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Posts Tagged ‘Scilla’

It’s that time of year when spring ephemeral flowers appear to live out their short lives before the leaves appear on the trees. Once that happens the trees will cast shade deep enough to keep most flowers from blossoming so they grow, bloom and go dormant in about a month’s time. Vernal pools like the one in this photo are good places to look for wildflowers. And frogs and salamanders too.

I find spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) near a vernal pool like the one in the previous photo. They seem to appear overnight, so at this time of year I check the spot where they grow every couple of days. I’m always surprised to see them, because just a day or two earlier there was no sign of them. This photo is of a very unusual spring beauty, like none I’ve ever seen. The white petals usually have purple stripes the same color as the purple anthers in this example, but this one had none. Each flower blossoms for just three days, but the stamens are active only for a day. The stamens consist of, in this case, a white filament tipped by a violet anther. The stamen is the male part of a flower and produces pollen. In a spring beauty the female part of the flower is in the center of the blossom and is called the pistil. It terminates in a three part (tripartite) style.

This example looks more like the spring beauties I know. I always try to find the flower with the deepest color and this was it on this day. I’ve read that it is the amount of sunlight that determines color in a spring beauty blossom. The deeper the shade, the more intense the color, so I look for them in more shaded areas. The Native American Iroquois tribe used the powdered roots of this plant medicinally and the Algonquin people cooked them like potatoes.

I usually see trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) blooming with spring beauties but on this day all I could find were the leaves, which are speckled like the body of a trout. The flowers will probably have appeared by next weekend and there should be many thousands of them in this spot.

Coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) are late this year; I often see them in March but these are the first I’ve seen this year. They like moist to wet soil and these examples were in a roadside ditch. Coltsfoot flowers would be hard to confuse with dandelion but I suppose it happens.

Coltsfoot flowers are flat and dandelions are more mounded. Dandelion stems are smooth and coltsfoot stems have scales. Coltsfoot is said to be the earliest blooming wildflower in the northeast but there are many tree and shrub flowers that appear earlier, so I suppose “earliest” depends on what your definition of a wildflower is. In the past coltsfoot was thought to be good for the lungs and the dried leaves were often smoked as a remedy for asthma and coughs. It was also often used as a tobacco substitute, asthma or not. A native of Europe, it was most likely brought over by early settlers.

After having their flowers frostbitten again and again the red maples (Acer rubrum) are finally free to let go and open all of their blooms, as this photo of the male blossoms shows. Each tiny red anther will become greenish yellow with pollen, which the wind will then carry to the female blossoms.

These are the female (pistillate) flowers of the red maple, just emerging. They are tiny little things; each bud is hardly bigger than a pea and each crimson stigma not much bigger in diameter than an uncooked piece of spaghetti. Once the female flowers have been dusted by wind carried pollen from the male flowers they will begin the process of becoming the beautiful red seeds (samaras) that this tree is so well known for. Many parts of the red maple are red, including the twigs, buds, flowers and seed pods.

Each tiny female red maple flower (stigma) sparkles as if it had been dipped in sugar. They must be very sticky.

American elm (Ulmus americana) flowers form in small clusters. The flower stems (pedicels) are about half an inch long so they wave in the slightest breeze and that makes them very hard to get a good photo of. They are wind pollinated, so waving in the breeze makes perfect sense. Each tiny flower is about an eighth inch across with red tipped anthers that darken as they age.

The whitish feathery bit is the female pistil which protrudes from the center of each elm flower cluster. If the wind brings it pollen from male anthers it will form small, round, flat, winged seeds called samaras. I remember them falling by the many millions when I was a boy; raining down enough so you couldn’t even see the color of the road beneath them.

I finally found a pussy willow (Salix) that was showing some color but I don’t know if it was coming or going. This example looks a lot like the seed pods I see when they’re done flowering, but the gray fuzz hints at its just opening. I’ll have to go back and see it again.

I saw enough crocus blooms on Saturday to fill this entire post with nothing but crocuses, but I thought I’d restrain myself and show just this one, which was my favorite.

