Native Fruit Trees: The Paw Paw Post

Have you ever seen a Zebra Swallowtail? If you have, you weren’t just lucky, there was a Paw Paw involved, and it was somewhere nearby. This beautiful butterfly exclusively lays its eggs on Paw Paw species. “Larval host species” is the official phrase that describes the special relationship between a butterfly it’s host plant(s).

When Mike, Jeff, and I first started hiking the forests at Beech Hollow, we would catch occasional glimpses of the Zebra Swallowtail. That’s because there are Paw Paws in our woods. There are Dwarf and Common Paw Paws in undisturbed woodlands throughout Atlanta, in Decatur, Stone Mountain Park, Mount Arabia, Panola Mountain, and Athens. The Common Paw Paw is scattered throughout North Georgia and the Georgia Piedmont. The Dwarf Paw Paw has a more southerly range, hugging the Coastal Plains and with scattered distribution in the Piedmont. Look for mesic ravines in mature, undisturbed forests, and you may find one of two species of Paw Paw.

The flower of Asimina triloba, or Common Paw Paw.

Now that we have planted Paw Paws on the valley ridge near the nursery, we see more of these butterflies, in our flower beds and nursery, sipping nectar.

The Common Paw Paw is the northernmost species of this mostly tropical family; in Georgia it occurs roughly from the Piedmont northward into the North Eastern United States and Nova Scotia. Often a small tree that can reach 40 feet in height, this species of Paw Paw can also occur as a large multi-trunked shrub. Maroon flowers, one inch across, with six leathery petals,  appear in late spring, nestled under long, dark green, shield shaped leaves. The lumpy yellow-green fruit ripens in late summer or early fall, and is called either

A green pawpaw on the Common Paw Paw tree, Asimina triloba.

the Custard Apple or Paw Paw. At about four to six inches long by two to three inches wide, this is the largest native fruit in North America. Paw Paws tend to be rhizomatous, but they spread slowly. If left to their own devices, one Paw Paw can make a small patch, but it will take two individual plants of the same species to make fruit.

The Dwarf or Small Flower Paw Paw is shorter than the Common Pawpaw, topping out at 6-8 feet in height.   It’s fruit is generally two and a half to three inches in length, smaller than the Common Paw Paw, but just as edible.

One of the delightful things about the Paw Paw species in our area is that they make fruit in the shade. They want shade. You can have a shady back yard, and fruit, as long as you wake up before the birds and the squirrels. Paw Paws make great understory shrubs and an excellent habitat species, providing both cover and food for birds and other wildlife. Plus, your garden can be graced by that glorious beauty, the Zebra Swallowtail. What more can you ask for?


Finally, Fall Is Here!

The Southern heat is about to leave us for some of our favorite weather here at Beech Hollow Wildflower Farm.  Despite all the excitement and energy folks put into planting in the Spring, Fall can be the best time to plant your favorite perennial wildflowers, trees and shrubs.  Here in the south, in October and even into November, the soil is still plenty warm for planting while the air is comfortably cool enough to make plants happy. Our winters are mild enough to give the plants a great time to settle into their new spots without getting scorched by the summer sun and are then well established to produce new growth once Spring and Summer come.  Come visit us at our Fall plant sales, grab some native perennials, let those roots set in over the cooler months and then just wait for those blooms to greet you in the spring!

Want some immediate color for Fall?  Don’t think that the leaves turning brown and falling means that you’re headed into dreary colorless colder months.  There are plenty of wildflowers at Beech Hollow to bring a little colorful pop of joy to each season. Some beautiful blooms will certainly warm you up when the air is cool.  It’s an excellent practice to plan successive bloom times throughout the year in the garden. The best thing about staggering bloom times is that our friendly pollinators appreciate it too!

If you are looking for a particular plant, let us know by sending us a Facebook message or an email at info@beechhollowfarms.com. Let us know which plant and which sale you plan on attending and we will make sure we have it there for you!


Freedom Park Pollinator Garden

by Jeff Killingsworth

Carol Vanderschaaf, at the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden

 In 2005, Carol Vanderschaaf started the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden with Phil Edwards and the Dekalb Master Gardener Association along with Catharine Kuchar of the Audubon Society.  Together, they initially planted a small selection of native plants and shrubs.  The site is atop a small hill between a retaining wall and the PATH trail that runs through the park.  Three large White Oaks in an east/west line, a north facing slope, a well mowed southern boundary, and several old driveway excavations make for a lot of niches with different conditions.  In the following 13 years, the garden has expanded 3 times, and now contains over 40 different species of native grasses, herbs and shrubs, 2 bluebird nesting boxes and a bird bath.  Many volunteers from the neighborhood, students from nearby Mary Lin Elementary, and other organizations  have helped to install plants, remove invasives, control erosion, spread mulch and generally maintain the garden for the benefit of pollinators, birds, and other wildlife (including the human kind).

