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Posts Tagged ‘Lilac Buds’

You’ve seen a lot of buds on this blog but you haven’t seen many buds from a sweet gum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua). Massachusetts is the northern limit of their natural range but luckily I know a spot at the local college where two or three trees can grow thanks to the radiant heating they get from a massive wall of brick that they grow beside. As buds go these are big; this one was maybe the size of a blueberry, and may be green, red or orange, from what I’ve read. Buds with many scales that overlap like shingles are called imbricate buds. A gummy resin often fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof on northern trees, but I’m not sure how the sweetgum buds waterproof themselves. I can see tiny hairs at the edge of the scales, so maybe that has something to do with it.

The identification of the sweetgum trees came easily because of their strange seed pods. I’ve read that Native Americans used the hardened resin from these trees for chewing gum. The resin was also used in a tea to calm the nerves and, when powdered and mixed with shavings from the tree, was used as incense by the Maya. The resin is said to look like liquid amber, and that’s where the first part of the scientific name, Liquidambar, comes from. I’d love to see it but I doubt the local college would let me tap their trees.

Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some have just one scale called a cap, and some buds are naked, with none at all. The lilac bud (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo is another good example of an imbricate bud. I was surprised by the lack of gummy resin on these buds. I hope the flower or leaf buds inside aren’t harmed because of it.

The hairy, two part valvate bud scales of the Cornellian cherry are always open just enough to allow a peek inside. The gap between the bud scales will become more yellow as the season progresses and finally clusters of tiny star like yellow flowers will burst from the bud. These buds are small, no bigger than a pea. Cornelian cherry is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (usually March).

Magnolia flower buds in botanical terms are “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds.” The hairy single scale is called a cap and it will fall off only when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming. Just as the plant flowers the ground under it will be littered with these hairy caps for a short time.

Many plants protect their buds with hairs, like the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) shown above. Plants that protect their buds in this way have naked buds, and the hairs take the place of bud scales.  

Red oak (Quercus rubra) buds usually appear in a cluster and are conical and reddish brown. I like the chevron like pattern that the bud scales make. Red oak is one of our most common trees in New England but in the past many thousands were lost to gypsy moth infestations. It is an important source of lumber, flooring and fire wood. The USDA says that red oaks can live to be 500 years old.

Do you think of buds when you see a catkin? A catkin is really just a long string of tiny flowers arranged in a spiral, surrounding a central stalk. Though the bud scales on many of the male alder catkins (Alnus incana) are usually a deep winter purple, this year they seem to be more red. That doesn’t matter because soon they will start to lengthen and become more pliable before turning shades of pink, orange, red and brown. Once that happens they will start to open.

There is no mistaking what you’re seeing when male alder catkins start to open. The bud scales are on short stalks, and when they open they reveal the tiny green yellow flowers they have protected all winter long. Bushes full of them are easily one of the most beautiful spring sights.

Each bud scale has 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 1/2 inches long.

The male flowers of gray birch (Betula populifolia) also appear in catkin form but instead of hanging down they often point straight up, as this one was doing.

The female flowers of gray birch turn into big, drooping clusters of seeds, which are also called catkins. You can see the size, habit and shape difference between the male and female catkins if you compare the large female catkins to the much smaller male one seen in the upper right corner of this photo.

Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) buds, like lilac and others, are imbricate buds with overlapping bud scales. It’s interesting that almost everything about the blueberry is red except for its berry. The new twigs are red, the bud scales are red, and the fall foliage is very red. Though small the buds are beautiful, and one of my favorites.

The chubby little green and purple buds of red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) are also one of my favorites, but I don’t see them very often. Since they have more than two bud scales they are imbricate buds.

Some of the smallest buds I know belong to hawthorns (Crataegus) and the cherry red hawthorn bud in the above photo could easily hide behind a pea. There are over 220 species of hawthorn in North America, with at least one native to every state and Canadian province. In New Hampshire we have 17 species, so the chances of my identifying this example are slim to none. I know the tree in the photo well so I know that its blossoms will be white. Hawthorn berries are called haws and are said to have medicinal value. Native Americans mixed the dried haws and other fruits with dried venison and fat to make pemmican.  The dried flowers, leaves, and haws can be used to make a tea to soothe sore throats, and hawthorn also shows promise for treating heart disease.

Big, black and pointed mountain ash buds (Sorbus americana) often look like they have a single cap like bud scale but they actually have several overlapping scales which are quite sticky. You have to look closely at buds to see what is really going on, so it helps to have a loupe or a macro lens.

Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is supposed to be a very invasive species but they’ve been used for years as landscape trees so the genie has been let out of the bottle and now there is no stopping them. The Norway maple’s terminal bud and stem are larger than the sugar maple’s, and its bud scales are fewer and colored a pleasing maroon. Sugar maples have twice as many bud scales and they are brown. Norway maple terminal buds are also rounded while those of sugar maple are sharply pointed. Norway maple is native to eastern and central Europe and western Asia, from France east to Russia, north to southern Scandinavia and southeast to northern Iran.

Box elder (Acer negundo) is another member of the maple family and its buds and young twigs are often a beautiful blue or purple color due to their being pruinose. Pruinose means a surface is covered in white, powdery, waxy granules that reflect light in ways that often make the surface they are on appear blue. Certain grapes, plums, and blueberries are pruinose fruits. Certain lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen have fruiting bodies (Apothecia) that are pruinose.

Terminal buds appear on the end or terminus of a branch and nothing illustrates that better than the sugar maple (Acer saccharum). The larger, pointed, very scaly bud is flanked by smaller lateral buds on either side. The lateral buds are usually smaller than the terminal bud. Sugar maple twigs and buds are brown rather than red like silver or red maples. I know that the sap is running so these buds will be swelling up and getting bigger before too long. In 2019 New Hampshire produced a below average 148,000 gallons of maple syrup but the season was 5 days shorter shorter due to cold weather. The average price per gallon in 2019 was $31.00. The record price per gallon was $40.70 in 2008.

Red maple flower buds (Acer rubrum) are small and round or oval with short stalks and 4 pairs of bud scales. The bud scales are often purple and / or tomato red and they have a fine fringe of pale hairs on their margins. They are one of the first to open in spring so I watch them closely beginning in March.

I realize that these bud posts probably don’t excite everyone like they do me but I hope people will look beyond all the imbricate, valvate and other fancy scientific labels and simply see the beauty. If the beauty that you see leads you to wonder and mystery, then you can start trying to find out more about what you’ve seen. Some think that beauty comes in the form of snow capped peaks or far off landscapes and indeed it does, but beauty also comes in the form of tiny tree buds. In fact beauty is all around you and the more you look for it the more of it you’ll see. Here’s hoping you’ll see plenty.

If you are open to being taught by nature, go listen to the trees. ~Kenneth Meadows

Thanks for coming by.

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I’ve seen some really stunning photos coming from smartphones lately so since it was time for me to get a new one I spent quite a lot of time researching which one had the best camera for the money. By the end of this post I hope you’ll agree that I made a good choice; the tiny mushroom in the photo above was hardly bigger than a pea. Yes this phone does macro photography, and it does it well.

Tiny bird’s nest fungi weren’t much of a challenge for the phone but depth of field was slightly off. I think that was my fault more than the phone’s though.

I was splitting wood at work and there, deep inside a piece of oak, was this mushroom mycelium. I was lucky I had a phone with me that could see it and get a half way decent photo of it. I always love finding mycelium because I never know what my imagination will have me see in it. You might see a river delta. Or a tree. Or bird feathers. Or you might see the vast one-ness from which all life arises. Whatever you see in it let it be beautiful; let it reflect the beauty that is inside you.

