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Posts Tagged ‘Orange Vernal Witch Hazel’

Days above freezing (32 °F) and nights below freezing get tree sap flowing from the roots to the branches, and that means a lot of work for maple syrup producers. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup and our season usually lasts only 4 to 6 weeks, so they’re very busy at this time of year. Sugaring season usually starts in mid-February but this year it was slightly ahead of schedule, so we might see a bit more than our average 90,000 gallons.

Of course flowing sap means swelling buds, so I had to go and see what was happening. The elongated buds on this red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) were a surprise because normally they’d be almost perfectly round at this time of year. I have a feeling that they’re opening too soon, but we’ll see. I heard on the news that this February was our second mildest on record, so that might explain a few over anxious buds. When these buds open beautiful deep purple leaves will begin to unfold and then they’ll quickly turn green, so I’ll have to keep my eye on them.

Red maple (Acer rubra) buds have just started to swell a bit, as seen in the bud at about two o’clock there on the right. The outer layer of bud scales have started to pull back on several other buds as well. Red and sugar maple buds tell syrup producers when their time is nearly up, because once the trees start to blossom the sap can be bitter.

Native Americans used to tap box elders (Acer negundo) and make syrup from their sap but I don’t think today’s syrup producers tap them. They’re in the maple family but it seems to me that I’ve read that it takes too many gallons of sap to make syrup, and that isn’t profitable for today’s producers. This example looked like the bud scales might have been just starting to open. The earliest known Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from the wood of a box elder.

The daffodils that came up before the last snow storm didn’t seem to be hurt by it at all, and that’s probably because it was relatively warm when it fell. It doesn’t always have to be below freezing for snow to fall. Last year these bulbs lost almost all of their foliage to cold.

I saw that some reticulated irises had come up too. These are usually the first flowers to bloom, even beating crocuses and snowdrops. I’ve seen snow and ice on their blossoms, and they just shrugged it off.

Odd that I didn’t see any crocus shoots but I did see these tulips. It seems very early for tulips.

In just a week the willow catkins had emerged from their bud scales. When I last checked there was no sign of them.

Before long each “pussy” will be a yellow flower. Male flowers are always brighter yellow than the female flowers. Willows cross breed freely and it’s always hard to tell exactly which species you’re looking at. Even Henry David Thoreau said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused.” I know how he felt.

There isn’t anything special about this photo, other than it shows that ice is melting from our streams and ponds, but I took it because this is where I felt that first warm breath of spring on the breeze. You can feel it and you can sense it and when you do you want to run home and throw open the windows or hug someone or dance in the street; anything to celebrate winter’s few last gasps. We might get more snow and more cold, but there is no stopping spring now.

The Ashuelot River is still alarmingly high and as I write this heavy rain is predicted Friday which, by the time you see this post, will have been yesterday. My plan is to go out today (Saturday) and see what if any damage was done. I grew up just a few yards from the river and each spring it used to do this, and it seemed that there was always a certain tightness in the air while everyone wondered if it would stay within its banks. It usually did.

Plenty of water was flowing over the dam but it wasn’t lowering the water level any. It has to flow down the Ashuelot and Connecticut Rivers before it reaches the Atlantic, and that takes time. I would guess that there are many obstructions between here and there.

At this time of year mud becomes first and foremost in many people’s minds, especially those who live on dirt roads. Mud season is our unofficial fifth season, and in mud season roads can become car swallowing quagmires. Many roads have weight limits imposed on them until the mud dries up, and any deliveries that involve heavy trucks are put on hold, usually until April or May. Some roads may even have to be closed.

According to Wikipedia Mud Season is “a period in late winter/early spring when dirt paths such as roads and hiking trails become muddy from melting snow and rain,” but that isn’t really it at all. Melting snow and rain do indeed make trails muddy, but in a cold winter like the one we’ve had the ground can freeze to a depth of 3-4 feet, and when things begin to thaw in spring they thaw from the top down. The top 16-18 inches of road thaws but all the meltwater has nowhere to go because it is sitting on top of the rock hard frozen ground two feet below. The soil at the surface then liquefies and acts like quicksand, and the above photo shows the result. Note that this car even had chains on the wheels when it got stuck.

Spring is when many animals like squirrels, skunks and raccoons get extra active. Skunks for instance eat grubs they find in the soil, so thawed ground is a magnet for them and you can often wake to a lawn full of small holes where they’ve dug. Unfortunately many people don’t realize that the skunks are doing them a great service by eating the grubs, because the grubs eat the roots of the grass and can kill it. The small holes they dig grow over quickly and by April or May you’d never know they had been there at all. The squirrel was also happy the ground had thawed and it was digging up acorns buried last fall.

Skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) came up quickly but when I saw them they looked like they had just come up, because the mottled maroon and yellow spathes hadn’t opened yet. Once the spathe opens you can see the spadix within, and that’s where the small greenish flowers grow.

You can just see how this one was starting to open down the split over its length. Since these photos are from last weekend I’m guessing that I’ll find quite a few open today. Hopefully I’ll be able to get photos of the tiny flowers.

Through a process called thermogenesis skunk cabbages can raise their temperature as much as 50 ° F above the surrounding air temperature and in so doing can melt their way through ice and snow. Why they want to come up so early is one of those mysteries of nature. There are very few insects out right now, but I do see them occasionally.

The spring blooming (Vernal) witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) were blooming in a local park. They are one of our earliest flowers and after a long winter much loved. I wasn’t surprised to see them because I’ve seen them blossom even after a foot of snow and near zero temperatures last year. Though they are native to the U.S. they don’t grow naturally this far north, which seems odd since they can stand so much cold.

