THE EARLY … BEE! GETS THE POLLEN!

Native bees take advantage of pollen produced by Pussy Willow soon after snow disappears in this New Hampshire town.

Bee on a male catkin. Stamens just emerging from the silvery down.

This past winter’s snow is all but gone now. Just a few resistant, dirty lumps of the stuff persist in very deeply shaded spots here on Hedgehog Mountain.

Can’t say I miss it. The winter seemed long and very very dark to me. Nope. Don’t miss the snow and cold at all!

I’ve been thinking about looking for early wildflowers. We have not yet found skunk cabbage here in Deering. It should be the earliest of the spring wildflowers. Skunk cabbage does occur a few miles down the road in Francestown. Why not Deering?

Last weekend I was out with friends Mike, Kay & Stephen, and Staci & Andrew placing bird boxes on the Gregg Hill lot.

The Gregg Hill Lot, and Greg Hill, is located in the center of ‘downtown’ Deering. This 14 acre lot is the home site of some of Deering’s earliest settlers who arrived late in the 18th Century. The Gregg Family built its home atop a 1,300 ft hill, one of the highest spots in town. That hill is now known as Gregg Hill. A succession of owners occupied the Gregg Hill Lot, which is just below the summit of Gregg Hill, and for several years — 1924 to about 1960 — one of New Hampshire’s earliest skiing rope tows was located on this steep slope.

Currently the Gregg Hill lot is owned by the Town of Deering, and the town Conservation Commission is in the process of developing pollinator gardens there, while donating a conservation easement to the Piscataquog Land Conservancy. The ultimate aim is for a trail to lead from Deering Center Road, through the meadow and pollinator gardens, to a spectacular view at the summit.

While we were putting out the bird boxes on Gregg Hill, we noticed that the willows at the bottom of the slope, are Pussy Willows. And now they are flowering! A first Spring (wild) flower!

Pussy Willow — Salix discolor — is a North American native plant. Native Pussy Willow has a wide northern distribution and there are many horticultural varieties of this popular species.

Mike reminded us that Pussy Willow is dioecious: individual plants are unisexual, female or male. Indeed, we found both on the site. The flowers are botanically known as ‘catkins.’ The male catkins are at first enclosed in downy silver hairs. and so might be what one usually think of when one thinks of Pussy Willow. Male catkins are showier than the female. The yellow stamens develop from within the silvery down and produce prodigious amounts of pollen. The female catkins have many carpels with yellow styles that are divided at the tips. Both sexes have nectar glands to attract pollinators.

Various insects are attracted to Pussy Willow flowers. These include, among others, flies, beetles, wasps and bees. Native bees are important pollinators of these early flowers. We observed several native bees, maybe Mining Bees, working the male and female catkins.

In addition to Pussy Willow being a super candidates for pollinator gardens, its leaves provide a banquet for several butterfly caterpillars.

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