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Posts Tagged ‘Daffodils’

I had given up on finding any coltsfoot flowers (Tussilago farfara) last week and then there they were, blooming in a roadside ditch. I was thinking that I was just too early but a 70 degree day must have triggered their bloom. But not only them; many flowers appeared literally overnight.

From a distance a coltsfoot blossom might look like a dandelion but the flowers are often smaller than dandelions and they are usually flat, rather than the mounded shape of a dandelion. But the real clincher is the stem, which is scaly like that seen here. Dandelion stems are smooth.

They’re very pretty little flowers but they aren’t with us long. Depending on the weather and how hot it gets I’ve seen them disappear in two weeks. Coltsfoot is native to Europe and Asia and was brought here by early settlers. It has been used medicinally for centuries and another name for it is coughwort.

I went to the place where spring beauties grow last Saturday afternoon and though I saw a plant or two I didn’t see a single blossom. Then on Sunday, less than 24 hours later, there were 5 or 6 blossoms so it has started, and soon there will be thousands of them carpeting the forest floor. They’re such small flowers; each one is only slightly bigger than an aspirin, but there is a lot of beauty packed into a small package. For me spring isn’t really here until I hear the sad fee-bee mating call of the black capped chickadee and see these beautiful little flowers. Now I’ve seen and heard both and there’s no turning back; spring is in my bones.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) gets its common name from the way chickens peck at it. The plant is in the mint family and apparently chickens like it. The amplexicaule part of the scientific name means clasping and describes the way the hairy leaves clasp the stem. The plant is a very early bloomer and blooms throughout winter in warmer areas. Henbit is from Europe and Asia, but I can’t say that it’s invasive because I rarely see it. I’ve read that the leaves, stem, and flowers are edible and have a slightly sweet and peppery flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked.

Fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) is one of our earliest blooming shrubs and one that not many people see unless they walk in early spring. This example that I saw recently had pink tipped buds but no flowers yet. I’d guess it would be blooming today, but as always that depends on the weather. It’s unusual flowers are joined in pairs and if pollinated they become small, red orange, oval, pointed end berries that are also joined in pairs. The flowers form on branch ends of small shrubs and many songbirds love the berries, so it would be a great addition to a wildlife garden. Look for the flowers at the end of April on the shaded edges of woods.

Red maples (Acer rubrum) are still blooming heavily and their bloom is staggered over thousands of trees, so some years it seems to go on and on. This photo is of the thread like female stigmas that catch the pollen from male trees. Soon they will become seeds; millions of them.

I found a red maple with many thousands of male flowers all blooming at once and for the first time I smelled their sweet fragrance. I had to actually put my nose right into a bud cluster to make sure the fragrance was coming from them, and it was. This tree was amazing, and just look at all that pollen.

I wish everyone could see and smell a red maple in bloom. It’s something they wouldn’t soon forget.

This box elder, another member of the maple family, was just opening its buds. Box elders (Acer negundo) have beautiful lime green female flowers and I can’t wait to show them to you.

American elm trees (Ulmus americana) are also flowering, as this shot of the male flowers shows. Though both male and female flowers appear in the same cluster on elms I didn’t see any female flowers on this example, which was one of only a handful that I could reach. Female flowers are white and wispy like feathers and male flowers have 7 to 9 stamens with dark reddish anthers. Each male flower is about 1/8 of an inch across and dangles at the end of a long flower stalk (Pedicel.)

Willows (Salix) are another plant that decided to bloom overnight. Last week these buds were still gray and fuzzy and showed no color at all. Now both male and female flowers are everywhere. These are the male blossoms seen here. They’re the showiest.

The female willow blossoms were just showing color last week and here they are on the same plant already becoming seed pods. Once it starts it happens fast, so if you want to see spring in all its wondrous forms you really have to be outside each day.

Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) was trying but still wasn’t looking much like cabbage to me. I hope I can find some of the fruit this year. I’ve never seen one and I’m guessing that their rarity must be due to most of the flowers not being pollinated.

I recently said that I thought an in-ground sprinkler system installed last fall at a local park must have destroyed the only striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica) that I know of, but last weekend they were all up and blooming beautifully. Since blue is my favorite color I’m very happy to see them. But I don’t see many; they border on rare here and I hardly ever see them. Though catalogs will tell you that the blue stripes are found only on the inside of the blossom they actually go through each petal and show on the outside as well as the inside, as the unopened buds will show. The flowers on this spring flowering bulb are about the same size as the scilla (Scilla siberica) flowers I think most of us are familiar with. They’re beautiful little things.

