Thursday, May 7, 2009

Two Woods, Two Soils, and a Good Word for Bees

It's amazing how different two forests can be, depending on soil chemistry.  The Skidmore woods, with its limestone-based soil, is just teeming with spring ephemerals, and has been since the first Hepatica opened its petals about three weeks ago.  But the Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in Ballston Spa, with its pine-dominated woods and sandy, acid soil, has hardly any flowers blooming at all.  At least, not yet.  I was over there today, and counted at least 50 shoots of Pink Lady's Slipper.  In a couple of weeks, I'll find one blooming just about everywhere I look.  (For Yellow Lady's Slippers, I look in the Skidmore woods. And often don't find any.)

I did find a shrub in bloom at Woods Hollow, though I had to search pretty hard to find the blossoms.  The Mountain Holly (Nemopanthus mucronata) makes me think of the plain little caterpillar that becomes a beautiful butterfly.  Its flowers are really small and plain, but its berries are so brilliantly red they really knock your eye out.  Too bad they don't stay on the shrub through winter, like their cousin the Winterberry's do. 

The almost-invisible flowers of the Mountain Holly shrub

The knock-your-eye-out red of the berries in July

On another topic:  A number of weeks back (March 31) I wrote a post about ground-dwelling bees.  I was really pleased to read in today's New York Times a short piece by Stephen Orr in praise of these bees.  To read the whole piece go to their web site and look under the Style section for Home & Garden, where you'll find the "Garden Q & A" for May 7, titled "A Helping Hand for Pollinators."

Here's a quote: "Even with the rise of the green movement, some gardeners have no tolerance for wildlife in their yards.  They trap, kill or extinguish whatever creatures they meet, perhaps not realizing that even in the smallest garden there is an important eco-system at work."

And another quote:  "We should thank these insects for every third bite that we eat. . . . Basically, 30 percent of our food is brought to us by pollination.  Native bees, especially the almost unknown ground-nesting types, are the unsung heroines of the bee world."


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