What’s not to love? Beautiful Hawthorns with Bountiful Berries

Crataegus-marshallii-DSC_0209Our native hawthorns are beautiful early bloomers, starting in late March and going through April and May. Hawthorns start blooming very soon after the early trees, when the plums and other fruit trees are putting on their show, providing much needed early bee and butterfly support with their offerings of pollen and nectar.

Dwarf Hawthorn, Crataegus uniflora

Dwarf Hawthorn, Crataegus uniflora

But the pollinator support doesn’t stop there. Hawthorns are among the top larval host plants in Doug Tallamy’s list of “Best Bets: What to Plant” to support butterflies and moths. They are number twelve out of the top twenty woody plants. The link to that list is here.

The height and cover provided by hawthorns for cup-nesting songbirds is pretty much perfect. Many songbirds nest between 5-15 feet off of the ground, and need a shrub that gives them good site with plenty of camouflage. Hawthorns are thorny, so are roses and some apple species. Does that mean you should avoid the Hawthorn in your shrub layer? No! Birds such as the Brown Thrasher will nest in thorny shrubs or greenbriar tangles, here’s a link to nest watch. Thorns would add a layer of protection from some egg and nestling predators.

Mockingbird nest in Parsley Hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii

Mockingbird nest in Parsley Hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii

The haws, or pomes, are also an important addition to your garden to support migratory birds like Cedar Waxwings. But if you’ve ever heard of Haws or Mayhaw jelly, people have been using the fruit of the hawthorn as well, from the cuisine of various Native American tribes through the traditional foods of the Deep South. One of our favorite blogs “Eat the Weeds” has an article on Hawthorns here .  Colonists used haws, both Marshallii and uniflora are species recorded as being used as food by colonists and Native Americans.

The Hawthorn is closely related to the rose and apple, the flowers of hawthorns reminiscent of plum or apple blossoms and the fruits often resembling rose hips.  The scarlet berries are so prolific on our Parsley Hawthorn that the winter resident birds can never finish the fruit during the winter, it often takes a flock of famished Cedar Waxwings to polish them off.  Flower quantity and berry set are greater if planted in the sun.

Crataegus-uniflora-berries-IMG_9758

Fruit of the Dwarf Hawthorn, Crataegus uniflora, smells like an apple.

The Hawthorn species that we grow are Crataegus marshallii and Crataegus uniflora.  Both of these species are tough, preferring well drained sites.  They can easily handle full sun to dappled or open shade.  Right now Crataegus marshallii is blooming now in front of our location in Scottdale GA.  The flowers are gorgeous; marshallii has plentiful flower clusters that hold about a dozen inch wide blooms.

We now have Crataegus uniflora germinating; hoping it will be a good size in two years.  But this species will never get beyond shrub sized. The common name for this species is Dwarf Hawthorne; its height ranges from 3-6 feet tall. The Dwarf Hawthorne has flowers that are singular, about quarter-sized, and matt white.   The fruits are nickel sized pomes that smell like apple and have the color of a really ripe golden delicious apple with a pink blush when fully ripe.


Welcome to our Sunny Beeches!

2017 BHF web poster

Learn about Native Bees, Butterflies and Native Plants at Beech Hollow Farm.  We now have presentations about bees and butterflies and how to support them in your gardens (free) on Saturday mornings.  We also have mid-day projects, classes in Nature Journaling with writing, spore prints, and art, that get you into our forest.  And if I don’t say so myself, it sure is pretty down there in the hollow.

Please take a look at our spring offerings:

2017-BHF-Spring-Classes


The Marvelous Monarch Migration (Part 1)

Female Monarch Butterfly laying egg on Asclepias tuberosa.

Female Monarch Butterfly laying egg on Asclepias tuberosa.

Why marvelous? Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus) travel thousands of miles every year, following the seasons.  These amazing butterflies overwinter on large trees in the mysterious forests of the mountains of Michoacán and the State of Mexico.   With the arrival of spring, these seemingly delicate creatures fly thousands of miles northward into the southern United States.

Monarch egg on underside of Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) leaf.

Monarch egg on underside of Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) leaf.

There the female Monarch butterfly lays her eggs on Milkweed plants, ONLY on Milkweed plants. Her caterpillars feed on the Milkweed, grow, pupate, and hatch, as the second generation of butterflies to take up the generational relay.

This second generation of Monarchs flies northward into the northern United States and Southern Canada in late spring. When they arrive, the females lay the eggs of generation number three on Milkweed plants.

Very immature Monarch caterpillar on underside of Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) leaf.

Very immature Monarch caterpillar on underside of Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) leaf.