These are the first Forsythia blossoms I’ve seen this spring but they certainly won’t be the last. Soon they’ll be blooming on every street in the region. Overused? Yes, but try to imagine spring without them.

The Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas) are hedging their bets and waiting just a little longer before opening their small, waxy yellow flowers. I’d guess another week before we see them.

Bees have suddenly appeared and though this one wouldn’t pose for the camera I think it was a honeybee. I haven’t seen a bumblebee yet but I have seen hoverflies and many other insects.

Magnolias have also started to bloom, with only a handful of blossoms on each tree. This one had beautiful deep pink buds which opened to paler pink flowers.

The pretty white crocuses with purple on the outsides of their petals are still blooming but this will probably be the last time we’ll see them this year. Last week I saw a bed with hundreds of crocuses blossoming in it and by this week they had almost all gone by.

Daffodils of all color combinations have just started blooming.

As I said earlier I’m afraid it might be time to say goodbye to crocuses already so I’ll end this post with this little beauty. For a flower that is with us for such a short time their impact seems huge. They’re another flower that it’s hard to imagine going without in spring.

The spring came suddenly, bursting upon the world as a child bursts into a room, with a laugh and a shout and hands full of flowers. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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The male (staminate) flowers of speckled alder (Alnus incana) have just started opening, making the forest edges look as if someone has hung jewels from the bushes. Soon they will release their pollen and start a new generation of alders. Two of these catkins haven’t fully elongated and opened, so you can see what they look like both before and after blossoming. At first they are tough and rigid, almost like twigs, but when they open they’re pliable and blow in the wind. They’re quite pretty, I think.

Each stalked brownish-purple bud scale on a male speckled alder catkin opens in spring to reveal three male flowers beneath, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers covered in yellow pollen. The flower parts are clearly visible in this photo but even though it is heavily cropped they are still tiny. The entire catkin is only about 2 ½ inches long.

When I see the male catkins open on alders I start looking for the female flowers. In this photo the tiny scarlet female stigmas poking out from under the bud scales are hard to see. The whitish material is the “glue” the plant produces to seal each shingle like bud scale against the wet and cold winter weather. If water got under the bud scale and froze it would kill the female blossoms. When pollinated each thread like female stigma will become a small cone like seed pod (strobile) that I think most of us are used to seeing on alders. These female flowers are just threads and aren’t much bigger than female hazelnut flowers.

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) has come along all of the sudden and I’m seeing flowers by the hundreds in some places. It’s a pretty little thing which can also be invasive, but nobody really seems to care.

American hazelnuts (Corylus americana) are still blooming, as this shot of the female flowers shows. What’s odd about this bud though is that it is terminal, and sits at the end of a twig. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen this. They usually appear along the length of the branch at an angle. Each tiny bud is about the size of a cooked piece of spaghetti, so that should tell you how small each scarlet, thread like female flower is.

I saw some willow flowers way up high at the top of the tree, far out of reach of a macro lens. I never knew that willows went from the top down so it was an interesting find.

The willows I could reach were still in the bud stage. Though I’ve never experimented with it I’ve always been fascinated at all the uses willows have. They contain a compounds similar to those found in aspirin and Native Americans used them for everything from pain relief to basket weaving. They even used the twigs to make fish traps and dolls. The burnt wood is said to make excellent drawing charcoal.

Dandelions are still blooming and will do so until the weather warms up. I never noticed until two or three years ago that they don’t like the heat of summer. It’s almost impossible to find one blooming in July and August these days.

They aren’t wasting any time about continuing on with new generations.

I got excited when I found budded spring beauties (Claytonia virginica), let me tell you. They’re very beautiful little flowers and it’s been so long since I’ve seen them. I’m guessing that, by the time this post sees the light of day they’ll be blooming.

This photo of spring beauties from two years shows why I got excited when I saw those buds. It’s hard to put into words how I feel when I find such beautiful little flowers; it’s like I’m lost in them for a while and this world no longer exists. A hint on photographing spring beauties: their color will be more saturated if you find and photograph the ones in shade. It doesn’t take much sunlight to wash out such delicate colors.

Speaking of harsh sunlight, that’s all I had when I went to see what the skunk cabbages were doing. As I suspected, leaves are beginning to show. Just when the leaves develop is the only time these plants even remotely resemble cabbage, in my opinion.

The open spathe of a skunk cabbage flower allowed a peek at the spadix with all of its flowers inside, which is something very few people ever get to see. Only if you hunt for it and look carefully will you find it, and I suppose a lot of people don’t even realize it’s there. Each tiny flower on the spadix has both male stamens and female styles and pistils. It’s all about pollen at this stage but science doesn’t know for sure how it gets between one plant and another. My money is on insects; I’m seeing lots of them right now. Small, fly like creatures that don’t sit still more than a few seconds. I guess you’d call them gnats.