I also saw my first daffodil blossom on Saturday. Unfortunately I also saw many with frost bitten buds and leaves that won’t be blossoming this year. It’s a shame that so many were fooled by the early warmth.

The Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas) are finally blooming. The buds have been showing color for over a month but they refused to bloom until they were sure it was warm enough, and that was probably wise. This shrub is in the dogwood family and gets its common name from its red fruit. In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included cornelian cherry fruit. Man has had a relationship with this now little known shrub for about 7000 years. The Persians and early Romans knew it well and Homer, Rumi, and Marcus Aurelius all probably tasted the sour red, olive like fruit, which is high in vitamin C. Cornelian cherry often blooms at just about the same time as forsythias do. Its yellow flowers are very small but there are enough of them to put on a good show.

Japanese andromeda blossoms (Pieris japonica) look like tiny pearlescent glass fairy lights topped with gilded ormolu mounts, worthy of the art nouveau period. Japanese andromeda is an ornamental evergreen shrub that is very popular, and you can see why. Some think the blossoms resemble lily of the valley so another common name for the plant is lily of the valley shrub. Some varieties have beautiful red leaves on their new shoots.

I don’t know what it is that grabs me about a white flower with a simple blue stripe down the center of each petal but striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica) has it. The flowers are much like the scilla (Scilla siberica) that most of us are familiar with in size and shape, but they aren’t seen anywhere near as often and border on rare in this area. They’re worth looking for because they’re very beautiful.

Scilla (Scilla siberica) are also called Siberian squill and they are doing very well this year. Both striped squill and scilla grow to be about ankle high.  Scilla will spread and grow in lawns quite freely, so it’s wise to be careful when planting it. In some places it is considered invasive, but I haven’t ever seen that here. People usually plant it knowing that it will spread into large blue drifts.

Scilla has stripes on its petals and sepals much like striped squill but as far as I can tell they aren’t related. They look great planted together though.

Friends of mine grow hellebores that are very beautiful and when I see them I always wonder why, of all the people I gardened for, not one of them grew hellebores. I can’t even remember anyone asking about hellebores, and that seems odd considering their great beauty. 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. Maybe that’s why nobody I gardened for grew them.

I’ve seen flowers that were as beautiful but it’s hard to name one that could surpass the beauty of this hellebore blossom. It’s hard not to stare at it even here in a photo. it’s the kind of thing that I find very easy to lose myself in; mesmerizing, almost. I wonder how someone cannot love a life that is filled with things like this.

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

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Though he stopped when he saw me watching this male robin was pulling worms from the ground, and that told me that the soil had warmed and thawed enough for things to start growing in it, so off I went last Saturday looking for growing and hopefully blooming things.

I saw a single dandelion blooming a few weeks ago but on this day there were several blooming in the lawn that the robins worked. It’s too bad that chemical companies have convinced so many that dandelions should be hated.  Any flower is a welcome sight at this time of year, even dandelions. Rather than dump chemicals on them maybe we should eat them; when I was a boy my grandmother cooked dandelion greens and served them much like spinach. They’re a good source of Folic acid, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper, Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Manganese. The leaves are higher in beta-carotene than carrots and contain more iron and calcium than spinach. According to the USDA Bulletin “Composition of Foods,” dandelions rank in the top 4 green vegetables in overall nutritional value.

American hazelnut (Corylus americana) is a common roadside shrub that I don’t think many people ever see. When I tell people about the shrubs and the nuts that they bear they always seem surprised.  The best time to find a good stand of hazelnuts is right now, because the male catkins become golden colored and dance in the wind, and they can be seen from quite far away.

So far the hazelnuts have had a rough spring but the tiny female flowers still appear, waiting to be dusted with pollen from the male catkins. If the wind helps with pollination each of those tiny crimson filaments will turn into a sweet little hazelnut.

I was finally able to get a shot of some reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) without snow on them. This is a tough little plant with quite a long blooming period. Unlike bearded irises which grow from large roots and take up quite a lot of space these little flowers grow from bulbs that look something like crocus bulbs. Their leaves also turn yellow and die off in summer like crocus. They’d be a great low maintenance flower for a rock garden.

