss of Oaks

Yes, The Squirrel Nutwork is still on winter hiatus, but our recent weather is prompting us to speak for the trees!

Like most of the east coast, we had high winds in northern Virginia over the weekend. Sadly, our suburban woodlands around the golf course lost many old oaks, a loss for both the human and wildlife inhabitants.

Many were snapped off, but a closer look showed that the heartwood of the tree was rotten.

Unfortunately, these older trees had such a branch spread of strong limbs that they took down adjacent trees.

One was apparently decayed enough at the base and roots that it uprooted.

We squirrels noted that recent replacement of the sidewalk adjacent to this last double oak had also included a regrading of the entire soil bed surrounding the tree… The tree was rotten, but it’s never a good idea to mess with the roots of a tree! They extend farther than most humans think–one and a half times the diameter of the branch spread. Good thing to keep in mind to help your trees weather storms like we seem to be having more frequently.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Quiet week here. I think this is an easy guess of most humans, but, hey, I’ll throw it out there anyway!

Be back later for your guesses!

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All–nearly all!–they leaves on the ground here are oaks. The yellow leaves amid the coppery brown ones are  a branch form a White Oak tree. It’s one I–Hickory Squirrel–cut myself to add to my leaf nest. That’s why it’s a bit fresher than the rest of the red oak leaves that fell naturally.

Chilly nights, you know! We all need to add our layers.