Witch hazels are pollinated by winter moths which raise their body temperature as much as 50 degrees by shivering. This allows them to fly and search for food when it’s cold. I’ve never seen one but I’ve seen plenty of seed pods on witch hazels, so they must be doing their job. These flowers were very fragrant with a clean, spicy scent.

Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men. ~Chinese Proverb

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Male and Female Alder Catkins

I’ve tried many times to get a fairly good photo of male and female speckled alder catkins (Alnus incana) together but always failed until this time. The male catkin is the large golden object on the left and the female catkins are the long brown pointy objects on the right. They grow on the same bush but are very hard to get in the same photo.

Brown and purple scales on the male alder catkin are on short stalks and surround a central axis. There are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers, which are usually covered in yellow pollen.

2. Female Alder Catkins

Each female speckled alder catkin is cone shaped and about a half inch long. A catkin, botanically speaking, is a slim, cylindrical flower cluster, usually with no petals. It is also called an ament. When I look for alder flowers I can only see a faint hint of red in the right light; the flowers are too small to see without a camera or loupe.

3. Female Alder Catkins

Each flower is a thin reddish strand that is the stigma; the part of the flower that receives the pollen. Normally a flower’s central pistil is made up of the stigma on the end of a style which then connects to the ovary. These flowers are so small that I can’t think of anything to compare them to except a hair, but they are bigger in diameter than that. They are certainly the smallest flowers that I try to photograph.

4. Hazel Catkins

The late afternoon sun turned the catkins of American hazel (Corylus americana) to gold. American hazel is a common roadside shrub that I don’t think many people ever see. When I tell people about it and the hazelnuts that it bears they always seem surprised. I wonder if that’s because they like hazelnut flavored coffee.

5. Hazel Catkins 2

The male hazel catkins are just starting to release their pollen. It pays to watch them develop because once they’re releasing pollen the tiny female flowers will soon begin to blossom.

6. Hazel Female Flower

The female hazel blossom is another flower that it’s hard to convey the size of. They are simple sticky crimson stigma just like the alders we saw previously, but since they grow from a bud rather than a catkin they’re slightly easier to see. I still have to look for a reddish blush though, because they’re too small for me to see. Luckily the camera can see very small things.

7. Golden Willow

The willow trees have taken on their golden spring crown but our willow shrubs are still holding on to their furry gray catkins. Maybe this will be the day that they bloom. It’s supposed to sunny and warm.

8. Crocus

Crocuses are blooming a little more but still seem a bit hesitant to really let go and bloom to their full potential. It could be the up and down weather.

9. Crocus

They were in the shade so these crocus blossoms didn’t seem to want to open but that was fine, because I was loving them just as they were. I’ve never seen this variety before.

10. Reticulated Iris

Reticulated irises (Iris reticulata) are our earliest iris I think, and usually bloom at about the same time as crocus. I love these examples for their color, though I’m not sure what it is. I see blue but my color finding software sees both blue and purple. I’m happy believing they’re all blue. This beautiful little plant comes from Turkey, the Caucasus, Northern Iraq and Iran.

11. Skunk Cabbage1

Something strange is happening to the skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) this year. The spathes, which are seen here, aren’t opening fully and the flowers on the spadices inside aren’t producing pollen. Normally you would be able to see the spadix with its flowers inside the spathe at this time of year, dusted with pollen. They’re noting that the same thing is happening with skunk cabbages in New York. It’s a mystery.

12. Male Red Maple Flowers

Many of the male red maple flowers I’ve seen have stopped producing pollen already.

13. Female Red Maple Flowers

But the female red maple flowers seem to be still waiting to be pollinated.

14. Yellow Witch Hazel

The yellow vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis) that grows in a local park was timid and slow to get started this year but now it’s blooming better than I’ve ever seen it. Every branch is loaded with strap shaped petals.

15. Orange Witch Hazel

The orange vernal witch hazel’s branches are as full of blossoms as the yellow but these flowers are smaller with shorter petals. But what they lack in size is more than made up for with fragrance. I’ve never smelled anything else like it and standing downwind from a shrub full of these flowers is like smelling a bit of heaven. It’s such a fresh, clean scent.

16. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) has just started poking out from under the leaves to bloom. These examples were quite small as can be seen by comparing them to the acorn cap in the upper left corner. I expect that I’ll see many more this weekend.

17. Robin

It’s always a little surprising when a bird or animal acts like it has no fear of humans by getting close to you but it also means a great opportunity for photos, and I thanked this robin for swooping down beside me and posing.  Robins used to be harbingers of spring but the people who know birds say that many stay with us year round. That may be, but over the last few years I’ve watched their numbers increase each spring. It’s almost as if someone flipped a switch and suddenly there are flocks of robins everywhere.

18. Snowy Road

Once again the warmth and sunshine gave way to winter’s return, but thankfully it was a short visit. The streaks in the sky in this photo were made by falling snowflakes just after sunrise.

19. Half Moon Pond

This photo was taken in the afternoon of our snow day. By the time it got dark most of the snow had melted but the rest of the week turned cloudy and cool.

20. Red Elderberry Bud

The buds on the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) have opened and they didn’t seem to mind the snow. There’s a lot going on in there. The part that looks like it has fingers will be a leaf; when the bud scales are closed tightly one leaf on each side wrap around the flower bud to protect it. The flower buds will be deep purple soon, and will resemble lilac buds for just a short time. As time passes they’ll become greenish white flowers. I hope I can show them to you when they’re at their most beautiful.

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! ~Sitting Bull

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a happy Easter.

 

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