Thursday, April 30, 2009

Silverbells and Snowbells

On the way to Littlebrook Elementary, a scene that looks like a cluster of dogwood trees. But the one furthest to the right has a different shade of white, and turns out to be something unusual.

A rare native, genus Halesia, probably a very large specimen of Carolina Silverbells, also called the Snowdrop Tree. I've never seen one of these in the wild, as is typical of many of the native ornamental trees and shrubs available commercially. Fothergilla, bottlebrush buckeye, oak-leaved hydrangia--all beautiful natives, but who knows where they actually grow in the wild.

That they don't grow naturally around here raises the question as to what ecological connection they make with local wildlife such as pollinators. The insects most adapted to eat their leaves or negotiate their flower shape may not actually live around here.

A couple kinds of bees were found taking an interest. As often seems to be the case, for every insect actually visiting a flower, there are many others buzzing overhead, darting this way and that, staying close to the flowers but never seeming to land. Maybe they're very picky, or maybe some are actually predatory, interested not in the flowers but the pollinators that the flowers attract.

In this way, a tree in flower can seem in some ways similar to a coral reef--a substrate that attracts many kinds of life with varying agendas.

In what seems like an unlikely coincidence, a small tree closely related to Carolina Silverbells, called American Snowbell (Styrax americanus) grows in the neighbor's yard across the street. These are the only two specimens of trees in the Styracaceae family I've seen growing in Princeton.

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