One of the haircap mosses, either mountain or juniper haircap moss I believe, peeked out from under a dome of paper thin ice. This is a male moss and you can tell that by its color and by the tiny male reproductive structures called antheridia, which look like tiny flowers scattered here and there.

And here was a female haircap moss with its spore capsules almost ready to release their spores. There was a breeze this day and the phone camera didn’t freeze the movement of the capsules as much as I would have hoped but something about this photo grabs me so I’ve added it here, slightly blurred capsules and all. It’s a mouse eye view of the landscape with a certain minimalistic Japanese feel to it, and maybe that’s why I like it.

This bristly beard lichen growing on a white pine is another photo where the depth of field was slightly off and I think it’s happening because I’m getting too close. In fact the phone has told me to “back up for better focus”. But I’ll learn; I’m used to taking photos with my Olympus macro camera, where I can be almost touching the subject. A bristly beard lichen has isidia, which appear as little bumps along its branches. An isidium is a reproductive structure common to some lichens and their presence is a good identifier.

This liverwort, called flat-leaved scalewort (Radula complanata) was about 3/4 of an inch across and grew on a tree, and I thought the phone handled it well. I’ve read that this liverwort is common on trees and shrubs but I rarely see it. Plants are usually flattened, either forming patches like the one seen above or single stems creeping among mosses. It has round, flattened, overlapping leaves which are quite small. Each one is no more than 1/16  of an inch across. This liverwort is said to like sunny, sheltered, moist conditions and will sometimes grow on streamside rocks. Liverworts are epiphytes that take nothing from the trees and shrubs they grow on. ­­They simply perch on them, like birds.

Color reproduction seems to be quite accurate with this phone but beware that this is coming from one who is colorblind. Still, even someone colorblind can see the difference between the hemlock in the foreground and the one beside it, because the one in the foreground is “artificially” colored by Trentepohlia algae. I don’t think I’ve seen this much algae on a single tree before. I wonder how it chooses which trees to grow on and I wonder why, in this case, it hasn’t spread to other trees.

Here is a phone camera macro look at algae on a different tree.

Tiny lichens are a big part of the content on this blog so of course I had to see what the phone could do with them. Again, I think I was a bit too close to this one but I was impressed with the camera. This lichen was only about a half inch across.

In this photo I backed the phone away from the subject lichen and the shot came out much better. This lichen was about half the size of the previous one but it came out much sharper so I’ve got to watch out for getting too close.

Compared to the lichens these alder catkins were huge but the phone camera handled them well, even in a breeze.

I wanted to show something that everyone reading this would know the size of, so for that I chose lilac buds. This is an excellent example of what this phone can do.

The bud of a Norway maple is not something everyone will recognize but they are slightly smaller than the lilac buds.

If you’ve ever wondered why woodpeckers spend so much time drilling into trees, this is why. This yellow insect larva was deep inside a red oak log, seen only when I split it. The tiny creature was about the diameter of a piece of spaghetti and maybe an inch long.

This is just simple stream ice but it was beautiful, I thought.

Of course I had to try plants with the phone camera and it did well on this trailing arbutus. I didn’t want to kneel in the snow so I just bent down and clicked. This phone is said to use a kind of artificial intelligence chip that I don’t fully understand, and it said to be able to compute very fast. In fact I’ve read that some phones can do 5 trillion operations per second.  Speed is one thing, but this phone seems to know or sense what you want before you tell it what you want and I find that a bit odd, if not unsettling. It’s almost like having an assistant who does all the work for you.

Here were the dried flower heads of sweet everlasting. There was a breeze on this day and once again the phone handled it well.

The color red is a challenge for any camera so I thought I’d try some holly berries. The phone camera once again did well, I thought. I like the detail that came through on the leaves as well.

Boston ivy berries (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) are about as big as a small pea, so while I was walking past them while going in for a haircut I thought I’d see what the phone could do with them. I was happy with the shot. Boston ivy isn’t a true ivy and it isn’t from Boston but it is pretty on buildings, especially in the fall when its leaves turn bright red. True ivy belongs to the genus Hedera but Boston ivy is the ivy that lends its name to ivy league universities.

The phone camera seems to do well on landscapes as well. It also has a “night vision mode” but I didn’t use it for this shot of a stream I pass on my way to work early each morning.

The phone tells me I was 11 meters (36 feet) from this tree when I took it’s photo. Why it thinks I need to know that is a mystery. I would have fumbled around with my camera settings for several minutes for this shot, trying to keep the trees light and the clouds dark, but the camera phone did it in two shots without my changing any settings.

This shot looking up a pine tree was taken in almost full darkness, well after sundown and with twilight almost gone. When you push the shutter button on the phone you can hear the shutter click twice when it’s in night vision mode and the photo comes out like this. How it does this is unknown to me as yet. I wanted to show you a dark sky full of bright stars but it has been cloudy every night since I bought the phone.

This shot, taken before sunup early in the morning, was the first shot I ever took with the new phone. I suppose I should give you the name of this phone after putting you through all of this, shouldn’t I? It’s a Google Pixel 4A, 5G and for the same money, according to the reviews I’ve read, no other phone camera can touch it. I find that it is especially useful in low light situations but I also find it a bit awkward to hold a phone while taking photos. I’m certainly happy with it but I think I need more practice. I’m guessing that when the newness wears off it will become just another tool in my tool kit; a camera I can speak into.

We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.
~Marshall McLuhan

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A cute little red squirrel ran up the backside of a pine tree and peeked around it to see what I was doing. I probably see one red squirrel for every hundred gray squirrels so they aren’t that common in this immediate area. They’re cute but if they get into your house they can and will cause a lot of damage. I worked for a lady once who had them in her attic and I spent all summer trapping and relocating them. They had chewed all the wiring, got into stored items, and made a mess in general. A big mess.

I’ve mentioned the storm that dropped 16 inches of snow in other posts but what I haven’t mentioned is the below zero cold that came after. Ponds and streams froze quickly, but as I write this it’s near 60 degrees F. and raining like it was June, so I’d guess tomorrow all the snow will be gone and all the rivers and streams will be at bank-full.

I saw ice doing strange things. I’m sure the wind had a lot to do with this teardrop shape on a standing shrub but I couldn’t quite figure out where the water had come from. Maybe it had simply trickled down the branch but if so why didn’t the wind blow it while it trickled? It seemed to have all collected in this one spot.

Though it’s hard to tell from this photo this is ice, frozen onto deck boards in very strange patterns. I can’t even guess why water would have pooled and frozen in this way, but it was pretty.

Just as I got to work one morning the sun was just kissing the clouds, and I had to stop and watch. I try not to let such things go unappreciated. If you let yourself pay attention to the beauty in this world more and more you’ll find yourself saying a silent thank you. Serenity, gratitude, joy; these are just some of the things that nature will fill you with.

Just to the right of that last shot the sun was also kissing the moon.

Quite often you’ll find a place where the ground looks like it has heaved up and around stones. The stone sits at the bottom of a hole that is usually shaped exactly like it is, so it also looks like the sun has heated the stone enough for it to melt down into the frozen soil. I’ve doubted for years that that is the answer though because the sun would heat the surrounding stones as well and they don’t always melt into the soil. As I walked in this area around the stone the soil sank about two inches with every step, so now I’m certain that frost had heaved up and lifted all the soil and smaller stones that surrounded the bigger one. Frozen soil is a lot more plastic than we realize.

