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Posts Tagged ‘Magnolia Bud’

It’s that time of year when we don’t know whether we’ll need summer clothes or winter clothes. The temperatures have soared and fallen and then done it again, and some plants seem to be holding back a bit. But not the skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus). I saw a few with leaves like this one. When that first leaf just unfurls is the only time that it actually looks like a cabbage leaf.

While I was in the skunk cabbage swamp I checked on the native early azaleas (Rhododendron prinophyllum). The bud scales are pulling back so that’s a good sign. I look forward to seeing these very fragrant pink flowers in early June when the pink lady’s slippers bloom.

I went to see if there was any sign of spring beauties or trout lilies and didn’t see any, but I did see lots of green shoots in the pond that they grow near. This scene is so simple, so every day, but also so very beautiful and pleasurable, in my opinion. Sitting alone in the spring forest where the world is hushed you can almost hear the new life springing from the earth. If you care to look closely you find that what looks like dead leaves and stems and dried blades of last year’s grass is alive with new green shoots much like these.

There was also green on the Japanese honeysuckles. That’s one reason invasive plants are so successful; they start photosynthesizing weeks before our native plants and so get a leg up.

I went to see the willows and found them full of flowers. This isn’t a flower, by the way. This is a flower head, which is made up of many flowers. The flowers shown are the male (staminate) flowers. Female flowers appear on separate bushes slightly later than the male flowers and aren’t quite as showy. Willows are pollinated by insects, not wind.

There is quite a lot of tension in a willow flower head and you often see them bent nearly double. I think this is caused by the flowers on one side of the catkin opening first and growing faster than those on the opposite side. It’s the same way a beech bud opens.

I thought I’d see if I could find any coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara). I did but all I saw was the tiny yellow speck of a barely open flower.

Since I’d never seen a coltsfoot so close to blooming I went back the next day. They were in full bloom, so apparently once they start showing a little color it doesn’t take long. The flowers on coltsfoot plants come up before the leaves show so there is no hint of when it will appear. You have to remember where you’ve seen it last year and revisit the places the following spring. Coltsfoot is native to Europe and Asia and was brought here by early settlers. It has been used medicinally for centuries and another name for it is coughwort.

Dandelions are coming in twos now, and even threes, fours and fives.

The female red maple flowers are growing slowly due to the cool weather we had last week. I often describe red maple flowers are “petal-less” but that isn’t strictly true. They do have petals but at the stage I photograph them in early spring the petals are very hard to see, so even though they are indeed petal-less in the photo the petals will come along later. You can just see the tops of them coming out of the buds in this shot.  

I took this shot of male red maple flowers that were showing petals. You can see how the anther tipped filaments grow right up out of what almost looks like a tiny tulip.

I like this shot of male red maple flowers because it shows them in all of their stages. In the center you can see some that haven’t yet grown out of the bud and on the left the anthers have grown up out of the bud but they aren’t yet carrying any pollen. On the right the anthers are releasing pollen, which will hopefully find some female flowers. This is the first photo I’ve ever gotten of the male flowers in all stages of growth and I think it happened because of the up down, warm cold weather. Usually you find them all at about the same stage of growth.

The buds on box elder (Acer negundo), which is another member of the maple family, have also opened. The red brown bits are the male anthers, which will dangle at the ends of long filaments before long. I didn’t see any of the fuzzy, lime green female flowers yet but they don’t appear until the leaves just start to show.

Here is a preview of what those stamens of male box elder flowers will look like. Box elder is in the maple family but its wood is soft when compared to other maples. Several Native American tribes made syrup from its sap and the earliest example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

Johnny jump ups have been blooming for weeks now. I love seeing them. They’re pretty, they self-seed readily and will bloom for years, and they ask for nothing.

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

Promises were made by Forsythia…

…and the magnolias.

Bicolor daffodils have arrived.

And lots of hyacinths. They’re beautiful things.

Grape hyacinths are not hyacinths (they’re in the asparagus family) but they do look like upside down bunches of grapes.

