Shortly after we bought this property, A dear friend, the late George Colburn, gave us some saplings he had received from the Arbor Day Foundation. One of them was a Hawthorn about ten inches tall. For lack of a better place, we planted it in the lawn in front of my shop. The main stem had been broken so I made a splint to hold it straight. As the years passed the tree grew and soon it was eight feet tall, as sturdy as a hawthorn ever gets, and at some point it started to flower in mid June.
This tree is an incredible source of pollen and nectar for insects. Not just bees but wasps, beetles, flies, butterflies, moths, almost everything but the kitchen sink visits this plant! The first day it flowers, it is attractive from 7:00 Am until after 3:00 Pm. There are literally hundreds of insects of many kinds buzzing along collecting pollen and apparently nectar in huge quantities. I can hear the noise from 75 feet away! On each following day the frenzy starts an hour later and ends an hour earlier until after about four or five good days it is over!
Last year a pair of American Robins had nested in the midst of its dense folliage and I wondered if all this activity disturbed the birds at all. Birds have evolved being exposed to nesting in flowering trees so I don’t think that this would be any exception. At any rate, as summer progresses my tree becomes covered with thousands of small green berries that ripen into pea sized fruit in the fall. These fruit are very hard and aren’t very sweet so they stay on the tree until well into the winter.
Usually sometime in late February on early March, a flock of Robins will descend upon the tree and in the course of a day or so will eat every last one of those berries. The iconic image of a Robin pulling a worm from the lawn is still too far in the future to do these early birds much good! The birds that return the earliest will be able to claim the best nesting sites, but part of the price is scarce food supplies until worms and insects are readily available. No doubt, in the naked light of yet another late winter cold snap in New England, this fruit will help keep dozens of birds from starvation. It reminds me of the old addage about not wasting food in the summer because some winter day it will taste mighty fine!
Its February 23rd, 31 degrees outside and the robins are back! I can’t wait for spring, but for now I need to tend the fires. Adam