I was happy to see some tiny bird’s nest fungi, which few people ever get to see. I think they were fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus) and this is a view of them from the side. They grow in a funnel or vase shape and have flutes around the rim of the body, which is hollow like a cup. They are so small not even a pea would fit inside them.

The “bird’s nest” is actually a splash cup called a peridium and when a drop of rain falls into it with enough force the “eggs” are splashed out. These eggs, which can be seen here, are really spore cases called peridioles. Once ejected from the splash cup the peridioles degrade over time to release the spores.

There is a much studied phenomenon called the Red Bark Phenomenon, and scientists have devoted much time studying trees with colored bark all over New England. It isn’t always red; it can be orange and yellow as well. It affects all kinds of trees, both conifers and deciduous, and many different species. I’ve seen it here and there on tree bark and after a lot of research a few years ago I found that it was caused by the algae Trentepohlia, which is a genus of filamentous chlorophyte green algae in the family Trentepohliaceae. It appears on tree trunks, stones and is even present in many lichens. So if you see a tree with red bark there isn’t anything wrong. It’s just algae looking for a place to perch. This example was on an eastern hemlock.

Eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) are numerous here and black capped chickadees flock here to eat the seeds from the hemlock cones like the one pictured above. The 1/2 inch long cones are among the smallest of all the trees in the pine family but the trees usually produce so many of them that the ground is completely covered by them in the spring. The needles and twigs of hemlocks are ground and distilled and the oil is used in ointments. Native Americans also showed Europeans how to prevent scurvy by making tea from the tree’s needles.

Gray birch (Betula alba var. populifolia) flowers grow in long clusters known as catkins. They flower, which means the male flowers release pollen and the female flowers accept it, in April and May and then the female flowers ripen into seeds throughout the summer. Ripe female catkins like the one seen here are called strobiles and resemble small cones. Fruit (seeds) are blown about by the wind in late fall and winter. Unless that is, birds get to them. Many songbirds love them.

You can often find the snow under a gray birch littered with hundreds of tiny winged seeds, which are called nutlets. Seeds can persist for years in the soil and will grow if the soil is disturbed.

Other plentiful winter seeds for birds include those of asters, which I’m still seeing a lot of.

A beech leaf was caught by the sun and was beautiful enough to stop me in my tracks. Beech is a tree that lends great beauty to the forest all year long. Its orangey brown leaves will slowly lighten to a yellow so pale it is almost white, and then they will finally fall to make room for new leaves in spring.

The deep blue shadows on snow always remind me of a special high school art teacher who taught me to see rather than just look. To me, probably due to colorblindness, winter shadows looked gray but she convinced me that they were and should be blue. The odd thing about all of that is how, once I began painting them blue I began seeing them in blue and I have ever since, so she gave me a great gift. Colorblindness is a very strange thing and it doesn’t behave as many people think it does. I can see red and green separately for instance but when a red cardinal lands in a green tree it completely disappears. In fact I have never been able to see a cardinal, even when someone pointed at one and said “It’s right there, can’t you see it?”

But blue still isn’t always blue to these colorblind eyes. I know that cold will turn the normally amber sap of the white pine tree blue but this looks kind of pinky / lavender to me. My color finding software tells me it is steel blue though, and it always wins the argument. Colors come in shades or hues and telling them apart can be quite confusing to the colorblind.

Here is something I’ve never seen before; pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata) growing on a tree. I know lichens can and will grow on just about anything but until now I’ve only seen this particular one on soil and very rotten wood; never on a live, growing tree. Lichens surprise me continuously. Pixie cups are squamulose lichens, and the tiny golf tee shapes arise from leafy growths called squamules. A squamule is a lobe of the body of the lichen (thallus), and  squamulose lichens have small, leafy lobes, which is the green growth seen here. But though pixie cup lichens are squamulose they have fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are its podetia. “Podetia” describes a stalk like growth which bears the apothecia, or fruiting bodies. 

This is the first time I’ve shown the seed pods of the beautiful native shrub known as rhodora (Rhododendron canadense). I’m going to have to watch and see when they open. Quite late, apparently.

I thought I’d show the beautiful flowers of the rhodora because I don’t think most people ever see them. Even in this area it’s a shrub that many don’t know. The flowers appear just when the irises start to bloom and I often have to search for them because they aren’t common. Rhodora is a small, knee high, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished.

Sweet gale (Myrica gale) is also called bog rosemary. It likes to grow on the banks of acidic lakes, bogs and streams just like the rhodora we saw previously. Touching the foliage releases a sweet, pleasant scent from its resinous leaves which have been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent. Though it is a native plant here it also grows native in Europe, where it is used as an ingredient in beer making in some countries. It is also used in an ointment used to treat sensitive skin and acne. Its buds are very pretty, but also very small.  They will open and flower in spring.

Is it too early to think of spring? It’s never too early in my opinion and it’s usually in the depths of winter that I start checking buds. These lilac buds were quite pretty, I thought. They are great examples of imbricate buds, which have scales that overlap like shingles. A gummy resin fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. If water got in and froze it would destroy the future flower or leaf embryo within, so buds go to great lengths to prevent that.

While I’ve been working on this post we’ve had just about every kind of weather imaginable. We had snow but of course since it’s so dark before and after work I really couldn’t show it to you. Then on Christmas eve through Christmas day we had temperatures near 60 degrees and 2 inches of rain fell. The shot above shows what the Ashuelot River looks like after 2 inches of rain and a 16 inch snow melt find their way into it. It will boil like this for a few days and then return to its placid self, but meanwhile it will have the wild, rugged beauty we see here. I love watching the waves.

Those who find beauty in all of nature will find themselves at one with the secrets of life itself. ~L. Wolfe Gilbert

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone will have a happy and healthy 2021.

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I finally, after 6 or 7 attempts, caught bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) in full bloom. Like other spring ephemeral flowers bloodroot isn’t with us long and in fact a few of these flowers had already lost petals, but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times and in that way their bloom time can be extended. They’re blooming just a little early this year.

Bloodroot petals have very fine, almost invisible veins in them and if you don’t have your camera settings just right you won’t see them in your photos. When they’re in bright sunlight the veins disappear, so I shaded this flower with my body and boosted the ISO settings on the camera so I could catch them. It’s not an easy flower to do well but with practice and a little luck you can show it at its most beautiful.

Ornamental cherry trees are blooming and I’ve seen both white flowers and pink ones. These trees often blossom far too early and end up getting frost bitten, and I saw a few brown petals on this tree. Our native cherries will be along in May.

Ornamental cherries do have beautiful, if over anxious, flowers. They are one of our earliest blooming trees, usually coming along with the magnolias.

Bradford pear blossoms (Pyrus calleryana) have pretty plum colored anthers but that’s about all this tree has going for it. Originally from central Asia and the Middle East the tree was introduced by the USDA in  1966 as a near perfect ornamental urban landscape tree, loaded with pretty white blossoms in spring and shiny green leaves the rest of the time. Even Ladybird Johnson promoted it but problems quickly became evident; the tree has weak wood and loses branches regularly, and birds love the tiny pears it produces, which means that it is quite invasive. In the wild it forms nearly impenetrable thickets and out competes native trees. And the pretty flowers? Their scent has been compared to everything from rotting fish to an open trash bin, so whatever you do don’t plant a Bradford pear. I smelled this one before I saw it so you might say I followed my nose right to it.

Insects don’t seem to mind the smell.