Cub Scout Troop 586 finishing a hard day’s work at the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden.

Care of the garden was passed from Carol to the staff at Beech Hollow Farm in 2015, and we are still working with any volunteers that care to help.  Last fall we had had Cub Scout Troop 586 out to help pull invasive vines, and we are now coordinating with members of the Freedom Park Conservancy to hold regular volunteer days.  The main issue facing the long term success of the garden is non-native, invasive plants out-competing the native plantings that nourish the birds, butterflies and bees.  Seeds from the Bradford Pear trees that line the nearby golf course are continually deposited in the garden and sprout up

Ilex verticillata, Winterberry, provides excellent forage for songbirds.

thorny little trees with leaves that no native caterpillars will eat.  Porcelain berry vines climb over the native shrubs and rob them of sunlight, and the only bug that seems to eat them are Japanese beetles, which we don’t want to encourage with more free food.  In lieu of natural insect controls, repeated pulling and cutting of these and other invasives keeps them in check and allows the natives a fair chance at sunlight and nutrients as they sacrifice leaves to hungry caterpillars that then feed (baby) birds or grow up to be pollinators.

Butterflyweed in the garden, a milkweed that supports Monarch Butterflies

 Volunteers and caring people are the reason that the garden exists and continues to thrive at the corner of North Ave and Candler Park Drive.   Check it out if you should happen to be in the neighborhood.   It’s not obvious from the street, but up close you’re almost always bound to see something blooming, hear birds calling in the trees overhead or frolicking in the birdbath, and see a few butterflies and bees sipping nectar in the shade.  If you are interested in volunteering on a Sunday morning to help the garden grow, you can check our calendar or email pandra@beechhollowfarms.com for information about the next volunteer day.

Wood Poppy, an early spring ephemeral at the garden


Spiders in the Garden

Editor’s Note: While this was posted by Jeff, it was written by Clair, the newest member of the BHF team.  She has been working hard to improve our propagation beds and in the process was inspired to write this appreciation of Arachnids. Enjoy!

Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) with a captured wasp

If you have been outside at all lately, whether walking through the woods, spending time in your garden, or even just sitting on the porch, chances are you’ve come in contact with a spider, or at least its web.  Most spiders have gotten a bad rap over the years as something to fear. Movies, Halloween decorations, pest control advertising, and the spiders’ skittish behavior play into these fears. While most spiders are venomous, very few have the jaw-power or enough venom to do any real harm to a human.  The brown recluse and the black widow are exceptions, but chances are slim you will come across these in your garden (Even if they did manage to bite you the chances of it being fatal are basically zero). Remember, you are much larger than a spider and they are more interested in getting away from you than biting you.

You may be thinking, ‘well, even if the spider won’t harm me, they eat everything, including the pollinators, so why have them around?’  True, spiders are not picky eaters and will eat the “good bugs” along with the “bad.” Spiders may be the most beneficial predator in your garden and play a huge role in controlling pests.  They are not selective in the insects they eat, so it is guaranteed that they will occasionally snag a bee or butterfly in their web, but the few beneficials they do kill is no match for the natural pest control they provide (free of charge, I might add!).    Spiders will feast on aphids, armyworms, leafhoppers, flea-hoppers, leafminers and spider mites. They attack the spruce budworm, pine sawfly, sorghum midge and tobacco budworm. They especially like caterpillars, thrips, plant bugs, cucumber beetles, scarabs and flies. Larger spiders eat larger prey, so some will even eat wasps, cicadas, and grasshoppers.  If you’re really lucky, you may even get to see a spider and a praying mantis battle it out.

There are two types of spiders that you are likely to come across in your garden: web spinners, or orb weavers, and hunters.  Garden spiders and crab spiders are very common web spinners in Georgia. They spin their webs between plant stalks, tree branches, or even from tree branch to ground.  Spiders usually hang out in the middle of their web and wait for an unsuspecting insect to fly into the nearly invisible trap. Garden spiders are often large, like the yellow and black orb weaver or the green garden spider, so hopefully you will catch a glimpse of them before accidentally walking straight through their web.  However, they sometimes hide in a protected corner and wait for their prey from a safe spot. Crab spiders tend to be small and crouch in the center of the web with their eight legs pulled under their armored shell, making them harder to detect as you approach their web.    

Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) on its nearly invisible web.

Wolf spiders are a common hunting spider and do not spin traditional webs.  They are most likely to be found on the ground, nesting in mulch, ground covers and old wood piles.  If you have tall grass in or near your garden you may be lucky enough to attract a funnel spider. The aptly named funnel spider creates a dense funnel with their silk and waits safely in the back for prey to wander onto the outer funnel before they attack.  

Female spiders tend to lay eggs in the fall.  They may hatch quickly or overwinter in an egg sack before emerging in the spring.  Wolf spiders will attach the egg sack to their body and carry it with them if they feel they are in danger and need to move.  When the baby spiders emerge from the egg sack they will “balloon” by shooting a silky thread from their web spinner into the air. When it attaches to a sturdy object (leaf, branch, twig, building, etc.) they will ascend the thread and find a good place to start their first web (anyone remember “Charlotte’s Web?”).

Rabid Wolf Spider (Lycosidae rabidosa) female with egg sack attached

  To encourage spiders in your garden plant a variety of plants with varying heights, preferably plants native to Georgia. Taller plants provide a structure for orb weavers to attach their webs, and low growing ground covers create niches in which the hunters can hide.  Mulch provides a good home and helps retain moisture for wolf spiders since they do not have webs to catch the morning dew. Leave small patches of bare ground here and there for open hunting ground for the wolf spiders. Woody plants and bunch grasses make great homes for funnel spiders.  All spiders play a valuable role in your gardens’ ecosystem and should not be eradicated.  Do not feel bad if you accidentally destroy a spider’s web. They will quickly move on and begin building a new one.  Predators like spiders are a sign of a healthy ecosystem, and acknowledging the pest control services they provide is a great way to start to appreciate them as garden collaborators rather than something to be feared.


Bumblebee ID & Survey Activity & PDF

Bumblebee ID & Survey PDF:

Welcome!  We are glad you are here to read about the SE Bumblebee Survey Activity!  Why should you do this?  There are a lot of reasons, we can give you three quick reasons right here:  

1.) Bumblebees and other pollinators are important.  Pollinators put all of our fruit and vegetables on the dinner table. Humans still rely on pollinators for 30% of our diet: green beans, squash, oranges, strawberries, chocolate, and coffee, the list of foods goes on and on.  Although, during daily life checking on smartphones, we may think we are “apart from” “nature,” the opposite is true: we are still very dependent upon natural systems.  Can’t eat without nature!

2.) Science is fun, and Citizens Science projects are educational! Learning and recording your observations about the plants and nature in your park or garden, is rewarding; you will learn new details about your local ecosystem.  Uploading your observations and pictures to a Citizen Science website run by scientists is exciting; you are helping scientific experts with your information.  Your carefully collected observations added to all of the other observations from other citizens helps research science move forward.  How great can learning get when you are going outside to hang out and observe pollinators on some flowers?           

3.) Why are we counting and identifying the bees? We still need pollinators to help us make our food, but insect populations, and especially worrying, pollinator populations, are declining across the world. If there is an area with good pollinator and bee populations, we all need to know about it!  If a bee population is in decline or missing, all of us need to know about it! It’s all about the Strawberries! Chocolate! Zucchini!

About this pdf: The first page of this pdf provides an inexpensive and easy to carry  schematic ID that highlights several of the key characteristics for seven of the Southeast’s most common bumblebees.  The second page of this pdf has general information about the likely habitats of these bees, their preferred nest locations and floral foraging preferences. The third page has a data entry form to help you collect and organize your observations.

Bombus bimaculatus on Scutellaria spp. at Beech Hollow Farm.

How to use this Bumblebee ID Card:

Print out an ID card, with the information page on the back, a data collection card, and read the data collection instructions.

Select one method of data collection that you will follow.  For the 5 minute sitting observations the observer will sit at one cluster of flowers for 5 minutes, count bee visits to each flower in their chosen cluster.  If the observer can take pictures of the bees, those provide important information that can be verified at a few sites.

The 15 minute walking observation is more complex, and requires more set up time.  The observer should measure 100 feet of transect (a straight predetermined path through the landscape) next to or in a bee pasture or garden.  The measured transect should be flagged both at the beginning and end of 100 feet, and participants would time their walk to go from one end of the transect to the other within 15 minutes.  Very detailed directions for a 15 minute walking observation are available at bumblebeewatch.org.  If you do not have 100 continuous feet of transect along a bee meadow or garden, there are organized ways to break up the transects that are described at the bumblebeewatch website.

