Among the winter branches

At the entrance to the Arboretum’s woodland paths, bare winter branches reveal a silvery paper wasp nest. Paper wasps gather fibers from dead plant stems and wood, mixing winter wasp nestthem with their saliva to construct water-resistant nests. Cells are used for brood rearing. Unlike more aggressive yellow jackets or hornets, paper wasps generally only attack when threatened. They are extremely beneficial in their natural habitat, providing biological pest control welcomed by many gardeners.

The paper wasp nest pictured here hangs from a Liquidambar styraciflua, or sweetgum, tree. The resin of this tree was traditionally chewed by Native Americans, giving rise to its common name. Sweetgums are also known as red gums, gumtrees, alligator-wood, and star-leaved gum. They grow in wet, acidic soil and are recognizable by their five-pointed star-shaped leaves, as well as by their prickly ball-like fruit. Each capsule of the fruit contains two sees. Sweetgum seeds are a favorite of birds and small mammals, such as squirrels and chipmunks.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator
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