These early tulips are very early this year. They looked orange when I was kneeling beside them but now they look red in the photo.

I was surprised that I didn’t see a single bee on this day but it wasn’t because the crocuses weren’t trying. A crocus blossom has three pollen bearing male anthers surrounding the central female stigma, which can be lobed and frilly like this example. I would have enjoyed seeing a pollen covered bee rolling in ecstasy in there.

Google lens tells me these are vernal crocuses (Crocus vernus). I can’t confirm that but I can tell you that they were extremely beautiful and I stood there for a while admiring them without caring what their name was. They, as Georgia O’Keefe once said, became my world for a moment.

That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the beautiful. ~Edgar Allan Poe

Thanks for coming by.

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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 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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Last week we had enough warm days to melt just about all the snow and then we had a rainy day on top of it, so the Ashuelot river was filled nearly to bankful. The word “Ashuelot” is pronounced Ash-will-ot if you’re from this area or Ash-wee-lot if you’re from away. The word is a Native American one meaning “collection of many waters,” and that’s exactly what it is; in Keene and surrounding towns all the streams and tributaries empty into this river, so it can fill quite fast.

I was able to practice my wave catching skills at the river in Swanzey. Nothing teaches you that a river has a rhythm more than trying to catch a curling wave in the viewfinder of a camera. The trick is to match your rhythm to the river’s. Too fast or slow with the shutter release and you’ve missed it.  

Blueberry buds are swelling and the bud scales are starting to pull back a little but it will be a while before we see leaves on them. Blueberries are everywhere you look here and many birds and animals (and humans) rely on a good crop each year. Most years nobody is disappointed. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used them medicinally, spiritually, and as food. One of their favorite uses for them was in a pudding made of dried blueberries and cornmeal.

This is the first time an annual chickweed has appeared on this blog in March but some varieties of the plant are said to be nearly evergreen in milder climates, and we’ve had a mild winter. I think this one is Common chickweed (Stellaria media,) a very pretty little thing to see in March. And it was little; this blossom could easily hide behind a pea. I’ve read that chickweed is edible and is said to be far more nutritious than cultivated lettuce.

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) has suddenly appeared here and there but I’m not seeing a lot of blossoms just yet. Soon I’ll be seeing flowers by the hundreds in some places. It’s a pretty little thing which can also be invasive, but nobody really seems to care.

I thought I saw a lot of frog eggs in this small pond but I couldn’t get a good shot of them. I left the photo in anyway though, because I liked the colors and because I wanted to tell you that spring peepers, the tiny frog with a loud voice, have started to sing. I heard them just the other day and it was a very welcome song.

There is yellow hidden in the willow catkins and I’m guessing that I’ll see flowers this weekend.

There just happened to be a poplar tree beside the willow and it too displayed its fuzzy catkins.

Red maples (Acer rubrum) have responded to the warm temperatures in a big way and though last week I saw a blossom here and there, this week I’m seeing them everywhere. This photo is of the sticky, thread like female stigmas that catch the pollen from male trees. Soon they will become seeds; many millions of them.

Last week I saw no male red maple blossoms but this week I saw thousands, and many were already producing pollen. This usually happens in mid-April, so this year they’re about a month early.

Virtually every part of the beautiful red maple tree is red, including the male stamens.

Male and female red maple flowers often grow on the same tree but this is only the second time I’ve ever seen them grow out of the same bud cluster as these were doing. Just when you think you have nature all figured out it throws you a curve ball.

Last week I looked at this spot and didn’t see a single sign of reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) but this week there was a basket full of them. What a beautiful color. They are also called netted iris; the “reticulata” part of the scientific name  means “netted” or “reticulated,”  and refers to the netted pattern found on the bulbs.

Each petal wore a pretty little badge. If I understand what I’ve read correctly reticulated iris flowers are always purple, yellow and white, but the purple can be in many shades that vary considerably.

But here was a very pretty little reticulated iris that looked blue to me and in fact my color finding software sees several shades of blue. Apparently this plant didn’t read what I read about them always being shades of purple.