The following three websites have experts who will ID clear photographs of bees that are submitted to them:  The site Bug Guide will verify insect and bee ID in clear pictures. The Great Sunflower Project allows an observer to upload up to 3 pictures of each bee, to increase accuracy of bee identification. Clear photos of the bees also provide important information for Bumblebee Watch.  The additional information about the flower being visited, the location, time, temperature, and date, is also important. Information from five minute sitting observations may be uploaded at The Great Sunflower Project.  Information from 15 minute walking observations may be uploaded at Bumblebee Watch.

Here is the form to download the free SE Bumblebee Survey pdf:

SE Bumblebee Survey Form

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Information Deep Dive: 

For those of you who are curious about some of the reasons behind the decline, here is some more information and source material:

Some reasons for pollinator decline:

Climate Change: An increase in global temperatures by 3.2 degrees Celsius by 2100 CE  will affect 49% of insect species with a projected 50% reduction in their habitat or range. (Article/source: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6390/714.full)

Loss of habitat due to farming/corporate agriculture/monoculture practices and other human activity/development.  (Article/source: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/353/6296/288/tab-pdf )

The pesticide use by agribusiness in the EU and the USA has resulted in a massive die off of important ecological “actors” insects, pollinators and otherwise.  An article about bees and pesticides here: Neonicotinoids and bees

The effect of this is creeping upward into the larger species that are dependent upon them:  Insect populations in the EU have declined by 76%.  (Article/source:  http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0185809&type=printable)

Other animals directly or indirectly affected by above factors:

Songbird populations in France have declined by 70% :  An article in the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/21/catastrophe-as-frances-bird-population-collapses-due-to-pesticides)  

Even aquatic systems are not immune to the effects of our introduced chemical compounds.  Aquatic insects and arthropods are being affected by neonicotinoid compounds leaching into surface waters (a broadly used class of pesticide associated with many problems in global insect decline.)  http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/XercesCAAquaticNeonics_Dec2016_Final.pdf

Why worry about terrestrial and aquatic insects and arthropods?  Those organisms provide food to freshwater fish as well as many birds.  We humans also eat fish. Many river systems drain into the oceans. Who knows if the compounds will survive in the complex chemistry of ocean water?  I hope they don’t.  Point being:  we as humans are all a part of this.  The bottom of the food web supports the organisms at the top.  We are at the top, and there will be no foundation to support us.  Pollinators go away, veggies and fruits go away.


National Pollinator Week in Beecatur!

We are thrilled to have been invited to participate in BEEcatur for National Pollinator Week:

June 21: The Bee-autiful Bee Business: Storytelling & Puppetmaking 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm

Sylvia Cross, Art Instigator and Sycamore Place Gallery Owner, will host a bevy of bee-autiful puppet makers at Sycamore Place Gallery on June 21 at 5:30pm.

Sylvia is a Decatur fixture known for her Art/poetry/Musical collaborations with the children of Young Audiences at Woodruff Arts Center and with a variety of performers in the tree houses of Costa Rica to the nature made galleries and Adult Storytellings at Java Monkey and in her own studio.

She is excited to be part of the artist Pandra Williams’ Bee Business Project and invite the youth of the city to join us in the festive puppet making and spectacular story performance that should heat up this summer’s educational celebration of bee -n- bug life! FREE

For more information visit : http://www.beechhollowfarms.com
Email: info@beechhollowfarms.co

June 21: The Buzz About Native Bees, 7:30 pm – 9 pm,

It’s a bug! It’s a fly! No, it’s a Native Bee! Georgia has more than 400 species of native bees. Unlike honeybees, the coloring of our native bees ranges from metallic blues and greens to the classic yellow and black of the bumblebee. Native bee sizes range from the dainty 3/16 of an inch of the
masked bees to the lumbering one-plus inch of a carpenter bee. How do you tell the difference between these native bees and bugs? We can show you! Pandra Williams, of Beech Hollow Wildflower Farm, will talk about the nesting, forage and habitat needs of these tiny animals who are so important to making a good tomato, blueberries, broccoli…almost all of our fruit and veggies!    FREE
Email: info@beechhollowfarms.com
 

 

Special prices on pollinator support plants
We will have Bee Trays and Pollinator 6 packs for sale.
 For more information Email: info@beechhollowfarms.com