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. The  “reticulata” part of the scientific name  means “netted” or “reticulated,”  and refers to the netted pattern found on the bulbs.

One big difference between crocuses and reticulated iris is how most crocuses stay closed on cloudy days, while reticulated iris open in any weather.

But on the other hand, crocuses come in more colors than reticulated irises. I think if I were planting a bulb garden I’d have a lot of both.

A German doctor named Leonhardt Rauwolf brought hyacinths from Turkey.to Europe in 1573. The original wild hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis) was blue or pale blue but today hyacinths come in red, blue, white, orange, pink, violet or yellow. It’s hard to tell what color this example will be but I’m sure it’ll be fragrant. Both Homer and Virgil wrote about the hyacinth’s sweet fragrance, and that’s my favorite part of this flower.

For about a month now, every time I’ve gone to see the Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas,) I’ve said “next weekend they’ll be blossoming for sure” but, as the above photo shows; not yet. Surely the 70+ degree temperatures this week will have made it finally bloom. This very unusual, almost unknown shrub isn’t a cherry at all, it is a in the dogwood (Cornus) family and blooms very early in the spring before the leaves appear. It hails from Europe and Asia and has beautiful yellow, 4 petaled flowers that grow in large clusters. This is a not often seen, under-used plant that would be welcome in any garden.

The red maples (Acer rubrum) have also had a time of it this year; with 60 degree temperatures one day and 20s the next they haven’t known whether to bloom or not. The ones that bloomed early paid the price and were frost bitten, but from what I’ve seen many of them didn’t open at all. This bud cluster tells the story; there are male flowers still in the bud, some that had just come out of the bud, and quite a few that were frost bitten.

The female red maple flowers seem to have been a little more level headed and waited until now to bloom. These are the first I’ve seen, just peeking out of the end of the bud. if pollinated they will turn into winged seed pods called samaras that are a favorite of squirrels. Many parts of the red maple are red, including the twigs, buds, flowers and seed pods.

I was surprised to find this Forsythia blooming so soon after our cold snowy weather, but there it was. It’s easy to think of Forsythia being over used and boring but I always look forward to seeing the cheery yellow blossoms after a long cold winter. An embankment with uncountable thousands of its yellow blossoms spilling down and over it can take your breath away. They shout that spring has arrived and it’s hard to ignore them because they are everywhere. I think you’d have a hard time finding a street in this town that doesn’t have at least one.

Before 1850 there were no forsythias here, so spring must have been very different. Much less cheery, I would think.

In my own yard the Scilla are up and in a day or two should be blooming. This fall planted bulb with small blue flowers is also called Siberian squill and comes from Russia and Turkey. It spreads quite quickly and is a good flower to grow in a lawn because it usually goes dormant before the grass needs to be cut. I grow it because it takes care of itself and is my favorite color. These bulbs are easily confused with glory of the snow (Chionodoxa) because the differences are so slight (flattened stamens) that even botanists have trouble telling them apart. It is for that reason that many botanists think the two plants should be classified as one.

Very small plants blossomed in a lawn; so small any one of them would fit in the bottom of a tea cup. I think they’re some type of spring cress; possibly small-flowered bitter cress (Cardamine parviflora.) Each white flower has 4 petals and is very small. None had fully opened on this cloudy day.

I don’t see many snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) but the ones I do see usually bloom right on the heels of skunk cabbage and vernal witch hazels. Their common name is a good one because they’ll blossom even when surrounded by snow. The first part of this plant’s scientific name comes from the Greek gala, meaning “milk,” and anthos, meaning “flower.”  The second part nivalis means “of the snow,” and it all makes perfect sense. Snowdrops contain a substance called galantamine which has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s not a cure but any help is always welcome.

There was still ice on the trails on Saturday, but after a 70 degree Sunday and 84 degrees on Monday and yesterday, I’m guessing that it’s probably all gone now. It can’t disappear quickly enough for me. I can’t remember another winter with so much ice.