I found a bed with hundreds of crocus blossoms in it, and they just happened to be in one of my favorite color combinations.

I’ve spoken before about how some things can be as beautiful in death as they are in life and this passing crocus blossom reminded me of that. If you’re serious about nature study you have to get used to seeing death, because it’s part of the cycle of life.

When I was gardening professionally not a single client grew snowdrops and as far as I know nobody in my family did either, so I don’t know them well. I do know that they’re scarce in this area; I see small clumps of 4 or 5 flowers every spring but not the huge drifts of them that I’ve seen online. They simply don’t seem to like it here and that could be because they aren’t used to our kind of cold.

Scilla (Scilla siberica) came up fast. They’re very cheery little flowers and they’re my favorite color. The only complaint I’ve heard about these nonnative bulbs is that they can be invasive. They can get into lawns here sometimes but people don’t seem to mind. In fact that’s just what many people want them to do.

Another plant related to scilla is the striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica) and I love to see it each year, but the one place I know of where they grow has had a new in ground sprinkler system installed and this year I’m not seeing a single blossom. It’s too bad because they’re a very beautiful but rare blossom in this area.

I’ve been watching the trees and one of the things I’ve seen was a magnolia bud shrugging off its winter fur coat. I’d guess it will be a flower by next week at this time. Some magnolias are very fragrant and I’m looking forward to smelling them again.

It’s actually a little too early for grape hyacinths here but these were warmed by growing near a building’s foundation, so they came up with the crocuses. It was nice to see them; almost like a reward, but you can see how they’ve been bitten by the cold. It’s the price I’ve seen many plants pay for over exuberance in the spring.

I’m guessing that hyacinths are going to be beautiful this year. I’ve seen a lot of them showing color.

It’s just another guess but I’d say you’ll be seeing a lot more flowers in the next post like this one. I could be wrong though because we’ve had a cold week. Nighttime temperatures have fallen below freezing a few nights and we had a dusting of snow Wednesday, so we’ll see. One thing is certain: spring will happen.

Keep your faith in beautiful things;
in the sun when it is hidden,
in the Spring when it is gone.

~Roy R. Gibson

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Dandelions have responded to a few warm days by blossoming heavily but many other plants don’t seem to be in any hurry and some are even blossoming later this year.

I’m always happy to see dandelions at any time of year. They are often one of our first flowers to bloom and sometimes one of the last as well.

Sometimes their flowers get frostbitten again and again but once the red maples (Acer rubrum) get started opening their buds keep blossoming no matter what the weather. This photo shows the male blossoms I found just opening on one tree. Each tiny red anther will become greenish yellow with pollen, which the wind will then carry to the female blossoms. They’re packed very tightly into each bud and there are thousands of flowers on a single branch.

This photo shows just how fast the blossoms can explode from the buds. I found the buds on the same tree as the ones in the previous photo fully open just a day later.

These are the female (pistillate) flowers of the red maple, just emerging. They are tiny little things; each bud is hardly bigger than a pea and each crimson stigma not much bigger in diameter than an uncooked piece of spaghetti. Once the female flowers have been dusted by wind carried pollen from the male flowers they will begin the process of becoming the beautiful red seeds (samaras) that this tree is so well known for. Many parts of the red maple are red, including the twigs, buds, flowers and seed pods.

I was surprised to find tiny little female American hazelnut flowers (Corylus americana) on a single bush recently. I think this is the earliest I’ve ever seen them. Reading back through spring blog posts shows that I usually find them in mid April, so why they’re blooming so early when many other spring plants are late, I don’t know. Native Americans used hazelnuts to flavor soups and also ground them into flour. In Scotland in 1995 a large shallow pit full of burned hazelnut shells was discovered. It was estimated to be 9,000 years old, so we’ve been eating these nuts for a very long time.

What is really baffling is why the female hazelnut blossoms have opened when the male catkins, shown in this photo, aren’t open. Without pollen from these male catkins the female blossoms are wasting their time. You can just see three tiny buds with female flowers above and to the left of these catkins. I think this is the first time I’ve been able to get both in a single photo. It gives you an idea of the huge difference in size.

Five days later the male catkins had opened but weren’t releasing pollen yet.

And five days later the female hazel blossoms were fully opened and looked as if the were reaching for that pollen. By the time the wind brings it to them they’ll be very sticky and receptive. If everything goes well I’ll be able to show you hazelnuts this fall.