Pulmonaria (Pulmonaria officinalis) is an old fashioned but pretty evergreen garden plant that originally hails from Europe and Asia. The silver mottled leaves were once thought to resemble a diseased lung and so its common name became lungwort. People thought it would cure respiratory ailments like bronchitis and the leaves were and still are used medicinally in tinctures and infusions. The leaves and flowers are edible, and if you’ve ever had vermouth you’ve had a splash of pulmonaria because it is one of the ingredients. The plant does well in shade and has flowers of blue, pink, white, purple and red.

Vinca (Vinca minor) is now approaching full bloom. Though this plant isn’t a native it might as well be because it is much loved. In fact I’ve never heard anyone complain about it. Neighbors have been passing it to neighbors for hundreds of years, and I find it growing out in the middle of nowhere quite regularly.

What looks like a 5 petaled flower on a vinca plant is actually one tubular flower with 5 lobes, as this photo shows. Vinca contains the alkaloid vincamine, which is used by the pharmaceutical industry as a cerebral stimulant. It has been used to treat dementia caused by low blood flow to the brain. It’s origin is probably Europe and one of its common names is “Flower of death” because of the way it was once planted on the graves of infants. Too bad that such a pretty flower has to have such a morbid connection but in truth many flowers are associated with death. I once worked for a lady who refused to grow gladioli because they were so commonly used at funerals.

I love the color of this magnolia bud. I believe the variety name is “Jane.” If so its flowers will be tulip shaped.

Sometimes lilac buds look like they’ve been frosted with sugar. It’ll be so nice to smell those flowers again.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) has just come into bloom and these are the first blossoms I’ve seen. These small but fragrant flowers were once over collected and nearly obliterated but I know of several large colonies so they seem to be making a comeback. People need to understand that the plants are closely associated with fungi in the soil and unless the fungi are present these plants will not live, so digging them up to put in gardens is a waste of time. Not only that but it robs the rest of us of the pleasure of seeing them.

The inside of a trailing arbutus blossom is very hairy and also extremely fragrant.

I found lots of viola plants (Viola tricolor) under a tree one day, all blooming their hearts out. Viola blossoms are about half the size of a pansy blossom but every bit as colorful and the plants usually have more flowers than a pansy plant will. Pansies were derived from violas so all pansies are in fact violas but plant breeders have worked on them for years and pansies come in a wider range of colors. I love them because they are very cold hardy and appear early in spring when not much else is in bloom.

I had to go back for another look at the female lime green box elder flowers (Acer negundo.) They were even more beautiful than they were last week. The female flowers appear along with the leaves, and you can see a new leaf or two here as well.

The male flowers of box elder are small and hang from long filaments, and aren’t very showy. Each reddish 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 and once they’ve 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.

The flowers of Norway maples (Acer platanoides) usually appear well after those of red maples but this year they’re blooming quite early. 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. 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 but the genie is out of the bottle and they are everywhere.

It’s tough to isolate a single Norway maple flower in such a large cluster but I always try, just so you can see what they look like. This is a male (staminate) flower. They have 8 stamens, five petals, five sepals, and a greenish central disc. They’re quite different from any other native maple.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are up and growing fast. These wild leeks look like scallions and taste somewhere between an onion and garlic. They are a favorite spring vegetable from Quebec to Tennessee, and ramp festivals are held in almost all states on the U.S. east coast and many other countries in the world. Unfortunately they are slow growers and a ten percent harvest of a colony can take ten years to grow back. They take up to 18 months to germinate from seed, and five to seven years to mature enough to harvest. That’s why ramp harvesting has been banned in many national and state parks and in parts of Canada, and why Ramp farming is now being promoted by the United States Department of Agriculture.

This photo, taken years ago, shows what the complete ramp looks like. I foolishly pulled these two plants before I knew they were being threatened. The bulbs and leaves are said to be very strongly flavored with a pungent odor. In some places they are called “The king of stink.” The name ramps 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. Their usage has been recorded throughout history starting with the ancient Egyptians. They were an important food for Native Americans and later for white settlers as well.

I’m seeing a lot more white violets than purple this year and that’s a little odd because it’s usually the other way around. I’d love to see some yellow ones but they’re rare here.

Sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) is also called wild oats and the plants have just come into bloom. They are a spring ephemeral and won’t last long but they do put on a show when they carpet a forest floor, despite their small size. They are a buttery yellow color which in my experience is always difficult to capture with a camera.

In this case the word sessile describes how the leaves lie flat against the stem with no stalk. The leaves are also elliptic and are wider in the middle than they are on either end. The spring shoots remind me of Solomon’s seal but the plant is actually in the lily of the valley family.

And just look what has finally come Into the light; one of our largest and most beautiful spring wildflowers. Purple or red trillium (Trillium erectum) is also called wake robin, because its bloom time once heralded the return of the robins. The flowers have no nectar and are thought to be pollinated by flies and beetles. Their petals have an unpleasant odor that is said to be similar to spoiled meat, and this entices the flies and beetles to land and pollinate them. As they age each petal will turn a deeper purple. Their stay is all too brief but when they fade they’ll be followed by nodding trilliums (Trillium cernuum) and then painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum,) both of which are also very beautiful.

Flowers have a mysterious and subtle influence upon the feelings, not unlike some strains of music.  They relax the tenseness of the mind. They dissolve its vigor. ~Henry Ward Beecher.

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone is doing well and will continue on that way.

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We’re still getting light conversational snowfalls now and again but that’s common for April in these parts and most flowers and people just shrug it off. Here in New England spring snows are often called “Poor man’s fertilizer” because quite often the lawns have started greening up when they fall. Nitrates from the atmosphere attach to snowflakes and fall to earth and then are released into the soil as the snow melts, so spring snows do indeed fertilize the lands they fall on.

I don’t suppose, as a lover of spring, that I should complain about the cool weather because it is making the season go on and on, as this willow catkin shows. I think I saw the first one about a month ago.

Though it has been cool and damp more new flowers like the little bluets (Houstonia caerulea) seen here are appearing all the time. These tiny, lawn loving 3/8 inch diameter flowers make up for size with numbers and huge drifts of them several yards in width and length are common.  Though they bloom in early spring and are called a spring ephemeral I’ve seen them bloom all summer long where they weren’t mowed. This photo shows the variety of color that can be had with bluets, from dark blue to almost white.

Actually pale blue is more accurate but some are darker than others. I love seeing these cheery little flowers in spring and I always look for the bluest one. The native American Cherokee tribe used an infusion of bluet roots to cure bedwetting.

Hazelnuts have been blossoming since February and I’ve shown them here a few times, but this one might fool you because it shows the female blossoms of the beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta.) Though the tiny stigmas look like the female flowers of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) that I’ve shown previously beaked hazelnuts grow in areas north and east of Keene and I’ve never seen one here. Beaked hazelnuts get their name from the case that surrounds the nut. It is long and tubular and looks like a bird’s beak, while the nut cases of American Hazelnut have two parts that come together like a clam shell. The best way to tell the two apart is by looking at the new growth. On American hazelnut the new twigs will be very hairy and on beaked hazelnut they’ll be smooth.

Purple flowered PJM rhododendrons usually bloom at about the same time as forsythia but they’re a little late this year. The PJM in the name is for Peter J. Mezitt who developed the plant and also founded Weston Nurseries in Weston, Massachusetts. They are also called little leaf rhododendron and take shearing fairly well. They are well liked here and have become almost as common as forsythia.