As is often the case here in this part of the state all the melting snow and ice has raised the levels of the rivers and streams. There was a flood watch for a couple of days and the Ashuelot River flooded a field or two in outlying areas, but I haven’t heard of anything serious. One of the good things about a few feet of snow is that it has eased the drought. They say we could slip back into a drought without too many dry days, but the threat has eased considerably.

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

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1. Dandelion

I saw my first dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) of the season last Saturday. It was beautiful as they always are, and very welcome.

2. Dandelion Seed Head

But the dandelion that I saw wasn’t the first dandelion of the season. This seed head surprised me.

3. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) still seem a little reluctant to bloom heavily but I do see them. They like moist to wet soil and these two were in a roadside ditch. Coltsfoot flowers would be hard to confuse with dandelion but I suppose it happens.

4. Coltsfoot From Side

Coltsfoot flowers are flat and dandelions are more mounded. Dandelion stems are smooth and coltsfoot stems have scales. Coltsfoot is said to be the earliest blooming wildflower in the northeast but there are tree and shrub flowers that appear earlier, so I suppose “earliest” depends on what your definition of a wildflower is.

5. Crocuses

Crocuses are blooming well now, and I saw a couple of open daffodils but I couldn’t get close to them because they were in the middle of large beds and I couldn’t step on the other plants.

6. Crocuses

I was able to get closer to the crocuses. I used to work for a lady who had quite a few crocuses and also many squirrels and chipmunks and we used to laugh each spring at the odd places that crocus bloomed. They came up in places where neither of us would have planted them so we always blamed the squirrels and / or chipmunks for moving the small bulbs around. It isn’t odd or unusual for flowers to come with memories and I think of her every time I see crocuses. They bring so much pleasure and ask for nothing in return.

7. Reticulated Iris

These reticulated iris had some amazing color, I thought.  My color finding software says the color is orchid in light, medium and dark tones. The yellow is perfect with it.

8.  Cornelian Cherry

In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included cornelian cherry fruit. Man has had a relationship with this now little known shrub for about 7000 years. The Persians and early Romans knew it well and Homer, Rumi, and Marcus Aurelius all probably tasted the sour red, olive like fruit, which is high in vitamin C. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is in the dogwood family and is our earliest blooming member of that family, often blooming at just about the same time as forsythias do. Its yellow flowers are quite small.

9. Hellebore

Friends of mine grow hellebores and this was the first to bloom. I love its beautiful dark color. Since Lent ended on Thursday, March 24 this plant lived up to its common name of Lenten rose. There is one called “Dark and Handsome” that looks much like this one, but I’m not sure if this is it. It’s a beautiful thing.

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 these plants but I haven’t dug one up either.

10. Skunk Cabbage with Foliage

Skunk cabbages seemed to be having a hard time producing pollen this year but I’ve seen a few with pollen now that the maroon and yellow splotched spathes have started opening. They were holding back for a while as if not sure whether they should open or not. This one had a new green leaf shooting up beside it but its spathe was still tightly closed. 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.

11. Skunk Cabbage Spadix

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. 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 the bears had to eat it or go hungry.

12. Male Willow Catkins

Our willows (Salix) finally bloomed after what seemed like a prolonged gray, fuzzy stage. Or maybe I was just impatient, because I always love seeing them in early spring. The male (Staminate) flowers are shown in the above photo. The inner bark and leaves of some willows contain salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Native Americans chewed or made tea from the willow’s leaves and inner bark to relieve fever or toothaches, headaches, or arthritis, and that is why the willow is often called “toothache tree.” It was a very important medicine that no healer would have been without.

13. Female Willow Catkin

The female willow flowers aren’t quite as showy as the male flowers but I’m happy to see them nonetheless. Tomorrow and Monday are supposed to be cold and snowy and it might harm a few flowers. We’ll have to wait and see; early spring flowers are fairly tough.