Sugar maple buds are indeed swelling quickly and will probably be blossoming in a week or two. That will mean the end of the maple sugaring season this year. I saw a maple stump that had been left by a beaver the other day and it was bleeding sap heavily, so it’s running well right now.

Cornelian cherry buds (Cornus mas) are still opening, but very slowly. The yellow is the actual flower. They’re usually always in bloom by mid April and it’s looking like they will be this year as well.

I thought I had wasted my time when I didn’t see any flowers on the willows, but I heard red winged blackbirds in the alders and that was even better. Ice is melting quickly off the smaller ponds and vernal pools and soon we’ll hear the spring peepers.

It was a rainy day when I was taking photos for this post and all the crocuses were closed so I thought I’d show you this shot from last week, but then the sun came out and they all opened again.

I saw some new white ones that were pretty.

I thought that some of the white ones were even prettier when they were closed.

This blossom had just a naked stem and no leaves, so I’m not sure exactly what it is but I’m guessing it was a crocus but I can’t remember ever seeing pleats in the petals of a crocus.

The reticulated irises (Iris reticulata) have finally blossomed. They’re often the first spring bulb to flower here and I’m not sure what held them back this year. I’ve seen them bloom in the snow.

I thought this one was very beautiful. I’ve never grown them but from what I’ve seen these bulbs seem to slowly peter out and disappear. Groups of 10-15 flowers a few years ago now have only 1 or 2.

I wish you could smell these flowers. There is a spot I know of with about 8 large vernal witch hazel shrubs all in bloom at once and their fragrance is amazing. I can smell them long before I can see them. I can’t think of another flower that smells quite like their clean, slightly spicy scent.

There is a lot of promise for the future. Many of these hyacinth buds were showing color.

I didn’t see any color on the daffodil buds but they’ll be along. I expect by mid April spring will be in full swing with new flowers appearing every day. I hope everyone will be able to get out and enjoy it.

So many hues in nature and yet nothing remained the same, every day, every season a work of genius, a free gift from the Artist of artists. ~E.A. Bucchianeri

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I was hoping I’d be able to show flowers on the first day of spring and, though they might not seem like much, these vernal witch hazel petals (Hamamelis vernalis) just coming out of the fuzzy buds were wonderful to see. Actually tomorrow is the first full day of spring but it does start today.

Forsythia is a shrub that takes on a kind of golden hue in spring and this year many are going for broke.

Alder (Alnus) catkins are also coloring up, preparing to open and release the pollen from the male flowers, hundreds of which are hidden behind the scales of the catkins shown here.

Willow catkins aren’t showing any color yet but I think that any day now yellow flowers will start to show among the gray fuzziness of the catkins.

Crocuses are up and budded but I didn’t see any blossoms fully open yet.

It’s great to see a crocus, blossoming or not.

There are reticulated iris in the same bed as the crocuses and I think this might be one of them. they’re very early and often are the first spring bulb to bloom.

Daffodils are still thinking about things and can’t seem to make up their minds whether it is really spring or not. Who could blame them, with 60 degrees one day and 40 the next?

I remembered that what I thought were tulips a post or two ago are actually hyacinths. They look a lot alike at this stage and I seem to make the same mistake every year.

The daylilies at a friend’s house are up and about 3 inches tall, but they get warmth from the house’s foundation. They are an early plant but I haven’t seen any anywhere else yet.

I can’t explain the feeling I got when I saw the yellow buds showing on this Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) but it was a good one. It wasn’t because the flowers are spectacular but more because it is a sure sign of spring and my heart soared at the thought of it. Many people haven’t heard of this non-native, early blooming shrub but it hails from the Mediterranean regions and was well known to Ancient Greeks and Romans. Archeological digs show that it’s small, tart, cherry red fruits have been eaten by man for thousands of years. It has quite small bright yellow, four petaled flowers that bees absolutely love.

I haven’t seen anything happening with the magnolias yet but soon their fuzzy caps will come off to reveal the buds within.

Lilac buds on the other hand, have started to open. You can see how the bud scales, which are very tight and shingle-like in winter, have started to pull away from each other. By mid-May they’ll be in full bloom and their wonderful fragrance will be on the breeze no matter where you go in this area.

Last year I saw red maple flowers (Acer rubrum) on March 25th. This means that these buds have about a week to fully open if they want to do that again and I think that they probably will because we’re supposed to have a week of above freezing temperatures.

But I’ve also seen red maple buds open too early, and the flowers have been badly frost bitten. Luckily the blossoming time of red maples is staggered from tree to tree and since not all flowers have opened there are always some that don’t get damaged by frost. In this shot the uppermost buds on the right and left look to be about ready to open.