I saw a different vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis,) much wilder looking than most of the restrained blossoms I see in spring. Quite often plant breeders have to sacrifice something when they breed for larger or more colorful blossoms, and often what is sacrificed is scent. I think that was the case with this plant because its scent was very weak. Many vernal witch hazels have a scent strong enough to be detected from a block away.

Hundreds of crocuses bloomed in one of my favorite color combinations.

Oh to be a bee, just for a day.

The fuzzy bud scales of magnolias are opening, revealing the buds within. Though the flowers of this one are white its buds are yellow.

American hazelnut catkins (Corylus americana) have taken on their beautiful golden spring color but the tiny male flowers aren’t showing quite yet. The catkins have lengthened and have become soft and pliable in the breeze though, so It won’t be long.

Tiny little female American hazelnut flowers are all over the bushes now so it looks like we’ll have a good crop of hazelnuts again this year. Native Americans used these nuts to flavor soups and also ground them into flour. In Scotland in 1995 a large shallow pit full of burned hazelnut shells was discovered. It was estimated to be 9,000 years old, so we’ve been eating these nuts for a very long time.

Yes that’s a dandelion. A lowly, hated weed to some but in March, to me it is as beautiful as any other flower I’ve seen. I hope you can see the beauty in it too.

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

Thanks for coming by.

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I saw a dandelion in full bloom Saturday even though it was a chilly, blustery day. Call it a weed if you will but to me it was as beautiful as any orchid and I was very happy to see it. Oddly enough though I went looking for coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara,) which is a dandelion look alike that blooms in very early spring, I didn’t find a single one.

Actually I saw a dandelion and a half. I can’t explain the half.

I’ve been watching the American hazelnut catkins (Corylus americana) closely and have finally seen some signs of life in them. In winter they are short and stiff, but as they move into spring they lengthen and become more flexible and blow about in the wind. Since hazels are wind pollinated this is all part of The Plan.

Male hazelnut catkins (and most catkins) are really just a long flower head. The bud scales can be clearly seen in this photo as they spiral around the center stalk of the catkin. Under each bud scale is a male flower loaded with pollen ready to be released to the wind, but for the bud scales to open they have to make room by pulling apart, and this is how the catkins sometimes double in length. As they pull apart and open they also change color and become golden, and that’s because we see the golden pollen rather than the bud scales. The bud scales, I’ve noticed, have just began to pull apart and that’s my signal to begin looking for the tiny crimson, thread like female flowers. It won’t be long now.

This shot of a Cornelian cherry bud (Cornus mas) shows maybe an easier to understand example of how bud scales pull apart to reveal the flower buds they’ve been protecting all winter. The same thing happens on the hazel catkins, but in a slightly different way. Cornelian cherry is in the dogwood family. Its common name comes from its small tart, cherry red fruit which man has eaten for thousands of years, especially in Mediterranean regions. It is one of our earliest blooming shrubs, but the buds are opening slowly this year.

My biggest surprise on this day was finding ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) in bloom because I’ve never seen them bloom so early; they usually bloom in May. This wasn’t just a one flower fluke; there were a few blossoms in a sunny spot on a lawn and they were another example of how topsy turvy this year has been. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen dandelions and ground ivy bloom before spring bulbs, but the bulbs seem to be very stubborn this year. Even the reticulated iris and snow drops which are often the first flowers seen, are barely out of the ground.

You might think that this little flower is calling to insects that aren’t there but I’ve seen a surprising number of them out and about, in spite of the cold.

The daffodils are coming up by the hundreds, but I haven’t seen a single blossom yet

These are the daffodils that I was sure would be blooming on this day but they decided against it, and that was probably a good thing because nights are still falling into the 20s.

This photo of a mallard in ice shows how cold it has been but the thin ice along the river banks didn’t seem to matter to the ducks; they just kept on feeding. I also saw a great blue heron but didn’t get a photo of it.

