You know spring
is just around the corner when you see a red haze spread across
woodland areas, suburban yards and city streets.
"One of the
first signs of spring is the red haze over the bare limbs of our local
maple trees," says Helen Hamilton, past president of the John
Clayton Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society, and retired biology
teacher living in Williamsburg, Va. She co-wrote "Wildflowers and
Grasses of Virginia’s Coastal Plain" — http://wildflowersofvirginia.com.
Learn more about the native plant society at www.vnps.org.
see are the male and female flowers of red maple."
maple, or Acer rubrum, features male flowers that first appear as
yellowish-pink, followed closely by the darker pink blossoms of female
trees, according to Hamilton. Once fertilization happens between the
sexes, thousands of "miniature helicopters" float to the
Red maple is one
of the first trees to produce flowers and its pollen is important food
for emerging insects. Bees are among spring’s earliest insects,
making them important helpers in the red maple’s pollination
benefit wildlife in many ways, continues Hamilton. Buds, flowers,
seeds, and even the bark are food for moth caterpillars, aphids,
leafhoppers and beetle larvae. Woodpeckers and other birds feed on
these insects, which furnish protein and fat for adult reproduction
and young nestlings. Songbirds eat the seeds and buds; the cavities of
older red maples are nesting habitats for some birds and bats.
The native tree,
which is the state tree of Rhode Island, is one of the most common
deciduous trees of North America, seen everywhere from Minnesota to
Florida to Texas, and even east to Newfoundland, according to
Hamilton. It grows usually in low, wet sites, but adapts to many
growing conditions, including swamps and poor, dry soil.
As a youngster,
the medium-sized tree has smooth gray bark that darkens with age. The
tree’s name suits its personality because its flowers, petioles,
twigs and seeds are all red in varying degrees.
this tree is best known for its brilliant deep scarlet foliage in
autumn," says Hamilton.
cultivars are available in garden centers with varying shades of red
and leaf shapes."
MEET MASON BEE
If you watch any
flowers open in early spring, you are likely to see a wonderful drama
in action — tiny black bees gathering nectar and pollen.
You are watching
the work of the mason bees, scientifically known as Osmia lignaria.
smaller than a honeybee, these native mason bees are much more
efficient as fruit tree pollinators," says Hamilton.
hairy bodies, but most pollen is carried in packets on their legs,
after being wetted with nectar, she adds. The mason bee’s body is
covered with hairs, all of which gather pollen, which is redistributed
as the insect moves among flowers.
overwinter as adults in small holes, emerging as soon as the air
temperature reaches 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The males come out first,
vigorously feeding after winter dormancy without food. Females appear
a little later, initially unable to fly; mating occurs with several
males, after which her wings will be dry. Then, she flies away to feed
and prepare homes for her offspring.
spring, mason bees lay a series of eggs in hollow tubes, creating
individual cells with moist soil, often clay, according to Hamilton.
Females select eggs to become male or female larva, and position the
females in the back of the tube — males in front because they emerge
earlier. Over the summer, each cell is carefully provisioned with the
right amount of nectar and pollen to nourish the developing larva
until it forms a cocoon. Usually by September, metamorphosis has
occurred inside the tough, waterproof covering, and the new adult
waits out winter in a low-energy stupor. When spring temperatures are
warm enough, the bee emerges to feed on early spring blossoms, often
those of shrubs and trees.
Mason bees, also
called orchard bees, like holly trees, dogwoods and redbuds, as well
as pear and apple trees. Mason bees are not social, do not make honey
and will not sting unless actively provoked. They are solitary, and
have nothing to defend, according to Hamilton.
attract beneficial mason bees by constructing nesting boxes, often as
simple as a group of hollow stems tied in a bundle and placed near
flowering plants. Joe-pye weeds, goldenrods, and ornamental grasses
have hollow stems, which mason bees use for nests. They do not drill
into wood, but use tunnels created by other insects, or crevices.
garden centers sell mason nesting boxes, which are easy to construct
using fresh wood and a hand drill, or a bundle of small bamboo stems
will do," says Hamilton.