I went to the forest where the spring beauties bloom. I didn’t expect to see any flowers but I wondered if I might see a leaf or two. I didn’t see any but they’ll be along soon. Many thousands of beautiful little spring beauties should carpet the floor of this piece of forest sometime in mid-April.

I didn’t see flowers but I saw that the beavers sure had been busy.

And so had the woodpeckers.

The mottled yellow and maroon spathes of skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) are up and so thick you have to be careful not to step on them. If you do step on one you know it; the smell of skunk can be very strong sometimes. It’s too wet where they grow right now to kneel and get a shot of the flowers inside the spathe but I hope to be able to do so soon.

That’s a leaf shoot on the left of this skunk cabbage spathe, and that’s very unusual. The leaves don’t usually appear until after the plants have bloomed. Young leaves can resemble cabbage leaves, but only for a very short time.

Here’s another beautiful vernal witch hazel that I found blooming by following the scent. I know a place where several large shrubs grow. When I visited them I couldn’t see any blossoms but I could smell them so I knew they were there somewhere. And they were; way in the back was a single branch loaded with these blossoms. Their wonderful clean scent has been compared to a load of laundry just taken in from the line, and that’s as good a description as I’ve heard. Maybe a tiny bit spicy as well for this variety.

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month. ~Henry Van Dyke

Thanks for coming by. Happy first day of spring!

 

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Both the groundhog and the National Weather Service predicted an early spring, but how early? As I write this there are only 22 days until the calendar says spring, so I thought I’d go looking for it. It’s hard to describe how or when spring happens but sometimes it starts with a hint of warmth on a breeze. You can tell that it’s different than other breezes but you don’t know why; you just know that it’s that first warm breath of spring. But that’s just one sign. There are others, like the ice starting to melt off ponds. Even though we still have cold days the ice melts slowly, and it might freeze and refreeze but the sunshine and warmth will win out and before long there will be open water where the ice was. It’s happening now; that spot of open water in this photo has slowly been getting bigger.

More and more trees, and especially willows like the one seen here, are changing into their spring golden colors. It’s something I’ve watched happen for years now, one of those first subtle hints of spring. One lady said her ponies shedding their hair was a sign of spring for her, and skunks coming out of hibernation is another. Seed displays are also popping up in stores.

Willow catkins, called “pussies,” are a sign of spring for many but this year I saw them in January.

The purple bud scales on these red maple buds (Acer rubrum) have definitely been pulling back to reveal the tomato red buds within since the last time I looked at them. The bud scales protect the bud from freezing weather, so I hope the tree knows what it is doing. I’ve seen red maples bloom too early and lose most of their flowers to frost.

I get to see this sugar maple (Acer saccharum) every day so I’m sure the bud scales have been slowly opening on it as well. But, since I haven’t seen any sap buckets yet, buds getting bigger doesn’t make much sense because it’s the sap that drives the growth.  Maybe the sap is flowing in some trees and not others. That sounds like a plausible answer, anyhow.

When I was a boy I used to get highly excited when spring came because that meant I could ride my bike to school again, and when I did I made sure to ride through as many ice covered puddles as I could. That’s why, whenever I see that thin, white, crinkly ice on a puddle it makes me think of spring. This ice wasn’t quite what I mean but it was on a puddle and it had some fantastic, feathery patterns in it.

Mud is also part of spring in these parts; so much so that we even have a “mud season.” That’s when dirt roads turn to something similar to quicksand for a week or two as things start to thaw and the frost comes out of the ground.

For me checking lilac buds is a rite of spring. I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember, always starting about now, looking at them twice or three times a week for signs of swelling. It’s always exciting to see the bud scales finally fully open to reveal the deep purple, grape like cluster of flower buds within.

Some plants seem like they would do anything to be the first to bloom in spring, and these cress seedlings (I think) are one of those. These seedlings grew next to a building foundation where it’s a little warmer and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them blooming next week. Each plant would fit in a thimble and a whole bouquet of the white, four petaled flowers could easily hide behind a pea.

I saw some tulips up and out of the ground, standing about 3 inches high. There are bulb beds up against a building foundation and this must be why they’re up so early.

I hope those are more leaves coming along and not flower buds.

Reticulated iris grow in the same bed as the tulips. These are very early flowering plants and you can often find the tiny iris blossoms covered by snow.

Daffodils are also still up and growing in a raised bed at the local college. Raised beds drain and thaw earlier than the ground does but anything green in them can still be harmed by the cold, and those daffodils often get frost bitten. When that happens the leaves turn to mush.