I was hoping to show you at least one photo of a robin but though I’ve searched for days I haven’t seen a single one, so these tracks will have to do. Were they made by a robin? I have no idea but I found them in a known robin hangout. One day several years ago I was admiring some red maple buds in this spot and a male robin flew right down beside me and began kicking and scratching up leaves while looking right into my eyes and giving me a severe stare the whole time. I’m not sure what it was all about but we parted on good terms, I think.

I admired these red maple buds (Acer rubrum) again just as I had on the day of the robin years ago. The female blossoms had opened and were showing their sticky scarlet stigmas. These tiny flowers look a lot like American hazelnut female flowers, but hazelnut blooms are much smaller. Before long the forests will be a sea of scarlet haze for just a short time, so I have to make plans to climb soon.

Red maple trees can be male or female, or sometimes have both sexes on one tree as this one did. On this day the male flowers had also appeared and were loaded with pollen, as can be seen in this photo. The male flower stamens are actually pinkish red but the abundance of pollen makes them appear yellow green. If the wind does its job before too long each female blossom will become the winged seed pod (samara) that I think we’re probably all familiar with.

Here’s a closer look at the male stamens there in the lower right center, just poking out of the bud scales and as yet pollen free.

I’m guessing that the return to winter in March has extended the maple sugaring season, but the red maples beginning to flower signal the end is near. When the trees begin to blossom the sap can get bitter, but red maples bloom before others. I’ll have to look at some sugar maple buds and see if they’re opening too.

The buds of another member of the maple family, box elder, haven’t seemed to respond to spring just yet. The buds didn’t seem to be doing much but that was okay because I like to look at them for their beautiful whitish blue color. The color is caused by tiny wax crystals, there to reflect and protect the new twigs from harsh sunlight until they toughen up. At that stage they will be reddish. The waxy, dusty coloration rubs right off like it does on grapes, plums, and other fruits. Box elder (Acer negundo) has a special place in my heart because it was the first tree I ever planted. I must have been about 8-10 years old when I pulled a three foot seedling up by the roots at my grandmother’s house and stuffed it into a hole at my father’s house. It grew like there was no tomorrow and shaded the front porch perfectly, which of course was what I had planned all along. Why I was thinking of such things at such a young age is beyond me but there you go; sometimes we just have this inborn itch.

I don’t have any real history with magnolias because nobody in my family ever grew one, but I’ve always loved them just the same, especially the fragrant ones. The bud scales on magnolias are made up of a single furry cap with a seam, and on this example the bud scale edges were beginning to curl. This is a sign that the flower bud inside is swelling and pushing the bud scale off, so it shouldn’t be too long before we see these beautiful flowers again. I hope they don’t blossom too early though; the flower petals often get frost burned and turn brown.

The story of the ugly duckling always comes to mind when I look at shagbark hickory buds (Carya ovata) at this time of year and that’s because most people would probably wonder why I would even bother to take the time to photograph something as plain as this. I do it because these buds have a beautiful secret and I want to be sure I know when it will be revealed so I don’t miss it.

The “it” that I don’t want to miss is the breaking of shagbark hickory buds, because for a short time in mid-May they are one of the most beautiful things to be seen in the forest. I sometimes have to remind myself to breathe when I stumble upon a tree full of them because it’s a sight so beautiful it can take your breath away. This is just one reason of many why spring is my favorite season; the anticipation that comes from knowing that I’m living so close to seeing something so beautiful. “Any day now,” I tell myself as the excitement builds.

If a tiny bud dares unfold to a wakening new world, if a narrow blade of grass dares to poke its head up from an unlit earth, then surely I can rise and stretch my winter weary bones, surely I can set my face to the spring sun. Surely, I too can be reborn. ~Toni Sorenson

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Last Saturday the weather wasn’t cooperating at all. As the above radar image shows there was a thin ribbon of rain from the Midwest to the northeast. In my corner of New Hampshire it was in the mid-30s and we had snow mixed with rain, which translates into a sloppy mess. With the hill climbing trails still covered in snow and ice March continues to be a challenge.

This is what the view out my back door looked like while it snowed.