At first I thought I was seeing more ground ivy but when I looked closer I could see that these tiny blossoms belonged to purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum.) This plant is originally from Europe and Asia but has made itself right at home here. The leaves on the upper part of the stem usually have a purplish cast and the small purple flowers grow in a cluster around them.

Dead nettle has pretty, orchid like flowers but they’re so small that I can barely see them without a macro lens.

The dead nettle plants grow by the hundreds under some box elder trees that I go to see each year at this time. The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers (Acer negundo) appear along with the tree’s leaves, but they come a few days to a week after the male flowers have fully opened. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike red maples which can have both on one tree. This shot is of the female flowers as they had just appeared. They’re a very pretty color.

Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) have just come up. This plant is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should never be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant. They bloom here in mid to late May.

This isn’t my favorite color in a hellebore blossom but there’s a lot going on in there. Pliny said that if an eagle saw you digging up a hellebore it (the eagle) would cause your death. He also said that you should draw a circle around the plant, face east and offer a prayer before digging it up. Apparently doing so would appease the eagle. I’ve never seen an eagle near one but I haven’t dug one up either. I’ve seen these plants bloom in mid-March but not this year.

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 just these two blossoms open, and they were open even though it was snowing. Its unusual flowers are joined in pairs and if pollinated they become small, red orange, oval, pointed end berries that are also joined in pairs.

Fly honeysuckle 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 middle to end of April on the shaded edges of woods.

Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) are loving this cool damp weather and are blooming better than I’ve ever seen. Long used medicinally in Europe, here it is a welcomed alien. Odd that I haven’t seen any of its cousins the violets blooming yet though.

I’ve tried several times to catch these bloodroot blossoms (Sanguinaria canadensis) open but they don’t like cool cloudy weather and they only stay open until about 3 in the afternoon. On this cold snowy day they had wrapped all their leaves around themselves and never did open, so I’ll have to keep trying.

Many years ago I dug up a bloodroot so I could see the roots but I didn’t take a photo of them so I found this photo of the cut roots taken by someone named “Slayerwulfe” on Wikipedia. It clearly shows how the plant comes by its common name. Native bloodroot is in the poppy family and is toxic, but Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red sap in its roots to decorate their horses.

I know I’ve shown these maple samaras too many times but I’m fascinated by them because I’m not sure if they are silver or red maple seeds. I do know that they are growing very slowly this year. They usually only display these white hairs for just two or three days but this year I’ve seen them for over a week now.

The brown sporangiophores of common horsetails have now come up by the hundreds. These particular examples grow in the gravel near a swamp. It took them about a week to reach this stage from the time they had just broken ground.

This horsetail was fully opened so we can see how the wind could get in there under the sporangiophores and blow the spores around. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the spore producing sporangia. Once the horsetail has released its spores it will soon die and be replaced by the gritty green infertile stems that most of us are probably familiar with. Horsetails were used as medicine by the ancient Romans and Greeks to treat a variety of ailments.

The bud scales of lilacs have just opened to show the grape like clusters of flower buds within. I’ve watched lilac buds do this for just about my entire life, but It still gets me excited.

Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) showed a perfect example of what bud break means. This small tree has flowers that look almost identical to the brushes that I used to clean baby bottles with. That’s a job I don’t miss, come to think of it.

Aspirin size spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) are carpeting the forest floor now but they won’t be with us long. Once the trees leaf out our spring ephemerals disappear quickly, so I hope you aren’t tired of seeing them.

Each spring beauty flower consists of 5 white, pink striped petals, 2 green sepals, 5 pink tipped stamens, and a single tripartite pistil, which means that it splits into 3 parts. I always look for the deepest colored one and on this day this was the one. I’ve read that these flowers are an important early spring source of nectar for pollinating insects, mostly small native bees and some flies and I’ve noticed lots of insects flying around them this year. I’d guess they’ll be gone in a week.

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly our whole life would change. ~Buddha

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone is well and is staying safe. 

 

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It certainly appears that spring is upon us but those of us who have been around for a few decades are always wary of a false spring. A false spring, for those who don’t know, is a period of unusual warmth in late winter or early spring that can last long enough to bring plants and animals out of dormancy. When the normal cold temperatures return, sometimes weeks later, the plants and animals that have woken early are taken by surprise and can suffer. I haven’t seen any alarming signs of plants waking early but the bears and skunks are awake, and they’re hungry. The Fish and Game Department has been telling us to stay out of the way of the bears, which is surely good advice even if it is common sense. One of the signs of spring that I’ve always enjoyed is the way willows turn golden, as the one in the above photo has. There is a species of willow from Europe and Asia called golden willow (Salix alba vitellina) but I have no way of knowing if this tree is that one.

Another tree I always love seeing in spring is the red maple, with all of its globular red buds standing out against a blue sky. Each season seems to have its own shade of blue for the sky. A spring sky isn’t quite as crisp as a winter sky but it is still beautiful. The level of humidity in the air can make a difference in the blue of a sky because water vapor and water droplets reflect more of the blue light back into space. This means we see less blue than we do when water vapor is at a lower level. The scientific term for this phenomenon is “Mie scattering.” The sun’s angle can also make a difference in how much of the blue we see.

I found these red maple buds near the Ashuelot River in Keene and was surprised to see so much red on them. The purple bud scales slowly open to reveal more and more red and soon after this stage the actual flowers will begin to show. The flowers open at different times even on the same tree, so the likelihood of them all being wiped out by a sudden cold snap is slim. Early settlers used red maple bark to make ink, and also brown and black dyes. Native Americans used the bark medicinally to treat hives and muscle aches. Tea made from the inner bark was used to treat coughs. 

We have sugar maples where I work and someone broke a twig on one of them. The other day I noticed it was dripping sap, so syrup season is under way.

I didn’t see any dandelions blooming but that’s only because I was late getting there. There were three plants in one small area with seed heads all over them. I’ve seen them bloom in January and March but never in February, so I would have liked to have seen them.

The skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) are happy in their swamp. Bears that come out of hibernation early will sometimes eat skunk cabbages but not much else bothers them. There is little  for bears to at this time of year but a helpful reader wrote in and said that they also dig up and eat the roots of cattails. When I was taking these photos a small flock of ducks burst from the cattails not five feet from me. You won’t need a defibrillator when that happens I’ll tell you, but what struck me most about it was the sound of snarling just before the flock hit the sky. I wonder if they were being stalked by a bobcat when I came along and ruined its hunt. If so I never saw it but it was an angry snarl that didn’t sound like any duck I’ve ever heard.  

Through a process called thermogenesis skunk cabbages are able to generate temperatures far higher than the surrounding air. You can often see evidence of skunk cabbage having melted their way through several inches of solid ice. I saw plenty of the splotchy spathes but I didn’t see any that had opened to reveal the flower studded spadix within.

I went to one of my favorite places to find pussy willows and found that they had all been cut down. Luckily I know of more than one place to see them but I had to wonder why anyone would have cut them. Unless you get the roots they’ll grow right back, bushier than ever. I’ve seen willow shoots even grow from cut willow logs, so strong is their life force.

Another fuzzy bud is the magnolia, but I’m scratching my head over what is going on here. The bud scales of the magnolia are fuzzy and gray and they open and fall off when the flowers open, but here it looks like the bud scales have opened to reveal more bud scales. Could the open scales still be there from last spring? Hard to believe but possible, I suppose.

I saw some alder catkins that were still covered with the natural glue that protects the flower buds. Each brown convex bit seen here is a bud scale which will open to let the male flowers bloom. Between the bud scales is a grayish, waterproof “glue” that keeps water out. If water got in and froze, all the tiny flower buds inside would be killed. Many plants use this method to protect their buds.

