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

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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

U is for U can help!

Well, kind readers, Ms. Flora let us off the hook for ‘U’ day–she couldn’t find any woody plants that started with U either. So here’s the kind of woody help for bees we decided to talk about:

Mason bee houses! You can definitely make a difference in your native bee populations when you make or buy one of these little structures. Osmia, the genus name of these mason bees, has about 150 different species in North American–27 of those are east of the Mississippi River. Naturally, they nest in hollow stems or crevices between stones. You humans are building more stone walls these days, but you tend to clean up your yards too much, or the plants that are popular aren’t hollow.

If you have hollow-stemmed plants, leave the stalks in a corner of your garden.

If not, construct something like any of these. You humans are good with searching for directions. We squirrels were a bit appalled to discover the simple house of bamboo tubes had been placed on one of our favorite fences. It gets the morning sun that we like to bask in. That began to attract bees right away.

Our fears were short-lived. The bees come to the tubes, duck in, do their business and fly off again. They aren’t interested in squirrels or people. Each tube is an egg-laying site. The different bees like different sizes, but we can’t seem to tell them apart. In their strong jaws, they collect mud or wet soil to pack between the eggs they lay to divide up the tube. First they go head in.

Then they come out and turn around and back into the tube.

Hickory figured out that’s when the egg-laying is taking place. It’s not on every trip, because the pieces mud that they can carry are small. See, there are a couple they dropped on the flat lip of the wood.

Needless to say, it’s been entertaining having them as neighbors. Invite the mason bees to your yard!

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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


O is for Oak Aphids

Okay, folks, we know it’s a stretch, but we are downright desperate on some these letters. You’ve seen aphids your garden plants, like these…

Different aphids suck the juices of different plants, including oak leaves. Then the aphids exude their honeydew–a waste product–that is full of sugar. Apparently, there is a phenonema of bees swarming into oak trees during the dearth times of late summer.

They are desperate to find any source nectar…and are feeding on the aphid honeydew. (!)

Are you surprised? We were. You’d think we squirrels had hung out in trees enough to have witnessed this, but our sources cites oaks in Oregon–an extension office answered the question of why the oak was abuzz–and in Europe, where the oaks seem to have many, many different kinds aphids!

There we have it, oaks indirectly supply bees with nectar. I bet we have all learned something new today!

This honeybee was spotted resting on a Common Milkweed leaf–could she have been attracted to the aphids that also feed on milkweed? This will take some detective work!

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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


M is for Magnolia

Southern Magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, appears to be a hot spot for bee nectar-collecting.

Trees For Bees! The tree is big, the flowers are big! And they are so sweetly scented that even us squirrels are drawn over to the tree.

Bees collect both the sweet-scented nectar and the pollen, and so do many other insects. It’s native to the southeast U. S., but is widely planted in the warmer states. It’s slow growing in a full sun spot and takes up a good bit of room both sideways and up–it grows to 120 feet tall. It will flower better in full sun. The shiny, thick leaves are evergreen and the seed pods are interesting, too.

If you have a big space, a Southern magnolia is a good choice. If your space is smaller, consider a Sweetly Magnolia, Magnolia virginiana, also native to the eastern U. S. and very tolerant of wet areas! That might be a selling point alone!

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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

L is for Locust

Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, is an incredible tree for honeybees and native bees alike. Many of you humans have probably heard of ‘locust honey’ or have smelled a sweet fragrance on the air in June.

Because these pea-like flowers bloom in stages along racemes, the blossoms last three weeks. This is a peak time for nectar collection and building honey stores for bee colonies. Beekeepers near locust groves often have to add extra hive boxes.

Interestingly, the locust tree has been so wide spread since the colonists came to North America, that tree experts aren’t sure where it was first native. Likely it was the Appalachian Mountains and the Ozark Plateau. The tree grows so fast it’s considered invasive in many area, despite it being native. The wood is very hard and makes excellent fence posts that don’t easily rot. (But you humans don’t seem to be making those kinds of fences anymore.)

Yay, because that spread the tree for bees!

Black Locust won’t grow in shade, and often pops up in disturbed areas and edges. It grows straight and tall–40 to 100 feet, and even 170 feet has been found. Look for those late blossoms high in the trees in late spring, June, when the cherries are all done. Or maybe you’ll see the blossoms on your roads first, then know to look, like we did for the Golden Rain Tree!

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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