In August and September, Monarch generations three and four start flying southward, retracing their flights back to the mountains in Michoacán and the State of Mexico. When the butterflies arrive, they overwinter in large trees to wait for the return of spring.  There is more information at this Forest Service website.

How to help the Monarchs on their journey:

Feed your Monarchs (Part 2):  A Garden with Native Plants which provide nectar for the adult butterflies is important. Even MORE important for Monarch Butterflies is the availability of their larval host plant: Milkweed. Supporting their full life cycle by providing host plants for their caterpillars will ensure the return of these intriguing insects year after year.

Monarch caterpillars munching on Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed.

Monarch caterpillars munching on Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed.

Monarch Home Sweet Habitat (Part 3): everyone needs clean water, even insects. A ceramic plant saucer with large pebbles or a sand ramp in it will allow butterflies to approach the water without being drowned.

Minimize use of toxic chemicals, such as pesticides, which can sicken or kill unintended, or “non-target,” wildlife. If you must use a pesticide, be aware of your larval host plants and other pollinators, apply pesticides carefully to avoid destroying your beneficial insects.

Monarch-butterfly-chrysalis

This is a Monarch Butterfly chrysalis at Beech Hollow Farm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adult Monarch, generation three or four, southward bound to the mountain forests of Michoacan. The flower the butterfly is nectaring on is the Georgia Aster.

Adult Monarch, generation three or four, southward bound to the mountain forests of Michoacan. The flower the butterfly is nectaring on is Symphyotrichum georgianum, the Georgia Aster.


Gentle Native Bee? Or aggressive ground nesting wasp?

Spring has indeed sprung, and early this year.  And with the lovely weather, the buds are blooming, and the native bees have started buzzing.

One thing we gardeners should make ourselves more aware of is the difference between yellow jackets, an aggressive ground nesting wasp, and soil nesting bees. We want to have our gentle native bees, who are excellent pollinators, healthy and happy in our gardens.  But what is the difference between a yellow jacket wasp and a ground nesting bee?

There are many species of ground nesting bees in North America.  They are gentle, mostly solitary bees (rarely live in groups), and only sting if you smack them.  We have native ground nesting bees who specialize in squash pollination, and there are ground nesting bees who pollinate our tomatoes and blueberries more efficiently than honey bees.  All we have to do to encourage their excellent services is a.) give them a little room to nest in (they are tiny and don’t take up much space) and b.) don’t poison them! 

Here is a link to a video I took of a very large yellow jacket colony in an Atlanta Park:

Yellow jackets are predatory wasps, and an important member of the checks and balances that exists in nature’s food web. Without predatory wasps, we would be over run with devastating insect damage to every living plant on the planet.  But they are aggressive, so none of us wants a huge yellow jacket nest near our house.  More info at this wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_yellowjacket

For comparison, here are a couple of ground nesting bee nest entrances on the website Bugguide:

http://bugguide.net/node/view/668896

http://bugguide.net/node/view/178216

And here is a Wikipedia article on the ground nesting bee family:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halictinae

In the photos of the bee nests, notice how there is one teensy hole, about 3/8’s of an inch across?  With one little bee head peering out?  She is guarding her eggs, her babies.  It’s actually very touching.  The ground dwelling bee won’t come out and lance you all over with horrid stinging welts if you are mowing your grass.  She is just going to mind her own business.  Give her some respect and some space, she’ll give you tomatoes and squash in return.  Not a bad deal, eh?

 

 


Spring’s Ephemeral Flowers

Bloodroots are blooming now.

Bloodroots in bloom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is it with the spring ephemerals? Its early March and the weather is still nippy; the trees haven’t unfurled their leaves. No other self-respecting flower is blooming yet. Most plants are going to wait for warmer weather and bountiful buzzing bees and other myriad pollinators.

The trees haven’t unfurled their leaves. That’s the thing. Late winter and early spring sunlight is pouring all over the forest floor. It would be a shame to waste all that available energy. That is where spring ephemerals fit in. The Trilliums, the Bloodroots, the Jacob’s Ladder, the Troutlilies: all of them are grabbing sunrays and photosynthesizing food.

Bloodroot-blooms

Forest flowers like Bloodroot, Sanguinaria Canadensis, are blooming now. Bloodroot flowers are with us very briefly – they only last a day or two – but the beautiful leaves will often stay up until August.   These plants have already started setting seeds.

By the end of May, the tree leaves are out and stretching for the sun, and forest canopy closes overhead. Its shady, not as much sunlight is available for photosynthesis. Spring ephemerals will be done with flowering and will have moved on to making seeds.