I was surprised to see this beech bud curling, because curling like this is often a sign of bud break and it’s far too early for that. The curl is caused by the sun warming the cells on one side of the bud and making them grow faster than the cells on the other side. This causes a tension in the bud which will eventually cause it to open. For beech this usually means mid-May.

Here is a photo of a beech bud breaking from May 19th of last year. There are several leaves in each bud, all edged in downy, silvery angel hair. This is one of the most beautiful sights in a New England forest in spring and I’m very much looking forward to seeing it again.

I checked the skunk cabbages again and still didn’t see any of the blotchy maroon and yellow flower spathes but it shouldn’t be much longer. Since I’ve been keeping track the earliest I’ve seen them was in 2014. They were just coming up on Feb 2 that year and it looks like they might be a month later this year.

The spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) have bloomed earlier as well, but they’re waiting this year. The weather has been very strange so I’m not surprised. I’m guessing that once we get a week of above freezing temperatures all the early blooming plants will bloom at once.

Though they’re early bloomers I didn’t think there would be any sign of movement in magnolia buds. I just wanted to see their furry bud scales.

45 years ago I was doing some work for a man who suddenly said “Look at the bluebird on the fence.” I got a look at a beautiful blue blur and until just the other day I hadn’t ever seen another eastern bluebird. On this day there were 3 or 4 of them in a birch tree and I saw the beautiful color as I drove by. I stopped, grabbed my camera, and they actually sat still for more than a second or two; just long enough to jump out of the car and get these photos.

The bluebirds were eating the fruit (hips) of the invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) and of course that just helps it spread. Blue birds, from what I’ve read, are migratory and usually return to New Hampshire to nest in March, so these birds are a true sign of spring even if they are a little early. Oddly enough that beautiful blue color doesn’t come from any blue pigment in their feathers because there isn’t any. Instead it comes from a thin layer of cells on each feather that absorbs all wavelengths of color except blue. Only the blue wavelength is reflected so when we see the beautiful blue of this bird we are actually seeing a reflection. But no matter where it comes from it certainly is a beautiful shade of blue, as this male shows.

Bluebirds are called “bluebirds of happiness” and seeing them again after so long certainly made me happy. They could have stayed a little longer but I’m very thankful that I got to see them, however brief that visit was.

But no blue, not even the brightest summer sky, seems as blue as the bluebirds of spring.
~Ron Hirschi

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We’re having a very strange winter here, with roller coaster temperatures falling to -10 degrees F one day and soaring to 60 degrees the next. In between we’ve seen more rain than snow and all that rain has frozen into ice, because it can’t seep into the frozen ground. I took this view of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey in one of the colder stretches. Now, a week later there is no white to be seen in this view.

A week ago there were ice skirts around the stones and now there are none.

An icicle had formed in a tree, which is a sight you don’t often see.

I had to catch a wave while I was at the river. When the sun is right they have such beautiful colors in them.

Frost figures danced across my windows one morning.

If you want to strike fear into the heart of any New Englander just tell them an ice storm is on the way. We’ve seen two so far this winter but they haven’t been bad enough to bring down trees and cause power outages. I’ve seen friends have to go for weeks with no power due to an ice storm in the past.

In an ice storm liquid rain falls on cold surfaces and ice coats everything. The added weight starts to damage trees like this birch and they begin to lose branches or fall over, bringing power lines down with them.

The more surface area exposed on the tree, the more weight the ice has. White pines (Pinus strobus) are particularly at risk of losing large limbs in an ice storm.

In spite of the crazy weather or maybe because of it, we’re having some beautiful sunrises.

I thought I saw some yellow on these male speckled alder catkins (Alnus incana) but that might be wishful thinking. Yellow or green would be pollen and pollen would mean they were flowering, and it’s too early for that. They’ll open in late March or early April after the maple sap has all been gathered, and then for a short time the bushes will look like someone has strung gold and purple jewels from the alder branches.

A bird’s nest fell off an outdoor building light where I work. It wasn’t very big but it was soft like a cushion, made mostly of mosses and grasses. It also had lichens and a few twigs in it. I think it was the nest of an eastern phoebe, which is a small gray bird about half the size of our robin. They nest all over the buildings where I work, but they don’t seem to be very smart because they will often fly into buildings when a door is opened. Chasing them out again can be a chore and it has taken two of us over an hour in the past. If you leave a door or window open and walk away they still can’t seem to find their way out again.

There was a lot of moss in the nest and it was easily the softest bird’s nest I’ve ever felt. I’ve read that eastern phoebes will take over the nests of swallows or robins but I don’t think this nest was built by either of those birds. They also re-use nests year after year, but this bird will have to re-build.

