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Posts Tagged ‘Spring Flowering Bulbs’

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are having a great year and I’m seeing lots of them. They usually grow in the forest in places that gets an hour or two of sunlight, but this year they seem to be everywhere. They sparkle like the first snowflakes of winter on the forest floor. The Trientalis part of the scientific name means “one third of a foot” in Latin and four inches is just about how tall they grow.

 I always like to see how many flowers I can find on a single starflower plant and this year I’m seeing many with three flowers. I’ve seen four flowers twice but one of the flowers had passed each time. It used to be that seeing three flowers was rare and seeing four was almost unheard of, but they seem to have more flowers each year now. More flowers are always a good thing, in my opinion.

Wood anemones (Anemone quinquefolia) grow alongside trout lilies in many places and though the trout lilies didn’t do well this year the anemones did. Anemones are sun lovers and they bloomed well, so it can’t be a lack of sunlight that caused of the lack of trout lily blossoms.

Much like a bloodroot blossom the petals of an anemone have almost imperceptible veins that show only in the right light. I was lucky enough to be there and able to capture it when the lighting was right.

There’s nothing left to see of them where I go, but I met a friend on a trail one day and he said the trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) in his yard were blooming beautifully. What the differences were between his yard and the places I visited, I don’t know.

Crabapples are blooming beautifully this year and some trees are so full of blossoms you almost can’t see the branches. The crabapple is the only apple truly native to North America and there are four species of them. They are Malus fusca, Malus coronaria, Malus angustifolia and Malus ioensis. The tree in my own yard was full of blossoms last year and this year I couldn’t find a single one.

Apples are also doing well. We’re lucky to have wild apple and crabapple trees on forest edges almost everywhere you look. Many people don’t realize that apples aren’t native because they’ve been with us for so long. My grandmother had a few trees which, by the time I came along, were grown more for their flowers than for fruit. They were very fragrant and I have many happy memories of bringing branches full of flowers upstairs to her.

The fragrance of lilacs is all I smell when I go on my daily walks now. Almost every house on any street I walk on has at least one, but though it is the state flower of New Hampshire it is not native to North America. I’m glad we have them though. It just wouldn’t be spring without them.

I know of only two places where rare dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) grows and in one of them, I was happy to find many seedlings this year. This one’s flowers had deeply pleated petals, which is something I can’t remember ever seeing. You have to search for the very small plants because they don’t like disturbed ground and so will only grow in soil that has been untended for many years. I find them by a forested stream in ground that has never been cultivated that I know of.

Plants are very small and most will easily fit inside a teacup. Individual dwarf ginseng flowers are about 1/8″ across and have 5 white petals, a short white calyx, and 5 white stamens. The flowers might last three weeks, and if pollinated are followed by tiny yellow fruits. This is not the ginseng used in herbal medicine and it should never be picked.

There are close to 45 species of pussytoes (Antennaria), which makes identifying them difficult, but they are popping up in lawns everywhere right now. They’re a good sign that the lawn has poor soil, because this plant likes to grow in sandy, rocky, almost gravel like soil. Pussytoes are a favorite of many butterfly species so they’re an important plant. Another common name for the plant is everlasting. Its female flowers seen in this photo.

The flowers of the pussytoes plant are said to look like cat’s paws, and that’s where they get their common name. Someone also thought the stamens on a male pussytoes flower, seen here, looked like butterfly antennae. I don’t know about that but that’s where the Antennaria part of the scientific name came from. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat coughs, fevers, bruises, and inflammations.

I learned a long time ago that trying to identify small yellow flowers can make you crazy so I pass most of them by, but this one follows me wherever I go. It could be a dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis), which is native.

Whatever its name is I think the bright yellow flowers are pretty. I see them blooming everywhere right now.

Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) is an old-fashioned shrub that I’m not sure is even sold any more, but back when I was gardening it was fairly common. This one is very old and large, and it was just coming into bloom when I found it.

It’s hard to mistake a Japanese quince for any other shrub. Its pinkish orange blooms appear on thorny branches long before its leaves do. It’s in the apple family and has edible fruit that is said to make excellent jelly. I worked for a lady who called it Japonica, which is what it was called in the 1800s. I planted a quince hedge once for some people and it worked out well.

If you happen to be a violet lover this is your year. I’ve never seen so many.

I thought these were dog violets but if I go by the longish throat hairs they can’t be, because dog violets have short, stubby throat hairs. I learned that recently by reading the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog. It’s one of my favorites and it can be found over there on the right.

And what about this violet that looks like someone splattered it with paint? I found it in a garden at a local park.

Its name is “Freckles” (Viola Sororia Freckles) and I kind of like it, but knowing how quickly violets multiply as I do, would I dare plant it in a garden? I think I’d have to talk to someone who had planted it in their garden first to see if it was bent on taking over the world. I spent far too many years weeding violets out of gardens to have a nonchalant attitude about planting them, even if it is a cultivar.

I think tulip time is over now but this is my favorite for this post.

I like looking inside tulips, and this is why. You never really know what you’ll see, so it’s part of the fun.

These tulips had gone far beyond their best, but they were going out with a bang. Their petals moved like ocean waves and I thought they were passing on beautifully.

Here’s to the moments when you realize the simple things are wonderful and enough. ~Jill Badonsky

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Purple (or red) trillium (Trillium erectum,) one of our biggest and most beautiful wildflowers, has just opened. Trilliums are all about threes and multiples of threes, which ia easily seen here. Though beautiful it has a a few secrets; flies are drawn to the plants because of the carrion scented flowers, and for that reason it is also called “stinking Benjamin.” Benjamin, according to the Adirondack Almanac, is actually a corruption of the word “benjoin,” which was an ingredient in perfume that came from a plant in Sumatra. According to the U.S. Forest service the root of this trillium was traditionally used as an aid in childbirth by Native Americans, and for that reason it is also called “bethroot,” which is a corruption of “birth root.”

