Friday, April 20, 2012

The Lure of the Honeylocust

For most of my life I've thought of the honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos) as a pretty but rather sterile tree, especially as far as wildlife was concerned.  They are native and have a light, pretty shade, but they weren't good for much more than that.  A few years ago I started to learn how wrong I was.

Five days ago I noticed that the blooms on our honeylocust trees were almost open.  They are opening at least 3 weeks early this year, so I started looking specifically for wheel bug egg clusters to see if any had hatched out yet.  (I've noticed that wheel bug egg clusters are often found on honeylocust trees and that their spring hatching seems to be timed to coincide with the honeylocust blooms.)  Indeed, they had!  In fact, it looked like the little creatures had hatched out a couple days before and were starting to wander from their egg masses in search of food.   Note the egg mass on the bottom of the big branch, directly below the smaller branch coming out on the upper surface.

That afternoon was warm, and I noticed that I was starting to hear a bit of humming from the direction of the honeylocust trees.  By the next morning, it seemed as if the entire yard was humming, as bees and flies (and the quieter butterflies) flocked to the honeylocust blooms to sip up some of that delicious honeyish goodness.

I took a few photos of some of the visitors....

While I saw a monarch occasionally sipping high up in the trees, this red admiral was down at eye level...and at one point a honeybee cruised by to see if the red admiral's bloom was "better" than the other ones that she had obviously been visiting.


Near the red admiral was a butterfly that I didn't recognize.  Several guidebooks later, I decided that it's a border patch, also known as a sunflower patch (for its preferred larval food), that was visiting a little outside of its normal range.  The patch butterflies - named for their solid patches of color - are generally a butterfly of the southwest and more tropical regions.  They are part of the crescent and checkerspot clan.


If you look below the patch, there is also a dark bee, probably a solitary bee of some sort, feeding on the pollen and nectar as well.

While bees, especially honey bees, were probably the most common feeders on the honeylocust blossoms, there were some flies as well.  I managed to catch reasonable shots of these two different types of flies as they briefly rested in the sun, taking a break from their "arduous" task.


I've never tried to time how long the honeylocust bloom time lasts, but I'll be enjoying the literal buzz while it does.  Be sure to check yours out, if you're lucky enough to have a honeylocust in your vicinity!

18 comments:

Claudia said...

Wheel bugs is a new one for me. Our locust is limbed up so high I can't see the blossoms. Need to find the Binoculars! Amazing how even tho your tree is early, the bugs were aware, and joined right in at the right time.

~Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

So interesting about the wheel bugs. I had no idea they might be on locust trees. Our main tree in the back garden is a honey locust. Podless although one year, it had one pod. Weird. I love the little spring blooms and the nice shade and the yellow leaves in the fall. It's a good tree for us!

Melanie said...

We have a sunburst locust, wondering if that is similar. It came as a twig from Miller nursery. .it is growing, and has been truly drought tolerant, even before established :-) I'll have to go check it out. .what eats the wheel bugs? I have been amazed at the number of winged creatures frequenting my yard with the onset of all the blooming things!! The bluebirds that are nesting will be very happy!!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Claudia, I was actually quite worried about the timing of the bloom vs. the hatching of the wheel bugs - but both must be controlled primarily by temperatures, because they were synchronized this year despite our early, warm spring.

Gaia Gardener: said...

GonSS, I've always liked the shade of the honeylocust; now I'm really coming to appreciate it as a support of native wildlife, too. Which is nice, because it is such a graceful tree! Until the last few years, I didn't realize how fragrant the blooms were either.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Melanie, several of these photos were taken on a Sunburst honeylocust. We have one Sunburst, plus numerous regular thornless honeylocusts and even a couple that are (for better or worse) returning to their native, thorned status. I don't mind the last, as long as they are not where bare feet or tires are likely to come in contact with the thorns. The thorns are truly vicious!

Wheel bugs are fantastic predatory insects - similar to praying mantids. They will eat each other, plus I've seen garden spiders eat them and I'm sure that birds would be happy for their protein too.

James Golden said...

Glad to know my new Sunburst honey locusts are good for more than bright color and light shade. Not sure I want wheel bugs though.

Gaia Gardener: said...

James, There's really no guarantee that you'll get them anyway, so I wouldn't worry about it! Enjoy your Sunburst honeylocusts; your garden is really beginning to shape up beautifully.

Rose said...

What an interesting post! We have two honey locusts, and last week I took some photos of their buds, which I'd never really paid much attention to before. Now I'll have to look more closely for any "visitors" they might have as well.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Rose, I'll be curious to see if you find as many visitors as I have - I'd be willing to bet that you will!

summer leembruggen said...

I have tons of bees falling out of my honey locust and dying. Does anyone know why that is?

summer leembruggen said...

I have 2 huge honey locusts in my backyard. There are hundreds of bees falling out and dying. I was wondering if anyone knew why that was.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Summer, To have lots of bees falling out of the tree and dying, I have to suspect pesticides of some sort. Have you used any insecticides on your trees or lawns - or have any of your neighbors? Insecticides kill all insects, not just "problem" ones.

summer leembruggen said...

We have not used any. We moved in 5 months ago and it's possible the property management did before we moved in. Not sure how long it would last. Thank you for the feedback. I couldn't figure it out. It doesn't seen normal. Besides all the poor dead bees, the trees make the whole backyard smell so good. Love them!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Summer, Would you do me a favor and ask your property management folks if they used any insecticides on the yard before you moved in? Especially I'm wondering about any of the systemic pesticides, where they treat the tree once and it lasts for an entire year. If they say yes, it would be very interesting to know what they used. Thanks, in advance, for your help.

summer leembruggen said...

I can't seem to get that information. I can't get a hold of the right person. But, the bees have disappeared and the flowers are almost gone. Sorry I couldn't get that information.

Gaia Gardener: said...

The flowers should be gone by now, and that's good as far as the bees go, because any left in the area won't be attracted in to the tree. Thanks for sharing your experience - best of luck!

Elaine H. said...

We have the same thing happening here at our complex with bees dying after rolling in the blooms of these locust trees. I even saw a dying queen bee today. So sad.