I think a lot of the moss used in the phoebe nest was white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata.) This is a very common moss that I find mostly growing on stones in sunny spots. It would be a very easy moss for birds to harvest.

I’ve seen lots of galls picked open by woodpeckers and other birds but I don’t see too many oak marble galls opened. I was surprised at the thickness of the walls on this one. There would be plenty to eat all winter long for the gall wasp (Andricus kollari) larva had it survived the bird.

I saw a milkweed pod where I didn’t know they grew and of course I immediately thought of coming back in summer to hopefully see some monarch butterflies. I’ve seen more each year for the last three or so, but that doesn’t mean whole flocks of them. I think I saw 6 or 7 last year.

The birds and animals didn’t get to eat all the river grapes (Vitis riparia) this year and now the ones that are left look more like raisins than anything else. I was surprised to see them because they usually go as fast as they ripen. It could be that the birds simply had enough to go around; we do have a lot of wild fruits. River grapes are known for their ability to withstand cold and have been known to survive -57 degrees F. That makes them a favorite choice for the rootstock of many well-known grape varieties. We have about 20 native species of wild grape in the U.S. and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so they mostly made juice and jelly from them. They were also used to dye baskets a violet gray color.

An oak leaf skittered across the snow as if it had feet. More and more oak and beech leaves are falling, signaling spring isn’t far off. I hope.

You could almost believe you were feeling the warm breath of spring when two days of 60 degree weather turned the top layer of ice on Half Moon pond in Hancock to water. Ice fishermen are having a hard time of it this year because we haven’t had a lengthy spell of really cold weather to thicken the ice.

Since we’ve had some warm days and since the groundhog said we’d have an early spring, I went looking for signs. The ice was melting around the skunk cabbage shoots but I didn’t see any of the splotchy, yellow and maroon flower spathes. They are our earliest flowers so it shouldn’t be too long before they appear. Shortly after they flower the spring blooming vernal witch hazels will start in.

You might think that seeing daffodil shoots would be a sure sign of spring but these bulbs grow in a raised bed and raised beds warm and thaw earlier, so these bulbs start growing earlier. But I’ve never seen them this early and I’m sure they are being fooled by the few days of unusual warmth. They often come up too early and get bitten by the cold, which turns their leaves to mush. I’m guessing the same will happen this year but I hope not.

When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest.
~Earnest Hemmingway

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I’m happy to be able to say that the bees have suddenly appeared. This one happens to be the very first bumblebee I’ve seen this season, but honeybees have also shown up in what seems like great numbers.

The honeybees were swarming all over the flowers of the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) and it really was like a swarm. I thought for sure I’d get stung but they let me be.

But I couldn’t get a photo of a honeybee for you no matter what I did, so you’ll have to take my word for it. They were also swarming all over these willow flowers. It’s so good to see them in such great numbers. I was getting a little anxious about not seeing any, even on the warmer days. I think there are many people out there who don’t understand all of what bees do for us. If they go we go, and not long after unless we all work the orchards and fields with little paintbrushes. I do know how to pollinate flowers by hand but it isn’t something I’d want to do from dawn to dusk every day.

We had some major winds one day last week and a huge old white pine fell on my favorite grove of coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara.) Many of them appear to have been wiped out but there are enough left to re-seed the area, so I expect this little grove of plants will grow in again eventually. They seem to love this spot.

Remember what I said in my last flower post about coltsfoot blossoms always having a flat flower head rather than a mounded one like a dandelion? Well, you can forget that. I’m not sure when I’ll learn that there are no absolutes in nature. “Never” and “always” simply don’t apply when you describe nature, and nature reminds me of that every single time I use either word on this blog. I also said coltsfoot has a scaly stem though and that remains true, as you can see in the above photo.

If this doesn’t say spring then nothing ever will. The bulb gardens are coming along nicely and tulips are about to bloom. The fragrance of those hyacinths was almost overwhelming.

I think it’s almost time to say goodbye to the reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) for another year. Their time with us is brief, but beautiful.

I hope we see crocuses for another week but it’s up into the 60s F. this week and that might wither them. Thanks to a helpful reader I found that there are indeed many “bee friendly” and non-bee friendly crocus varieties out there, so I hope everyone will do their homework when buying crocus bulbs. Often when plant breeders work on flowers they have to sacrifice one thing to get another, like breeding the scent out of a rose to get bigger blooms. In the case of crocuses many bred varieties no longer have viable pollen and nectar for the bees. This is important because there are so few flowers blooming at this time of year and the bees don’t have a lot of choice. I’ve never seen a single bee on this group of flowers. I thank Emily Scott for leading me to this information.