You can see the same “glue” on the buds of American Elms. Also sugar maples, poplars, lilacs, and some oaks protect the buds in this way. I assume that the warming temperatures melt this waxy glue in spring so the bud scales can open.

In places with a southern exposure the snow pulls back away from the forest, and this happens because the overhanging branches have reduced the amount of snow that made it to the ground along the edges of the woods.

Though the grass in the previous shot was brown I did see some green.

I also saw some mud. They might not seem like much but green grass and mud really get the blood pumping in people who go through the kind of winters we can have here. When I was growing up it wasn’t uncommon to have shoulder deep paths through the snow drifts and 30 degree below zero F. (-34.4 C)  temperatures. In those days seeing mud in spring could make you dance for joy. But then mud season came so we put on our boots. Mud season turns our dirt roads into car swallowing quagmires each spring for a month or so.

One of the theories of why evergreen plant leaves turn purple in winter is because they don’t photosynthesize, they don’t need to produce chlorophyll. Another says the leaves dry slightly because the plant doesn’t take up as much water through its roots in winter. It is called “winter bronzing” and whatever the cause it can be beautiful, as these swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) leaves show. Before long they’ll go back to green and grow on without having been harmed at all.

The hairy, two part valvate bud scales of the Cornellian cherry are always open just enough to allow a peek inside. The gap between the bud scales will become more yellow as the season progresses and finally clusters of tiny star like yellow flowers will burst from the bud. These buds are small, no bigger than a pea. I’m not sue what the hairs or fibers on the right side are all about. I’ve never seen them on these buds before. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is an introduced ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring  and has a long history with mankind; its sour red fruit has been eaten for over 7000 years, and the Persians and ancient Romans knew it well.

Daffodil leaves that have been weakened by the cold will often be yellowed and translucent but these looked good and heathy and green. Even if the plant loses its leaves to cold it can still bloom but since it has to photosynthesize to produce enough energy to bloom it probably won’t do so the following year. It might take it a year or two to recover.

I didn’t expect to see tulip leaves but there were several up in this sunny bed.

I know I just showed some lilac buds in my last post but these looked like they had been sculpted by an artist. I thought they were very beautiful and much more interesting than the plain green buds I usually see. You can see all of life, all of creation right here in these buds. Maybe that’s why I’ve spent all of my life watching lilac buds in spring.

I’ll close this post with a look at another venal witch hazel blossom, because it is a very rare thing to see flowers of any kind blooming here in February. They’re tiny little blossoms but their beauty is huge.

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

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On Sunday, February 2nd Punxsutawney Phil, King of the weather predicting Groundhogs, didn’t see his shadow when he was removed from his burrow. Some might think that this simply meant that Phil woke under a cloudy sky, but it meant far more than that to The King; he immediately declared that we would see an early spring.  So, bolstered by Phil’s decree, I went off in search of spring. As you can see by the above photo, I didn’t find it; at least not right away. In fact all it has done is snow since Phil made his announcement.

This is what it looked like one morning on my way to work. Yes, it was cold too. Since Phil’s decree we reached 8 below zero F. one night; the coldest it’s been all winter. I’m voting we leave Phil in his burrow next year and let him sleep until he wants to wake up.

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight” the old saying goes, so this beautiful evening sky gave me hope that the weather would turn.

As of this writing we’re still getting a storm each week but they’ve carried little snow. What you see here amounts to maybe 4 inches at most. After every storm it warms up and melts a lot of the snow that fell. I read recently that scientists studying our dwindling snow cover have found that trees are suffering, because when the insulating qualities of snow are gone the soil can freeze deeper, and this can kill a tree’s feeder roots. Instead of expending energy of growing new leaves and branches trees have to divert their energy to re-growing their roots. Without the life giving energy from photosynthesis that more leaves provide a tree can weaken, and that increases the possibility of attacks from insects and fungi.

When you plow even 4 inches into a pile it looks like a lot more.

But it’s melting in the woods, as this patch of American wintergreen shows. All those plants and I couldn’t find a single berry. When I was a boy my grandmother often took me walking through the woods to teach me what she knew about wild plants. One of the first plants I remember getting to know is the Eastern teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens,) also known as checkerberry or American wintergreen. My grandmother and I would pick the small red berries from the plant she always called checkerberry until we each had a handful, and then we would have a refreshing, spicy feast in the forest. Chewing the leaves can also be refreshing when hiking on a hot day. In the past, the leaves were also chewed by Native Americans to relieve pain.

Lilac buds showed no signs of opening but they did look like they might be swelling some. We dug a hole where I work and found that the frost is only 5 inches down in the ground. It’s usually much deeper and can reach nearly 4 feet in very cold winters. That’s why all of our water pipes have to be buried at least 4 feet deep, otherwise they could freeze and burst.  

I always start checking American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) bushes early for signs of life. So far the male catkins aren’t doing much and I haven’t seen any of the tiny female flowers either, but it won’t be too long. I have a feeling they’ll be early this year. When the catkins open there will be a single bright, yellow-green, male flower peeking out from under each of those diamond shaped bud scales. They grow and bloom in a spiral down the length of the catkin.

I’ve always assumed that migrating birds ate the staghorn sumac berries because nothing touches them until spring. There are thousand of berries in this one photo and not one of them has been eaten, even though I heard robins nearby. I also saw black capped chickadees and dark eyed juncos.

Nothing had been eating the wild grapes hanging from this pine tree either. I was surprised because grapes usually do get eaten quickly.

I wanted to just sit by the river and think one day-I was in that kind of mood-but every stone was covered with ice and snow so there was no dry place to sit. This is what the shoreline looked like; a half inch of ice covered everything.

But the river itself remains unfrozen. So far it hasn’t frozen over in any of the usual places this winter.

Sometimes in spring the river fills itself from bank to bank but so far this year it’s shallow enough to walk across. You’d think it was August by this photo but since we’ve had so little snow to fill it with snowmelt I wasn’t surprised.

The trees in this photo are tipped with gold and that’s a sure sign that things are changing. I think they were poplars but I couldn’t get close enough to find out for sure. Poplar buds swell early and some species have catkins that look like pussy willows.

Red maple flower buds (Acer rubrum) are small and round or oval with short stalks and 4 pairs of bud scales. The bud scales are often purple like those seen here. They have a fine fringe of pale hairs on their margins and when they start to open a tomato red color can be seen between the scales. Red maples can be tapped and syrup made from their sap but the sap gatherers have to watch the trees carefully, because the sap can become bitter when the tree flowers. Seeing the hillsides awash in a red haze from hundreds of thousands of red maple flowers is a treat that I always look forward to. Unfortunately I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to capture that beauty with a camera.

Crocus leaves poked up out of the ice.

And daffodils poked up out of the soil in a raised bed. They were a surprise.

But the biggest surprise of all came in the form of spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) blossoming. Until now the earliest I’ve ever seen them bloom was February 23rd but these bloomed a full week earlier. Their strap like petals can curl up into the bud if it gets cold and then unfurl again on warm days, so you don’t see too many that have been frost bitten.

There was a large building between me and the witch hazels but I could still smell their wonderful, clean fragrance. It’s so good to see them again; I was ready for spring a month ago so I’m glad the groundhog got it right.  