14. Squill

In my own yard the Scilla has started blooming. This fall planted bulb with small blue flowers is also called Siberian squill and comes from Russia and Turkey. It spreads quite quickly and is a good flower to grow in a lawn because it usually goes dormant before the grass needs to be cut. I grow it because it takes care of itself and is my favorite color.

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.

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1. Robin

I know what you’re probably thinking; since robins stay here all winter now they aren’t really a sign of spring anymore. I’d agree with you up to a point but this photo is here because I saw this bird yanking earthworms out of this lawn and that means the soil has thawed out, and that certainly is a sign of spring. Unfortunately getting a photo of him yanking earthworms out of the ground wasn’t going to happen. He was too quick for me.

2. Female Hazel Blossom

The female flowers of American hazelnut (Corylus Americana) have opened even though there is still snow on the ground. It could be because the temperature finally shot up to 70 degrees, but whatever caused it they’ve opened before the male catkins. It might be that the female flower’s opening signals the male flowers that it’s time to open. I’ve never paid close enough attention to know for sure. I looked back at last year’s blog photos and found that I first saw these flowers on exactly the same day in 2014, so apparently the severity of winter doesn’t affect their bloom time.

3. Female Hazel Blossom with Paper Clip

Female hazelnuts are among the smallest flowers that I know of. I understand that not everyone who reads this blog has seen a female hazel flower though, so this year I clipped a standard 1 inch paperclip to the branch to give you an idea of just how small these tiny beauties really are. You have to look very carefully to find them; I can just barely see them by eye.

4. Male Hazel Catkins

I was surprised to find the female hazelnut flowers open when the male flowers, shown here, hadn’t even started shedding pollen yet, but maybe this is the way it happens every year. I’ve got to pay a little closer attention.

5. Female Red Maple Flowers

Female red maple flowers (Acer rubrum) look a lot like female American hazelnut flowers, but they are much bigger and easier to see, thankfully. The female flowers mostly wait for the wind to blow some pollen their way, but bees occasionally visit them too.  Female flowers usually happen in clusters with each flower having 5 sepals, 5 petals, and 2 styles. Once pollinated they quickly become pairs of bright red, slightly hairy samaras.  I’ve read that you can find yellow or orange samaras, but I’ve only seen red.

6. Male Red Maple Flowers-2

Each male flower is about 1/8″ long with 5 sepals, and 5 petals like the female flower, but instead of styles has several stamens. The sepals and petals are usually red and difficult to tell apart. Anyone who understands flower parts should easily recognize the male red maple flower because of its stamens, which resemble the stamens of other flowers like lilies, daylilies, tradescantia and many others.

7. Maple Flowers

Each year I try to get a photo of a red maple tree flowering and usually don’t have any luck but this year the sun was in just the right spot to illuminate the flowers. There are many thousands of flowers on a single tree. This means that maple sugaring season has ended. Once the flower buds open the sap becomes bitter.

8. Crocus

I’m starting to see more and more crocus blossoms. The daffodils should bloom soon. They are budded now but not showing any color yet.

9. Bee in a Crocus

This blossom had what I think was a honey bee in it. Its pollen sacs were bulging but it was rolling all around inside the flower as if it had reached bee nirvana and was in an ecstatic frenzy.

10. Single Crocus

When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.  ~Georgia O’Keeffe

11. Scilla

The scilla (Scilla siberica) I planted a few years ago are showing some color. They are also starting to multiply a bit, I’m happy to see. As soon as I raked the winter’s fallen oak leaves off them every squirrel in the neighborhood started digging in the newly uncovered soil. At first I thought they were digging up the scilla bulbs, but they were just digging up the acorns they had buried last fall.

In the book Suburban Safari; a Year On The Lawn, author Hannah Holmes tells how scientists have found that squirrels eat white oak acorns immediately and bury red oak acorns to eat the following year. That’s because the squirrels somehow know that white oak acorns germinate in the same autumn that they fall from the tree and red oak acorns don’t germinate until the following year. The red oak acorns are good for storing but the white oak acorns aren’t, so the next time you see a squirrel burying an acorn it’s a safe bet that it’s from a red oak.

