Since I first noticed a hint of dark orange peeking out at the center of a bud two weeks ago, I have eagerly awaited the flowering of our Vernal Witch Hazel (Hammamelis vernalis). The bud break on the witch hazel on the campus where I work and the stories and photos on Twitter of witch hazel blooming across the country only whet my appetite for the first blooms of spring in our home garden.
Each morning this week, most of which hovered in the low 20s, I’ve walked out to the witch hazel in our back border to check on its progress. Each day, I’ve felt deflated as the buds remained as tightly wrapped as the day before. I’d started to wonder if there was something wrong with the shrub, or if she was simply mad at me for cutting off a lower, dying branch in my pruning spree last weekend.
It turns out she was just waiting for a little more sunshine and warmth. After temperatures neared 50°F both yesterday and today, hundreds of burnt orange flowers opened along the crossing branches of our witch hazel.
As I knelt at the base of the shrub to get a closer photo of a flower cluster, I heard what I thought was a fly buzzing around my head. Then two flies. Then three. Looking up, I realized I was not hearing flies, but several honeybees hovering from flower to flower, collecting nectar for their hives. In their frenzy, they almost appeared more pleased than I was about the flowering of the witch hazel. For all I know, it may have been their first sustenance of the spring.
Every since the news of colony collapse disorder was first reported, I have welcomed each and every honeybee into our landscape with a new-found respect. Although there is still debate over the cause of colony collapse, it is undeniable that honeybees continue to suffer a serious decline in the United States, threatening both their existence and the pollination of countless food crops across the country.
With the threat of colony collapse in the back of my mind, I watched these industrious insects gather their source of food from my witch hazel, one which I have so eagerly anticipated this year. While my interest falls into the realm of the aesthetic and symbolic, for these bees the witch hazel (and other pollinator-friendly plants) represents a small part of their survival.
I was expecting the arrival of the witch hazel, but was taken by surprise by the honeybees. So today, instead of simply one, I gladly greet two very welcome arrivals.