It starts with a gentle southerly breeze; a soft, warm breath. The sun grows stronger and its warmth penetrates the soil a little deeper each day, and as the soil warms the yearly miracle will begin. Once started it won’t be stopped; sap is starting to flow and soon buds will swell to bursting. An indescribable beauty will cover the earth and as usual I will be here, trying to describe the indescribable. I do hope you’ll be able to get out there and see it for yourself. It’s so much better than reading about it.

Spring is when you feel like whistling, even with a shoe full of slush.  ~Doug Larson

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Ever since I was a boy I’ve gotten an itch to start looking at buds at this time of year and I’ve learned a lot from them. They can tell you a lot about the plant they grow on; just counting the bud scales, for instance, will help identify a tree or shrub even in the dead of winter. Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some have just one scale called a cap, and some buds are naked, with none at all. Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate. The scales meet but do not overlap. This Cornelian cherry bud is a great example of a valvate bud. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the scales part to let the bud grow. Some bud scales are hairy and some are covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts.

Buds that have several scales like the gray birch bud seen here are called imbricate buds, with scales that overlap like shingles. A gummy resin fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof, and it can be seen on this bud. This is especially important in cold climates because water freezing inside the bud scales would destroy the bud.

Gray birch fruit appears as 2 inch long cylindrical clusters of winged nutlets growing at the branch tips. Birds eat them all winter long, and when all the nutlets are gone the stick like core is all that remains. One of those can be seen in the upper left. Ruffed grouse will eat both the buds and catkins and pine siskins and black-capped chickadees eat the seeds of gray birch. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers feed on the sap and I’ve seen beavers take an entire clump of gray birch overnight, so they must be really tasty. Deer also browse on the twigs in winter.

Native nannyberry buds (Viburnum lentago) with their two scales are another example of valvate buds. These buds always remind me of great blue herons or cranes. Nannyberry is one of our native viburnums but unlike many of them this shrub produces edible fruit.

Native Americans ate nannyberry fruit fresh or dried and used the bark and leaves medicinally. They also used the berries in jam with wild grapes. According to the book The Origins of English Words nanny berry is also called sheep berry and that name comes from its fruit, which is said to resemble sheep droppings. The nanny part of the name comes from the nanny goat. Squirrels and birds are said to eat the fruit but I see huge numbers of them still on the bushes well into winter.

Maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) buds are ovoid with a short stalk and have 4 overlapping dark purple scales, so they are imbricate. This is one of our prettiest native viburnums, from its white flowers in may to its incredibly colored leaves in fall. Its leaves can be pink, purple, yellow, orange or even white and sometimes a combination of 2 or 3 colors.

Maple leaved viburnum’s dark blue berry like fruits are called drupes. Botanically speaking a drupe is a fleshy fruit which contains a single seed with a hard outer shell, like a peach or a cherry. Birds and small animals gobble them up so it isn’t often you see them in spring. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

Red oak (Quercus rubra) buds usually appear in a cluster and are conical and reddish brown. I like the chevron like pattern that the imbricate bud scales make. Red oak is one of our most common trees in New England but in the past many thousands were lost to gypsy moth infestations. It is an important source of lumber, flooring and fire wood. The USDA says that red oaks can live to be 500 years old.

Terminal buds appear on the end or terminus of a branch and nothing illustrates that better than the sugar maple (Acer saccharum.) The large, pointed, very scaly bud is flanked by lateral buds on either side. The lateral buds are usually smaller than the terminal bud. Sugar maple twigs and buds are brown rather than red like silver or red maples. Due to a cold spring New Hampshire only produced 148,000 gallons of syrup in 2019, which was average to below average, according to producers.

Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is supposed to be a very invasive species but they’ve been used for years as landscape trees so the genie has been let out of the bottle and now there is no stopping them. The Norway maple’s terminal bud and stem are larger than the sugar maple’s, and its bud scales are fewer and colored a pleasing maroon. Sugar maples have twice as many bud scales and they are brown. Norway maple terminal buds are also rounded while those of sugar maple are sharply pointed. Norway maple is native to eastern and central Europe and western Asia, from France east to Russia, north to southern Scandinavia and southeast to northern Iran.

One of the smallest buds I know belong to hawthorns (Crataegus) and the cherry red hawthorn bud in the above photo could easily hide behind a pea. There are over 220 species of hawthorn in North America, with at least one native to every state and Canadian province. In New Hampshire we have 17 species, so the chances of my identifying this example are slim to none. Hawthorn berries are called haws and are said to have medicinal value. Native Americans mixed the dried haws and other fruits with dried venison and fat to make pemmican.  The dried flowers, leaves, and haws can be used to make a tea to soothe sore throats, and hawthorn also shows promise for treating heart disease.

I could look at a calendar to see when spring begins but I prefer watching the plants in the forest, because they’re rarely wrong. The terminal buds of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) shown in the above photo are quite large and can fool you into thinking that they are swelling because of spring sap flow but no, they’re this way all winter.

A bud I most look forward to seeing open in spring is the beech (Fagus grandifolia.) There are beautiful silvery downy edges on the new laves that only last for a day or two, so I watch beech trees closely starting in May. Botanically beech buds are described as “narrow conical, highly imbricate, and sharply pointed.” In May they are one of the most beautiful things in the forest.

I’ve never paid much attention to the buds of basswood (Tilia americana) but the way the terminal bud grows at an angle from the twig reminds me of blueberry buds. It was red and resin covered and had only two bud scales which overlapped. I’ve read that they can sometimes have just one bud scale as well. I can’t explain why this twig was so withered. Basswood is native to New England and the Midwest. Its lightweight wood is often the choice of wood carvers, much like balsa wood, and its tough inner bark was used for rope and mats by Native Americans.

This bud is from a speckled alder (Alnus incana,) and it has two bud scales so it is valvate. They and the twigs are also covered in fine velvet.  Speckled alder is a bit unusual because its branches can have three kinds of buds; leaf buds, male catkins, and female catkins. Catkins are essentially long strings of flower buds growing spirally (usually) around a central stem. I love to watch alder catkins in spring for signs of them opening. When they begin to open the catkins lengthen and their reddish color becomes speckled with golden pollen. They’re quite beautiful.

Witch hazel buds (Hamamelis virginiana) are light, yellow brown and they are hairy, with no bud scales. That means they are naked buds and the hairs protect them instead of bud scales. These buds, as do most of the buds seen here, form in the fall and spend the winter resting and waiting for spring, so they have a long period when the buds must be protected.

Staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) also have no bud scales so their naked buds are also hairy. Another name for staghorn sumac is velvet tree, and that’s exactly what its branches feel like. Native Americans made a drink from this tree’s berries that tasted just like lemonade, and grinding the berries produces a purple colored, lemon flavored spice.

Red maple flower buds (Acer rubrum) are small and round or oval with short stalks and 4 pairs of bud scales. The bud scales are often purple and / or tomato red. They have a fine fringe of pale hairs on their margins. Red maples can be tapped and syrup made from their sap but the sap gatherers have to watch the trees carefully, because the sap can become bitter when the tree flowers. Seeing the hillsides awash in a red haze from hundreds of thousands of red maple flowers is a treat that I always look forward to. Unfortunately I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to capture that beauty with a camera.

I’ve spent many winters watching the buds of trees and bushes, especially those right around my house like the lilac (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo. I check it regularly starting in February for signs of swelling. In winter buds are my connection to spring and I love watching the bud scales finally open to reveal tiny leaves or flowers. The lilac bud above is a good example of an imbricate bud.