Scilla (Scilla siberica) has just come up in the last week. They’re very cheery little flowers and they’re my favorite color. The only complaint I’ve heard about these nonnative bulbs is that they can be invasive. They can get into lawns here sometimes but people don’t seem to mind. In fact that’s just what many people want them to do.

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) is doing well this year and I’m now seeing flowers by the hundreds. It’s a pretty little thing which can also be invasive, but nobody really seems to care.

I saw my first violet of the year. I think it’s a common blue violet because of the white hairs on the throat of the side petals. It came up among so many other plants I couldn’t even see its leaves.

I’ve been watching the trees and one of the things I’ve seen was a magnolia bud shrugging off its winter fur coat. I’d guess it will be a flower by next week at this time. Some magnolias are very fragrant and I’m looking forward to smelling them again.

Box elder buds (Acer negundo) had their dark, reddish brown male stamens just starting to show. These flowers are small and hang from long filaments. Each male flower has a tan colored, tiny stamen too small to be seen without magnification. Once the male flowers have opened the beautiful lime green female flowers will appear along with the leaves. Box elders have male and female flowers on separate trees, so I need to find a female.

Though both male and female flowers appear in the same cluster on American elms (Ulmus americana) I didn’t see any female flowers on this example, which was one of only a handful that I could reach. This is odd because the female flowers reach maturity first to prevent cross pollination, so they should be showing. It could be that I was too late to see them. Female flowers are white and wispy like feathers and male flowers have 7 to 9 stamens with reddish anthers. Each male flower is about 1/8 of an inch across and dangles at the end of a long flower stalk. (Pedicel)

The flowers of American elm appear before the leaves. This is a closer look at the male flowers, which are very small. They look like they’ve been dipped in sugar.

Some of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) buds have opened and flower buds have formed. The white flower heads (racemes) aren’t what I’d call stunning but the bright red berries on black stems that follow them certainly are. The only problem with them is how quickly the birds eat them. It happens so fast that I have rarely been able to get a photo of them. The roots, bark, flowers and leaves of the shrub are poisonous but some people do make syrup or wine from the berries. Native Americans steamed the sweetened berries and made a kind of jelly or jam from them. The berries are very seedy and are said to be bitter when unsweetened. I’ve always heard they were poisonous like the rest of the plant, so I won’t be eating or drinking them.

I checked on one of two places I know of where ramps (Allium tricoccum) grow last week and there was no sign of them. This week there they were, up and growing fast. These wild leeks look like scallions and taste somewhere between onions and garlic. They are considered a great delicacy and are a favorite spring vegetable in many parts of the world, but they’ve been over collected so harvesting has been banned in many parts of the U.S. and Canada. They’re slow growers from seed and a 10 percent harvest of a colony can take 10 years to grow back. They take 18 months to germinate from seed and 5 to 7 years to become mature enough to harvest. That’s why, when people write in and ask me where to find them, I can’t tell them. The two small colonies I’ve found have less than 300 plants combined.

This photo is from a few years ago when I foolishly pulled up a couple of ramps, not knowing how rare they were. It shows their resemblance to scallions though, and that’s what I wanted you to see. They are said to be strongly flavored with a pungent odor, but they’ve been prized by mankind since the ancient Egyptians ate them. Each spring there are ramp festivals all over the world and in some places they’re called the “King of stink.” The name ramp comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum,) which is a cousin of the North American wild leek.

I saw the salmon pink shoots of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) just out of the ground. This plant grows fast and will be flowering in no time.

I also saw some new shoots of red or purple trillium (Trillium erectum.) The leaves should be unfurled by the weekend and the large reddish flowers will quickly follow. It isn’t a flower you want to get on your knees to sniff though; another common name is stinking Benjamin, and it lives up to it. These early plants have to get it done before the leaves come out on the trees, so they live life in the fast lane. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them blooming next week.

I was looking for yellow trout lilies and was feeling disappointed because I saw many leaves but didn’t see a single bud, so I thought I’d wander a few yards over into the part of the woods where the spring beauties grow. Usually trout lilies bloom before spring beauties, so you could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw dozens of spring beauties blooming. I was so happy to see them; even though each blossom is only the size of an aspirin they’re very beautiful things.

Imagine the one thing in all the world that you want more than anything else is suddenly there lying right at your feet and you’ll have a good idea of how I feel when I stumble upon the first spring wildflowers. My pulse begins to quicken, every thought flies out of my head, I fall to my knees and it’s just the flower and me; an instant dullard. The entire town of Keene could have paraded right by me and I’d never have known it.

The spring came suddenly, bursting upon the world as a child bursts into a room, with a laugh and a shout and hands full of flowers. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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