Forsythias have started shouting that spring has finally arrived. The other day I drove down one of our longer streets and saw that almost every house had one of these overused but much loved shrubs in their yards. Spring would be very different without them.
I checked the grape hyacinths 7 days before this photo was taken and didn’t see a bud. Now here they are full of blooms. Things can happen quickly in spring so you’ve got to keep your eyes open.
I saw a daffodil that looked perfect to me, so I had to take its photo. Daffodils are native to meadows and woods in southern Europe and North Africa, Spain and Portugal. They are an ancient plant that has been admired and grown by man since before recorded history. No matter what you call them; daffodil, narcissus, or jonquil, all are in the narcissus genus. According to Wikipedia the origin of the name Narcissus is unknown, but it is often linked to a Greek word for intoxicated (narcotic.)
The female flowers of speckled alders (Alnus incana) don’t seem to be as willing to show themselves this year as they have in years past, even though the male catkins have been shedding pollen for weeks.
The tiny crimson female (pistillate) flowers of alders are the smallest flowers that I know of; smaller even that the tiny threads of the female hazelnut blossoms. The female flower catkins often form at the very tips of the shrub’s branches in groups of 3-5 and contain tiny red stigmas that receive the male pollen. Once fertilized the female flowers will grow into the small, cone like seed pods that I think most of us a familiar with.
The flowers of Norway maples (Acer platanoides) usually appear well after those of red maples. These trees are native to Europe and are considered an invasive species. White sap in the leaf stem (petiole) is one way to tell Norway maples from sugar maples, which have clear sap. Their brightly colored flower clusters appear before the leaves and this makes them very easy to see from a distance. Once you get to know them you realize that they are everywhere, because they were once used extensively as a landscape specimen. If planted where they have plenty of room they have a pleasing rounded, almost mushroom shape. Norway maple is recognized as an invasive species in at least 20 states because it has escaped into the forests and is crowding out native sugar maples. It is against the law to sell or plant it in New Hampshire.
Most people never see the beautiful flowers of Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) that appear on tufts of grassy looking plants in mid-April. Creamy yellow male staminate flowers release their pollen above wispy, feather like, white female pistillate flowers but the female flowers always open first to receive pollen from a different plant. As the plant ages the male flowers will turn light brown and the female flowers, if pollinated by the wind, will bear seed. It’s a beautiful little flower that is well worth a second look. I see them just about everywhere I go.
Willows (Salix) were hit hard by the late cold snap this year and many of the furry gray catkins never blossomed at all, but you can find a flower or two if you’re willing to search a bit. Willows are one of those early spring flowers that don’t get a lot of fanfare but I love the promise of spring that they show.
The inner bark and leaves of some willows contain salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Native Americans chewed or made tea from the willow’s leaves and inner bark to relieve fever or toothaches, headaches, or arthritis, and that is why the willow is often called “toothache tree.” It was a very important medicine that no healer would have been without.
I thought it was too early for purple trilliums (Trillium erectum) and it was, but only just. Another day and their flowers would be fully opened, so I’ll have to get back to see them. Purple trilliums are also called red trillium, wake robin, and stinking Benjamin because of their less than heavenly scent. “Benjamin,” according to the Adirondack Almanac, is actually a corruption of the word benjoin, which was an ingredient in perfume that came from a plant in Sumatra.
I found that a tree had fallen on my favorite colony of bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) and the branches were in a real tangle, so I could see the flowers but couldn’t get to them. With a little stretching and twisting I was able to get a photo of this single example, which I think was close to being gone by already. The flower petals drop off within a day or two of pollination, so their visit is brief indeed. The plant’s common name comes from the toxic orange red juice found in its roots. Native Americans once used this juice for war paint on their horses. You have to be careful of the juice because alkaloids in it can actually burn and scar the skin, so I wonder what it did to the poor horses. I’d love to show the root to you but I can never bear to dig one up.
The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers (Acer negundo) appear along with the tree’s leaves, but a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike red maples which can have both on one tree. Several Native American tribes made sugar from this tree’s sap and the earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.
The male flowers of box elder are small and hang from long filaments. Each male flower has tan pollen-bearing stamens that are so small I can’t see them. The pollen is carried by the wind to female trees. Once they shed their pollen the male flowers dry up and drop from the tree. It’s common to see the ground covered with them under male trees.
I saw a huge colony of coltsfoot; more than I’ve ever seen in one spot I think. They won’t be with us much longer though. Their stay is brief and once their leaves start to appear the flowers are done. I think they’ve done their job though, because I saw several bees and other insects buzzing around them.
For me flowers often have memories attached, and trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) always reminds me of my grandmother. She said that no other flower could match its fragrance and that was high praise, because she knew her flowers. We used to look for them when I was a small boy but I can’t remember ever finding any with her. That’s probably because so many of them were dug up by people who erroneously thought that they could just dig them up and plant them in their gardens. The plant grows in a close relationship with fungi present in the soil and is nearly impossible to successfully transplant, so I hope they’ll be left alone.
The fragrant blossoms of trailing arbutus were once so popular for nosegays it was collected nearly to the point of extinction in New England, and in many states it is now protected by law thanks to the efforts of what is now the New England Wildflower Society. Several Native American tribes used the plant medicinally. It was thought to be particularly useful for breaking up kidney stones and was considered so valuable it was said to have divine origins. Its fragrance is most certainly heavenly.
I visited one of the trout lily colonies (Erythronium americanum) I know of last Saturday and didn’t see a single blossom. I went back on Sunday and there must have been at least a hundred plants blooming. Saturday was cool, cloudy and drizzly and Sunday was sunny and warm, so that must have had something to do with it. Trout lilies are in the lily family and it’s easy to see why; they look just like a miniature Canada lily. The six stamens in the blossom start out bright yellow but quickly turn brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect stigmata will catch any pollen that visiting insects might bring. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and attracts several kinds of bees. The plant will produce a light green, oval, three part seed capsule 6-8 weeks after blooming if pollination has been successful. The seeds of trout lilies are dispersed by ants which eat their rich, fatty seed coat and leave the seeds to grow into bulbs. They’ve obviously been working very hard with this colony.
There are tens of thousands of plants in this colony alone, but bloom times are staggered. Each plant grows from a single bulb and can take 7-10 years to produce a flower, so if you see a large colony of flowering trout lily plants you know it has been there for a while. I’ve read that some large colonies can be as much as 300 years old. Another name for the plant is fawn lily, because the mottled leaves reminded someone of a whitetail deer fawn. Native Americans cooked the small bulbs or dried them for winter food. Black bears love them and deer and moose eat the seed pods.
Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) grow among the trout lilies in their own huge colony of many thousands of plants, so I couldn’t miss them. I also couldn’t resist taking far too many photos of them again.
What a perfect name is spring beauty for such a beautiful spring flower.
I’m guessing that I’ll be showing lilacs in my next flower post. I look forward to smelling their wonderful fragrance again.
A flower’s appeal is in its contradictions — so delicate in form yet strong in fragrance, so small in size yet big in beauty, so short in life yet long on effect. Terri Guillemets
Thanks for coming by.