Posts Tagged ‘Prunus’

A question I usually hear at this time of year is “What are those white flowered trees and bushes along the roadsides?” Since there are countless white flowered trees and shrubs that bloom in the spring and a positive identification can mean checking the color of the tiny hairs found on the underside of leaves or counting how many seeds the fruit contains, that question is impossible to answer. So, this post is more about my passing on the little that I know about these trees and shrubs than positive identification. 

At this time of year a flowering tree with this shape would lead me to believe it was an apple (Malus) or crabapple. Crabapples are a subspecies of apple and the biggest difference is size. This is a crabapple I found growing wild along the side of the road. Crabapples and apples don’t often grow tight together in thickets, but it’s common to see them blooming along the edge of the woods. They’re usually seen tucked in among the evergreens every few miles and can get quite tall. This one just happened to be out in the open. Here is a close up of an apple blossom. My grandmother loved these fragrant beauties and as a boy I used to bring her armloads of them.  Apple blossoms are about the size of a nickel. They may be smaller if they are flowering crab apple blossoms. A tangled mess like this would lead me to suspect either hawthorn or wild plum. These are native wild plums (Prunus Americana) in this thicket and I found them by following the fragrance.  Plums have an incredible fragrance that won’t be forgotten once it is experienced. Like hawthorns, plum trees have thorns so care should be taken when getting in close to them.  These are wild plum blossoms. They are also about the size of a nickel, much like an apple blossom.  Small, one inch, edible red fruits will ripen by mid-summer. Like most of the white spring flowering trees, chokecherries (Prunus) and chokeberries (Aronia) grow on the edge of the forest. Though they look alike from a distance, chokeberries and chokecherries are only distantly related in the rose family. The common name is the giveaway here: A cherry is a stone fruit with one seed, so the chokecherry will have one seed. A berry will have multiple seeds- in the case of the chokeberry 5 or fewer.  Chokeberry flower clusters are smaller than chokecherry and kind of flat on top. Chokecherry flower clusters are usually long and cylindrical like a bottle brush. Positive identification between these two is important because chokecherry leaves and seeds contain prussic acid which can convert to cyanide under the right conditions, and it wouldn’t be good to eat too many seeds. The simplest way to be sure is by counting the seeds in a piece of fruit before picking and eating from the tree. Chokecherry flower cluster. Individual flowers are quite small-less than the diameter of a dime. Hmm. 5 white petals just like all the previous flowers, but where are the reproductive parts? The answer is that they’re right in the flowers where they belong-the small flowers in the center of this group, that is. The large flowers around the perimeter are about the size of a quarter or slightly larger and are sterile so they don’t need male and female flower parts. These are the flowers of the hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides.)The hobblebush is a viburnum and appears as a small shrub at the forest edge or in clearings. The viburnum family is huge and contains many shrubs with beautiful and fragrant flowers. Many are used as landscape specimens. George Washington liked the hobblebush so much that he ordered five of them for Mount Vernon. The name comes from their habit of growing in dense thickets and tangling (or hobbling) horses. Another example of a hobblebush flower cluster. These clusters are between the size of a softball and baseball. Each of the smaller central flowers will become a bright red berry. This is another white flowered shrub growing on the edge of the forest, but its flowers are much smaller than that of the hobblebush. These flowers seem to float just between the understory shrubbery and the tree canopy. This is the shadbush (Amelanchier Canadensis,) so named because they blossomed when the shad fish ran in the rivers in spring. The common name serviceberry comes from their habit of blooming for Easter services. They are also called chuckle-berry, currant-tree, Juneberry, shadblow, and sugarplums. This native plant can grow in the form of a shrub or tree and can be anywhere from 5 to 30 feet tall. This shows one type of shadbush blossom. Naturalists and botanists have been arguing for years over the many native shadbush species and hybrids. The 5 white flower petals can appear quite different in each, but none of the several variations that I’ve seen have had blossoms bigger than a nickel. All of them seem to have multiple large stamens. Shadbushes bloom earlier than the other shrubs and trees shown here but are often still in bloom when the others bloom. The flowers appear before the leaves, unlike apples. Small, reddish purple to purple, apple shaped fruits follow in June. The fruit is a berry similar in size to a blueberry and has from 5-10 seeds. They taste best when they are more purple than red.

I hope this information will be a help to all of those who wonder what those white flowers along the roadsides are. This doesn’t cover all of them, but it’s a start. Thank you for stopping in.

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