 12. Snow Ment

It’s great to see water instead of ice and snow in the woods.

13. Runoff

We had some rain last week and the soil is saturated so the water really can’t seep into the ground. Instead it runs downhill.

14. Pond Ice

The snow was plowed off this pond all winter to make a place to skate and you can see how the darker plowed ice is melting faster than that which wasn’t plowed, over on the right.  It’s a good lesson in how darker things absorb more heat from the sun. I always have to smile when I hear people complain about the dirty snowbanks in spring. They don’t seem to realize that they melt a lot faster than the clean ones.

Over the years many plow trucks have broken through this ice and ended up on the bottom of the pond. Luckily it wasn’t ever deep enough to harm the driver, but the trucks needed an overhaul and the driver a cup of good hot coffee.

15. Ashuelot

The banks of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey are almost snow free, but on this day you could still see some way down at the far end where it makes a turn. There is still plenty in the woods, too.

16. Canada Goose

Canada geese have returned to the river and are still staying just out of comfortable camera range.

 17. Ashuelot Wave

There is enough melt and rainwater flowing into the Ashuelot River to make some nice big waves again. I like to watch them but I also like trying to get photos of them. When you watch you can tune in to the rhythm of the river but only in a photo can you see all the color, movement and beauty that you missed when everything was happening so quickly.

It’s spring fever, that’s what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

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This spring it was as if someone had thrown a switch and turned on all the bird songs, all at once. One day it was quiet and the next it seemed like there was a bird symphony playing. Now the flowers are following along-last weekend there were a scant few but now, after 2 or 3 days with the temperature hovering around 70 degrees, they are everywhere.

 1. Crocus

This is the first crocus I’ve seen this year. As the week wore on many more followed.

 2. Scilla

Scilla (Scilla siberica) was the first to bloom in my yard. The oak leaves are a gift that the winds bring me each fall and spring. I don’t have an oak in my yard.

 3. Iris reticulata

I found this clump of Iris reticulata growing at the local college.  I like the dark violet color of these dwarf blossoms.

 4. Cornelian Cherry Blossoms

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is just coming into bloom with clusters of small yellow flowers. This large shrub has nothing to do with a cherry tree but is in the dogwood family and comes from the Black Sea region. The fruit resembles a red olive and matures in the fall. It is very sour but high in vitamin C, and has been eaten throughout recorded history. The Persians, ancient Greeks and Early Romans would all recognize these flowers.

5. Vernal Witch Hazel Blossoms

I just learned that in previous posts I misidentified this shrub as vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis.) It lives in a local park and is most likely a cross between Japanese witch hazel (Hamamelis japonica ) and Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis.)  It has just about finished blooming after starting in February. Its very fragrant flowers are smaller but much more numerous than those of autumn witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana.) Vernal witch hazel is a native of the southern states and is also called Ozark witch hazel. Its hardiness this far north is doubtful. Sorry about the confusion.

6. Striped Squill aka Puschkinia scilloides

Striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides) resembles scilla, which is also called Siberian squill. I like the blue stripe on the petals, which is how the plant gets its common name. These flowers are slightly fragrant. The squills come from Europe and Asia.

 7. Forsythia Blossoms

This is the first forsythia I’ve seen blooming. Soon they will be seen on nearly every street in every town in the region.  I know of a place where a long row of old forsythia shrubs grow at the top of an embankment beside the road. When they bloom in the spring it looks as if a yellow waterfall is flowing over and down the embankment and people from all over New England come to view and photograph them.

 8. Coltsfoot

I took another photo of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara ) so those who don’t know the plant can see the scaly stems that are quite different than dandelion stems.  These scales are one way the plant protects its vascular system against freezing in cold weather. The leaves, which some say resemble a horse’s hoof, don’t appear until the flowers have finished blooming. This plant has been used medicinally for centuries and that is most likely why it was brought over from Europe by the first colonists.