June 21- July 5: Pollinator Portraits: Pollinator Photography Exhibition

 “Pollinator Portraits: Pollinator Photography Exhibition” Photographs by Jeff Killingsworth, Michael Williams and Pandra Williams.  A selection of images from six years of pollinator photos from Beech Hollow Wildflower Farm, Lexington, GA. Part of “Bee At Home In Decatur,” Beecatur’s city-wide celebration of National Pollinator Week 2018! FREE
For more information Email: info@beechhollowfarms.com

Sycamore Place Gallery is located at 120 Sycamore Pl, Decatur, GA 30030 

 


The Pollinators That Don’t Consume Pollen

By Jeff Killingsworth

Bees are most often associated with the word ‘pollinator’ and rightfully so: they gather pollen and nectar from flowers to feed themselves and their larvae. In the process of gathering their food, they cross-pollinate the flowers that give us many of our favorite foods. The 20,000+ species of bees on this planet come in all shapes and sizes, but nearly all of them subsist on pollen with a side of nectar. It’s a direct relationship with flowers that benefits both parties.

There is a another large group of insects known as Lepidopterans, the collective term for butterflies and moths, that also cross pollinate flowers, but not because they are collecting pollen to eat, and they certainly don’t feed it to their larvae. Their young consume a number of other plant parts, most often the leaves, to grow into adults. Their young are caterpillars, and they are not pollinators. Only adult lepidopterans are pollinators, but not all adults are.

Many butterflies and moths lack the mouth parts and/or digestive tracts to consume nectar from flowers. Their only task is to find a mate and produce fertilized eggs before they expend the energy they consumed as caterpillars. The adults that do visit flowers do so to sip nectar through a long, straw-like mouth known as a proboscis. It is often wound in a tight coil at the tip of the head and can unwind to reach the very bottom of tubular flowers where the nectar is secreted. In the process of sipping nectar, the adult is dusted with pollen, either by direct contact with the anthers or by the air currents from its wing beats causing pollen to release from the flower.

This happy accident of lepidopterans transferring pollen as they sip nectar has another happy accident embedded into in that some species of butterflies and moths are migratory. They move seasonally over distances much larger than the small area around a hive where bees forage. Sipping nectar powers the migratory flight, and the pollen gets to hitch a ride with all of its genetic information to far away plants. Long distance gene transfer helps plants spread useful adaptations through their population and enhances biodiversity which makes for plants that are more resilient to pests, pathogens and extreme weather.   For the price of some sugary liquid (and maybe a few leaves for caterpillars) a plant can spread its genes far and wide with the help of the delicate, fluttering pollinators that don’t eat pollen: The Lepidopterans.

 

 


Leaf Buds: Natural Origami

This is a companion piece of sorts to my last post about leaf buds (‘Buds are Swell‘), but this is a more personal tale of a particular bud. 

It all started in January when I planted a Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) in my backyard after reclaiming an area from the abundant English Ivy that the previous owner left me.  In it’s dormant state the young tree looked like a bare branch with a pointed end sticking out of the soil.  That pointed end was a bud.

Covered in insulating hairs, the bud rode out a few snowfalls and numerous freezes until the temperatures began to rise.  Temperature dependent reactions started occurring inside the bud and it began to swell.  Cells differentiated and divided to become the specialized structures that make up a leaf.  Eventually the finite space inside the swelling bud ran out and it split open to unfold and unfurl the leaves that had formed within.

  In this particular case, those leaves that started in that tiny 2″ long bud can easily become 24″ long and 10″ wide.  Sadly, these leaves were denied that chance.  Some (literal) rat bastard chewed them right off the stem a few days after the above photo was taken.

I found it on the ground near the base of the stem.  He didn’t even eat it, probably because the leaves were too fuzzy.

        After I got over my shock and anger I decided that the least I could do is study the remains and hopefully learn something from it.  I discovered an incredibly complex arrangement of multiple leaves folded and rolled around each other inside that relatively tiny bud.  

The repeating pattern of: sheath, leaf, fold and enclose a sheath, leaf, fold and enclose…… led me to unfold and arrange 7 separate leaves for the above photo.  Even that tiniest leaf at the top is folded around an even tinier sheath that I would have needed a scalpel and tweezers to open, but I’ll bet that wasn’t even the last one in the sequence.  Thinking about how those all formed in three dimensions inside of that bud was pretty mind boggling.  ‘Natural Origami’ was my first thought and I haven’t come up with anything better.

