Along about this time of year, when I walk out into my backyard and a gentle zephyr is blowing in from the east, I can often catch the lemony scent of a winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima).
Although this shrub is only about eight feet wide and seven feet tall, it is very special to my wife and me. We moved this shrub from my wife’s Alabama home well more than three decades ago. My wife fondly remembers a winter honeysuckle that grew just outside her bedroom window. When should would open her window on warm winter days, the scent produced by the plant’s small, white flowers would fill her room with their fresh, lemony fragrance. Like her mother, we bring winter honeysuckle branches adorned with flowers into our house simply to enjoy to pleasant aroma that given off by the small, showy blossoms.
There was a time when plants like winter honeysuckle and abelia were commonly found in yards throughout the South. Today, in spite of the fact that both are attractive and used by wildlife, more often than not, they are missing from home landscapes.
We are fond of our winter honeysuckle for a number of reasons. First, it has sentimental value. In addition, a provides a touch of floral beauty at a time of year when few plants are blooming. That would be enough to earn a spot our my yard; however, it is also a source of nectar and pollen for wild pollinators during a time when they find food extremely scarce.
Winter honeysuckle was introduced into the United States from China during the middle of the 19th century. Those that brought the plant here touted its merits as an ornamental and hedge plant. It proved to be so popular that it first showed up in plant catalogs in 1860.
It is a deciduous shrub that grows to a height of around ten feet. The leaves are oval in shape. This woody shrub blooms from late winter to early spring in most parts of the state. Its half-inch, creamy white flowers are arranged in pairs. They are followed by a crop of small, red berries that are frequently eaten by birds.
Although the plant grows best in rich soil types, it will also grow in dry sites. While it does best in full sunshine, it will grow in partial shade too.
If you want to add winter beauty to your backyard, as well as provide a food source for wild pollinators, you my might want to consider adding this shrub to your home landscape.
An astounding 96 percent of the terrestrial bird species in North America dine on insects, spiders and other invertebrates.
It is truly amazing how much natural beauty can be found in our yards. We see it in butterflies, moths, flowers are far too many other plants and animals to mention here. Why, it can even be seen in dragonflies. Yes, I said dragonflies. If you never thought of dragonflies being attractive, it is to take a closer look at them.
Dragonflies come in a rainbow of colors and sizes. In addition, the intricate designs formed by the veins on their wings are as stunning as the finest lace.
One of the most striking dragonflies that can be seen in backyards throughout the entire state, with the exception of Southeast Georgia, is the widow skimmer.
This dragonfly is about an inch and a half to two inches long.
It’s distinctive wing pattern (see accompanying photo) makes it easy to identify. The body of the adult male is blue. In comparison, females and young males display pale stripes running down their bodies. Also, the tips of the wings on females are usually black.
Males will often perch on the ends of twigs and other objects and then slowly patrol your yard.
This dragonfly flies from May to early November.
The downward spiral of many of our native bee populations is something that we should all be concerned about. The plight of these insects was recently highlighted by a study conducted by researchers with the University of Vermont’s Grand Institute of Ecological Economics. Their findings suggest that between 2008 and 2013 native bee populations declined 23 percent across the United States.
If you would like to learn more about native bees and what you can do in your backyard to promote native bee populations, I strongly urge you to read the April-May issue of the National Wildlife Federation’s magazine National Wildlife. This special issue is titled Garden For Wildlife – NURTURING NATIVE BEES.