9. Hazelnut Flower

One of the smallest flowers that I know of is the female blossom of the American hazelnut (Corylus americana.) To give you a sense of just how small they are, the bud that the flowers grow from is slightly smaller than a BB that you would use in an air rifle. The crimson thread-like bits are the stigmas of the unseen female flowers, waiting for the wind to bring them some pollen from the golden male catkins.

10. Elm Flowers

The green and purple blossoms of American elm (Ulmus americana) are just starting to show. Soon the mature, wind pollinated flowers with bright red anthers will hang at the ends of long, thin filaments called pedicels.

 11. Red Maple Buds

Red maples (Acer rubrum) still have their crimson flower parts tucked up inside the buds but the ends of the bud scales have come off, meaning the flowers will appear any day now.

Stretching his hand up to reach the stars, too often man forgets the flowers at his feet.  ~Jeremy Bentham

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Here are some of the things I’ve seen in woods, parks and yards this week.

 1. Skunk Cabbage in Snow

The skunk cabbage flowers (Symplocarpus foetidus) just shrugged off the recent snow and melted their way through it. These plants use cellular respiration to produce energy in the form of heat, and can raise the air temperature around themselves enough to melt snow and ice. The process is called thermogenesis, and very few plants have this ability. In spite of being able to fuel their own furnaces, these plants don’t seem to be in any hurry to grow leaves. You can see a small one just starting between the two flowers.

 2. Amber Jelly Fungus aka Exidia recisa

Amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) looks like cranberry jelly to me, but the software I use to cheat color blindness sees more brown than anything else. This fungus likes to grow on willow trees and is also called willow brain fungus. It also grows on alders and poplars, and that is where I usually find it.

3. Red Maple Buds

The plum colored bud scales of red maples (Acer rubrum) have opened enough to let the tomato red flower buds begin warming in the sun. It won’t be too much longer before we see the bright red blossoms dangling from this tree’s branches.

4. American Elm Buds

The oval, flat, pointy buds of American elm (Ulmus americana) also have plum colored scales, but what they hide inside is much browner than that of red maple. Before Dutch elm disease wiped out most of our elms in the 50s and 60s Keene, New Hampshire had so many huge old elms that it was called the Elm City. Many businesses in the area still use Elm City in their names, even though most of the trees are now gone. There are a few hardy survivors widely scattered about the region though, and I visited one of them to get this picture. Elm flowers are beautiful enough to warrant a return trip.

5. Shagbark hickory Bud

The buds of shagbark hickory (Carya ovate) won’t win any beauty contests but they are slowly unfurling themselves, just as the earth is slowly warming and awakening to welcome spring.  There is no doubt that nature is turning to a new season, whether we are watching or not.

6. Scilla

Speaking of awakening-the scilla (scilla siberica) bulbs that I planted 2 years ago are just starting to show some color. It’ll be nice to see their cheery blue blossoms under the honeysuckles at the edge of the forest again. These bulbs are easily confused with glory of the snow (Chionodoxa) because the differences are so slight (flattened stamens) that even botanists have trouble telling them apart. It is for that reason that many botanists think the two plants should be classified as one.

 7. Cornelian Cherry Bud aka Cornus mas

We’re lucky to have a cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) in a local park and I was happy to see it showing some color. This very unusual, almost unknown shrub isn’t a cherry at all-it is a in the dogwood (Cornus) family and blooms very early in the spring before the leaves appear. It hails from Europe and Asia and has beautiful yellow, 4 petaled flowers that grow in large clusters. This is a rarely seen, under-used plant that would be welcome in any garden.

8. Box Flower Buds

Also getting ready to bloom was this boxwood shrub (Buxus sempervirens.)  Though the buds are white, soon small greenish yellow flowers will line each stem at the leaf axils. This shrub is very common and is often used for hedges.

9. Oak Rough Bullet Gall

Rough bullet galls on oaks are caused by the oak rough bullet gall wasp (Disholcaspis quercusmamma.) According to the Iowa State University Extension Service, in the fall the adult wasp chews its way out of the gall and lays its eggs in the dormant terminal buds of the oak host tree. In the spring when the egg hatches and the white, legless larvae feeds the oak tree will grow around it, completely enclosing it in a gall. The larva feeds on the inside of the gall, becomes an adult, and the cycle repeats itself. These galls are found only on bur oak, (Quercus macrocarpa,) and swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor.) The galls don’t hurt the tree, but they do excrete a sticky substance which attracts ants and bees.