Fortunately the tree was left with one leaf to try to feed itself.  Even if it hadn’t been left with that leaf, it had other back up plans.  As I said in my previous post about buds, they start out as just a few hundred cells, so it’s not really a big energy investment until they need to swell up into actual leaves.  Almost all plants have multiple buds somewhere other than the apical bud at the tip.  Depending on where they are located on the plant they can be called axillary or adventitious buds.  They are the multiple redundancy backup plan that springs into action when something destroys the plant’s new growth.  

As such, this axillary bud (just take a second and realize that this bud was formed at the base of this leaf inside the big bud and that each of those 7+ lost leaves had a potential bud at their base too!) and several adventitious buds that you can see below it were activated by hormones to start the dividing and swelling process all over again. 

After a few weeks of swelling, they opened to reveal a few new leafy tops for this tree.  You can see the now much larger and slightly tattered single leaf that remained on the left side of the frame.  This whole process was a setback for sure, and this tree will not put on as much new height this year as it could have, but thanks to the latent buds it is still alive and green. It was also a reminder to me that if I pause and study a plant closely I always learn something new.  

“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.” – Henry David Thoreau (Oct. 22, 1839)

 

 

 


Welcome to the Art Barn

Welcome to the Art Barn!  This is Beech Hollow’s new building to host our guests for educational talks, workshops and hands on garden crafts.  The Art Barn will also host shows of nature photography and other environmental or nature based artworks.

Images from our Spring Fling:

 

 

 

 

 

Build a Bug Rod puppets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo show of Virginia Linch’s pollinator pictures:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building a Rustic Lattice:

 

 

 

 

 

Not to mention more styling face (or hand) paint:

 

 

 

 

 

Andrea Greco and the Gardening for Wildlife Workshop:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why does Beech Hollow have an Art Barn?

Because a picture or an activity is worth a thousand words…

and learning about pollinators is a lot of fun.


Who needs fireworks? Native Azaleas and Tiger Swallowtails

Have you been to a wild azalea grove?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every year there are a couple of azalea groves I love to visit in early spring. One is in the Boat Rock preserve in South Fulton County, and another is in the back acreage of our forest at Beech Hollow. And every year the groves are fireworks of flowers and Tiger Swallowtails.

The Tiger Swallowtails always seem to be one of the first butterflies to be up and out in the cool of early spring, and the azaleas are one of the few nectar sources available at the very beginning of spring. It is truly delightful to sit and watch the yellow winged males and the blue-black winged females delicately sip nectar all the while fanning their wings, slowly working their way across the azalea grove in loopy arcs.  There are plenty of native bees visiting the flowers as well; they flit past the arched stamens and pistil to burrow down into the corolla and access the nectar.  Those stamens and the pistil don’t come close to brushing the bees as they pass.

Here’s the thing: How would the bees pollinate the azaleas? The anthers and pistils flare out, well away from the nectar. Bees that access nectar alone won’t necessarily make contact with the stamens or pistil. In 2015, Mary Jane Epps, Suzanne E Allison, and Lorne M Wolfe published a paper about wing pollination by tiger swallowtails of Flame Azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum) in the Blue Ridge. Very cool! Could our Piedmont Azaleas be pollinated in the same way?

Last spring, Jessi and I decided to take a look for ourselves in our grove of Piedmont Azalea (Rhododendron canescens) up by the boulders in the back of Beech Hollow. While we sat, a male Tiger Swallowtail was on patrol at the grove, waiting for a female. He looped around the grove, from flower to flower, fanning his wings as he nectared. He was such a pale yellow that it was hard to tell if he had gathered any pollen on his wings. Then a female swallowtail came by, and:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above, on the left, female Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) with her wings brushing the anthers of Piedmont Azalea.  On the right, several minutes later,  the same female with pollen visible on her wings.

This is an observation, not a scientific study. But it does appear that the same type of wing pollination that was recorded by scientific study in Flame Azaleas may also be occurring in Piedmont Azaleas.

That same spring at Boat Rock Preserve in Southwest Fulton County my husband Michael Williams was taking photos in the Piedmont Azaleas and caught this critter, a Hummingbird Clearwing moth, (possibly Hemaris thysbe) hard at work in the  azalea flowers:

I wonder if this species is also capable of wing pollination?

Here is the citation for the 2015 article on wing pollination:

Epps, Mary Jane, Allison Suzanne E., and Wolfe, Lorne M. Reproduction in Flame Azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum, Ericaceae): A Rare Case of Insect Wing Pollination. The American Naturalist, vol 186, No. 2. August 2015.