In spite of a near blinding snow squall this willow’s golden branches lit up this space. Golden willows are one of the earliest signs of spring in this area.

I’m guessing that I won’t be seeing any yellow flowers on the pussy willows (Salix) real soon. Once the snow stopped they had ice on them on this day.

A sedum decided to throw caution to the wind and come up anyway, even if it was snowing. The shoots looked like tiny cabbages.

Buds of American elm (Ulmus americana) are just starting to open. Their flowers are unusual and beautiful and I hope I don’t miss them this year. I know of only two trees with branches low enough to reach.

Last year this magnolia blossomed too early and lost nearly every flower to frost because of it, but this year there is still a single furry bud scale on every bud. They looked a little wet and bedraggled but they’re still protecting the flower buds inside. Soon they’ll fall off and the tree will start to blossom, cold weather or not.

It looked like the bud scales on these box elder buds (Acer negundo) were just starting to open. The buds and young twigs of box elders 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. Box elder is in the maple family and several Native American tribes made sugar from this tree’s sap.

Lichens are at their best in wet weather so I decided to look at a few I hadn’t seen in a while. I can’t speak for the rarity of hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata) but I do know that I rarely see it. This lichen gets its common name from the way it looks like its lobes were hammered out of a sheet of steel. This one grows on a tree in a local shopping mall. It’s the only example that I could confidently lead  someone to if they asked to see one.

On the same tree, just a few inches away, grows a star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris) that produces spores quite regularly. The dark brown apothecia with white rims are fairly easy to see without magnification but there was something else here that I had never seen.

I’ve seen many lichens with apothecia that are cup shaped as this one has but some of these cups were full of water, and that’s something I’ve never seen. I don’t know how or even if this benefits the lichen but I do know that most of them like a lot of water. Star rosette lichen gets its common name from the way its lobes radiate outward like a star.

If you don’t mind getting down on your stomach in the kind of swampy ground that they like to grow in you can sometimes get a peek inside the spathe of a skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) to see its flowers. A spathe is just a modified leaf or bract which kind of wraps around itself and protects the flower bud. As the plant matures a gap opens in the spathe to let in the insects which will pollinate the flowers. This one was open far more than they usually are and I wondered if someone had been there before me, taking a peek inside.

Inside the skunk cabbage’s spathe is the spadix, which is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. The male stamens grow up through the sepals and release their pollen before the female style and pistil grow out of the flower’s center to catch any pollen that visiting insects might carry from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this stage of the plant’s life, and it is thought that it uses the odor to attract flies and other early spring insects. This example had released a large amount of pollen and it was stuck to the insides of the spathe. In 1749 in what was once the township of Raccoon, New Jersey they called the plant bear’s leaf because bears ate it when they came out of hibernation. Since skunk cabbage was and is the only thing green so early in the spring so if the bears woke up too early they had to eat it or go hungry.

Some of the skunk cabbages came up too early and paid for their mistake by being frozen. Now their spathes are shriveled and black. This one had a new green leaf shooting up beside it but its spathe didn’t look good. The leaf will keep the plant alive but it will have to wait until next year to blossom again. There is a time when they’re young that the leaves do look somewhat cabbage like but they grow quickly and lose any resemblance once they age.

I doubt it would help pollinate a skunk cabbage but I did see what I think is a wasp recently. It seemed sluggish; most likely because of the cold. It did finally rear up on its hind legs when I got the camera too close, but I don’t think it was in any position to sting just yet. It seemed like it could barely stand. After a couple of quick shots I left it alone to contemplate the weather.

Reticulated irises (Iris reticulata) are our earliest iris I think, and usually bloom at about the same time as the crocus does, though this year I saw a crocus blossom two weeks ago. This beautiful and tough little plant comes from Turkey, the Caucasus, Northern Iraq and Iran.

This one looked more like an iris, even with the ice on it making its petals curl. Reticulated iris are a much tougher plant than I ever realized and I appreciate them and the other early bloomers showing me that spring is indeed here, even though it still feels like winter.

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

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