 10. Opened Goldenrod Gall

 In this case the cycle didn’t get to repeat itself, because a bird pecked its way into this goldenrod gall and ate the fly larva it found inside. If the larva had escaped the gall on its own the evidence would be a tiny, round hole-not the large, ragged gash seen in the photo. Chickadees, woodpeckers, and even some beetles eat the larva of the goldenrod gall fly (Eurosta solidaginis.)

 11. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

I went back to visit the one scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) that I know of in this area to see what affect the recent cold and snow had on it. It doesn’t seemed to have changed at all since I saw it last month, except maybe for a few more flat, pale orange fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) It grows on granite in full sun.

Only with a leaf
can I talk of the forest.
~Visar Zhiti

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Here in the southwest corner of New Hampshire we’re getting into three straight weeks of cloudy weather. When the sun peeks out from behind the clouds everyone seems to stop-as if they need a moment to remember what it is.

1. Red Winged Blackbird Tree

One day while I was out walking the clouds parted long enough to get a teasing glimpse of blue sky and sunshine. This tree is a favorite perch for red winged blackbirds. I didn’t see any in the tree but I could hear several, so that’s a good sign.

 2. Black Witch's Butter

I saw some black jelly fungi nearby (Exidia glandulosa.) With its matte finish and pillow like shapes it doesn’t look like other jelly fungi, but that’s what it is. I find it on alders and oaks in this area. It’s called black witch’s butter or black jelly roll.

 3. Orange Jelly Fungus

Orange jelly fungus (Dacrymyces palmatus) seems to seep out from beneath tree bark, which makes sense since jelly fungi are actually parasites that grow on the mycelium of other fungi. Jelly fungi can be found throughout the winter. This one grew on a fallen hemlock limb.

4. Scilla Shoot

The scilla I planted 2 years ago has come up already, but I was even more surprised to see roots already coming from acorns that the squirrels buried last fall. Scilla is also called Siberian squill (Scilla siberica.) The small blue flowers will be a welcome sight.

 5. Beard Lichen on Birch

Bristly beard lichen (Usnea hirta) is common and can be seen on birch limbs or growing directly on the trunk of pine trees in this area. It likes the high humidity found near ponds and streams.

6. Hazel Nut Husks

The husks of hazel nuts (Corylus) make good, dry homes for spiders, apparently. A large, shallow pit full of the remains of hundreds of thousands of burned hazelnut shells, estimated to be 9,000 years old, was found in Scotland in 1995. Man has been enjoying eating these nuts for a very long time.

7. Cushion Moss aka Leucobryum

 In cushion mosses (Leucobryum) each cushion shaped group is made up of thousands of individual plants. The leaves of these plants have outer layers of cells that are dead and which fill with water. This water filled outer coating helps protect the living cells by slowing dehydration. When the cushion does dry out it turns a much lighter green and can even look white.

8. Turkey Tails

Turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) have been peeking out from under the snow for weeks now-the snow is melting very slowly.

9. Frosted Grain-Spored Lichen

This frosted grain-spored lichen (Sarcogyne regularis) has reddish brown discs that have waxy, reflective crystals dusted (or frosted) over their surfaces. The crystals are called pruina and make the discs appear bluish gray. At a glance they appear to be Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) but there are differences.

10. Thistle in Winter

Its sharp thorns couldn’t protect this thistle from winter’s wrath, but it wasn’t eaten.

11. Sunset Through Pines

Glimpses, that’s all we’ve see of the sun-just long enough to feel a little of its warmth and then it’s gone again. The weather people have been promising all week that we will see sunshine all weekend. It’s too early right now to tell what today will bring, but I hope their prediction is accurate.

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold:  when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. ~Charles Dickens.

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