For those who can’t see or don’t want to look at small buds like lilacs fortunately there are big buds on plants like rhododendron. It also has imbricate buds. This one was half the length of my thumb. Buds found on known plants around the yard are a good place to start studying them, if you’d like to learn more.

If you are open to being taught by nature, go listen to the trees. ~Kenneth Meadows

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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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This relatively warm weather and rain we’ve had for weeks now have left me with a longing for spring but it is only January, so about this time every year I scratch my itch for spring by looking at buds. Being able to identify trees and shrubs by their buds can come in handy, especially in winter, and it is a skill that any serious nature lover should have in their bag of tricks. It adds another dimension to nature study and makes it even more interesting. The bud shown above is from a speckled alder (Alnus incana,) and it has two bud scales. Bud scales protect the bud within and keep it from freezing. Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate buds. The scales meet but usually do not overlap.

A catkin like this one on the same speckled alder is simply a long string of buds, in this case male buds, and each purple bit is a bud scale. I took this photo because it shows the gummy resin that fills the spaces between the scales of many buds. This makes the bud waterproof and this is important, because if water reaches the bud and freezes the bud will die.

This Cornelian cherry bud is another great example of a valvate bud. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the scales part to let the bud grow. Some bud scales are hairy and some are covered with sticky resin. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts. It has a long history with mankind; its sour red fruit has been eaten for over 7000 years, and the Persians and ancient Romans knew it well.

Magnolia flower buds in botanical terms are “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds.” The hairy single scale is called a cap and it will fall off only when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming. Just as the plant flowers the ground under it will be littered with these hairy caps for a short time.

I saw something on the magnolia that I’ve never seen before; seed pods. At first I thought it was some type of gall.

I’ve done bud posts before but this year I wanted to show some buds I hadn’t shown before. The alder is one and this sweetgum bud is another. If you know anything about sweetgum trees or how cold it can be here in New Hampshire you are probably wondering how I took a photo of a sweetgum bud without driving south. After all, the sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) reaches the northernmost limits of its natural range along the coast just above of New York City, but these trees grow near a massive wall of brick and that keeps them warm enough to thrive here in the cold. Buds with many scales that overlap like shingles are called imbricate buds. A gummy resin often fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof on northern trees, but I’m not sure how the sweetgum buds waterproof themselves.

The identification of the sweetgum trees came easily because of their strange seed pods. I’ve read that the infertile seeds found in each of these gummy pods are a source of shikimic acid, which is one of the main ingredients in Tamiflu, so if you had a flu shot and get through winter without getting the flu this year you can thank a sweetgum.

The leaves of the sweetgum seem almost evergreen but I’m really not sure if they are or not because they aren’t supposed to grow this far north. I wonder if the radiant heat from the mass of brick they grow near has them completely baffled. By the way, if you have green plants by the foundation of your house in January the same thing is happening, but it’s your furnace instead of the sun that supplies the radiant heat. It’s fairly common in cold climates.

The oddest thing about the sweetgum tree in my opinion is its strange flattened branches. The first description of the sweetgum tree came from Spanish conquistadors who wrote of its use by the Aztec chief Montezuma. He was using the tree’s resin to flavor a pipe full of tobacco, which was another plant the Spaniards had never heard of. It must work well because it is still used to flavor tobacco today.

The lilac buds (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo are another good example of imbricate buds. Lilac buds are very red and in spring once the plant begins taking up water again they can swell quickly enough to notice, if they’re regularly watched. I’ve watched lilac buds in spring since I was just a small boy and it has always been one of my favorite things to do in the spring. They aren’t swelling yet but it won’t be long before spring is here.

Some of the smallest buds I know belong to hawthorns (Crataegus) and the cherry red hawthorn bud in the above photo could easily hide behind a pea. There are over 220 species of hawthorn in North America, with at least one native to every state and Canadian province. In New Hampshire we have 17 species, so the chances of my identifying this example are slim to none. The closest I can come is Gray’s hawthorn (Crataegus flabellata.) I know the tree in the photo well so I know that its blossoms will be white. Hawthorn berries are called haws and are said to have medicinal value. Native Americans mixed the dried haws and other fruits with dried venison and fat to make pemmican.  The dried flowers, leaves, and haws can be used to make a tea to soothe sore throats, and hawthorn also shows promise for treating heart disease.

If you can’t identify a hawthorn by its buds then its thorns will help. On this example they were about 2 inches long and just as sharp as they look. Native Americans made fences around their settlements with brambles and thorny branches like those from hawthorns. They also made very sharp awls and fish hooks from hawthorn thorns.

A bud I most look forward to seeing open is the beech (Fagus grandifolia.) There are beautiful silvery downy edges on the new laves that only last for a day or two, so I watch beech trees closely starting in May. Botanically beech buds are described as “narrow conical, highly imbricate, and sharply pointed.” In May they are one of the most beautiful things in the forest.

Box elder buds (Acer negundo) and young twigs are often a beautiful blue or purple color due to their being pruinose. Pruinose means a surface is covered in white, powdery, waxy granules that reflect light in ways that often make the surface they are on appear blue. Certain grapes, plums, and blueberries are pruinose fruits. Certain lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen have fruiting bodies (Apothecia) that are often pruinose.

Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is supposed to be a very invasive species but they’ve been used for years as landscape trees so the genie has been let out of the bottle and now there is no stopping them. Even squirrels don’t like these trees; last fall over several days I watched five or six squirrels cut all of the unripe seeds from a Norway maple. In just a few days the ground under the tree was littered with them and there wasn’t a seed left on the tree. The Norway maple’s terminal bud and stem are larger than the sugar maple’s, and its bud scales are fewer and colored a pleasing maroon. Sugar maples have twice as many bud scales and they are brown. Norway maple terminal buds are also rounded while those of sugar maple are sharply pointed. Norway maple is native to eastern and central Europe and western Asia, from France east to Russia, north to southern Scandinavia and southeast to northern Iran.

Red maple flower buds (Acer rubrum) are small and round or oval with short stalks and 4 pairs of bud scales. The bud scales are often purple and / or tomato red. They have a fine fringe of pale hairs on their margins. Red maples can be tapped and syrup made from their sap but the sap gatherers have to watch the trees carefully, because the sap can become bitter when the tree flowers. Seeing the hillsides awash in a red haze from hundreds of thousands of red maple flowers is a treat that I always look forward to. Unfortunately I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to capture that beauty with a camera.

I could look at a calendar to see when spring begins but I prefer watching the plants in the forest, because they’re rarely wrong. The terminal buds of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) shown in the above photo are quite large and can fool you into thinking that they are swelling because of spring sap flow but no, they’re this way all winter.

Mountain ash buds (Sorbus americana) often look like they have a single cap like bud scale but they actually have several overlapping scales which are quite sticky. You have to look closely at buds to see what is really going on, so it helps to have a loupe or a macro lens.

For those who can’t see or don’t want to look at small buds fortunately there are big buds on plants like rhododendron. It also has imbricate buds that are large enough to see without magnification. Bud scales are modified leaves and some buds can have several, some have two, some have just one scale called a cap, and some buds are naked, with none at all.

I hope this little foray into the world of buds has left you wanting to go out and start looking a little closer at the branches of trees and shrubs in your own neighborhood. I started looking at our local trees years ago; right after the little paperback booklet in the above photo was published in 1968. I carried it in my back pocket and started trying to identify common trees that I already knew something about, like apples and maples. The booklet is still being published today and costs little, especially if you find it in a used bookstore. It is also online in PDF format.

If you are open to being taught by nature, go listen to the trees. ~Kenneth Meadows

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