I’m happy to say that the frosts we had didn’t wipe out the bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis,) though their numbers are down this year in this spot.

The flower petals, typically eight of them, drop off within a day or two of pollination, so their time with us is brief. It’s hard to believe that it’s already time to say goodbye to them for another year. I’ll look forward to seeing their simple beauty again next spring.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule,) which is usually one of the earliest flowers, has finally come around. I’m not sure what held it up but it seems very late. I usually see them by the end of March. Henbit is a “weed” in the mint family and gets its common name from the way chickens peck at it. I’ve read that the leaves, stem, and flowers are edible and have a slightly sweet and peppery flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked, so maybe that’s one way of getting it out of your garden.

I haven’t seen a lot of common chickweed (Stellaria media) this year either. This is another edible “weed” that is grown for human consumption in some countries, and is said to be far more nutritious than cultivated lettuce. Chickens can also eat it. The five petals are cut so deeply they look like ten on flowers that are smaller than a pencil eraser.

Fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) is a native shrub that often blooms in late March to mid April, but it too seems to have been held back this year. The pale-yellow color of the flowers and the unusual way that they form in pairs that branch off from a single stem make this shrub very easy to identify. I can’t think of another like it. The unusual twinned flowers will become twinned, orange red, oval fruit. I’ve read that many songbirds love the berries. I can’t say fly honeysuckle is rare but I know of only four or five places to find it. It seems slow growing and isn’t a real robust grower. I know one shrub that hasn’t seemed to change at all in ten years. You can find it on the edge of woods, usually in shade or partial sun.

Myrtle (Vinca minor) is an invasive plant that forms large mats that choke out natives but it’s also a plant that’s been shared from neighbor to neighbor for almost as long as this country has been a country, so nobody really cares. Many of the people I once gardened for thought it was a native plant that they inherited when they bought their house. They were always surprised when I told them it was from Europe, but they always wanted to keep it. I’ve found it growing and blooming along with lilacs and peonies near old cellar holes out in the woods, all of it so old nobody could remember who had even lived there. The word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s exactly what the wiry stems do.

Blue violets (Viola sororia) are actually purple and they’re just coming into bloom. I’m sure many gardeners won’t be happy to hear that because if left unchecked these plants can take over a garden in no time at all. But really, you’re living in a dream world if you think you can beat them, because even when we don’t think they’re blooming their unseen petal-less flowers, called cleistogamous flowers, are flinging seeds out of their 3-part seed capsules. I used to dig and pull them from many gardens by the hundreds. Now I just enjoy them.

I was surprised to see common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) blooming already. It’s a common plant that some think is a clover, but clovers have oval leaves and this plant’s leaves are heart shaped. Unlike clover leaves they fold up at night and in bright sunlight, as they have done here.

Spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) are about at their peak of bloom now, and this shot shows how the tiny things can carpet a forest floor. It also shows the variations in color they have, from nearly all white to very pink. They’re beautiful little things and I hope everyone gets a chance to see them. They won’t be with us much longer.

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. These grew in full sun.

Apparently, the petal shape can vary by quite a lot as well. I’ve never noticed it before but the petals on these flowers are far wider and rounder than the long, narrow petals on the flowers in the previous shot. Each flower lasts just three days.

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are the same way with color variations. Some are deep blue and others are white and then you see everything in between, but the amount of sunshine doesn’t make a difference because they always grow in full sun.

All the magnolia blossoms that had come out before the frosts were browned on the petal edges but those that came out after were fine, as this one shows. They seem extra fragrant this year.

Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophyllas) has just started blooming and each plant has just a few flowers on it so far. The small flowers have great color.

Ornamental cherries have started blooming and are beautiful, as always. I like the star in the center of these particular flowers.

I found this blossom on a Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula Tibetica.)  It looked like it had slept in its clothes. I wonder if they de-wrinkle themselves as they grow. Tibetan cherry is also called the paper bark cherry because of the way its bark peels as it ages, much like a birch, and it is used as an ornamental tree as much for its bark as for its flowers. The mahogany bark has very long, closely spaced lenticels that give it an unusual appearance.

This was a challenge. This hellebore grows in the garden of a friend and the sun was very bright when I was there. I used three different cameras trying to get a shot where the color wasn’t bleached out and this was the only useable one. It was too bad because this flower has deep, rich color. I plan on planting a few more flowers around here in the near future and hellebore will be one of them.

Tulips have come out and many were wide open, but I saw few insects.

Grape hyacinths are having a good year.

The flowers of Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica) look like they’re blown from milk glass and mounted on the stem with tiny, leaf shaped golden ormolu mounts. I don’t think that they really resemble lily of the valley blossoms but some do, so they call it the lily of the valley shrub. To me they look more like the blueberry family of flowers.

PJM rhododendrons have just started blooming. The PJM in the name is for Peter J. Mezitt who developed the plant and also founded Weston Nurseries in Weston, Massachusetts. They are also called little leaf rhododendron. They are very pretty, and well liked here and have become almost as common as Forsythia.

Forsythias are a good indicator of how cold and snowy it was last winter. Quite often you’ll see the shrubs with blossoms only on the lower branches, and that’s because the cold killed all the buds above the snow line and the only ones that survived were those protected by snow. These bushes are telling me that it was a mild winter. If the temperature had fallen below -20 F., they wouldn’t be blooming like this. There were many years I saw them with just a few blossoms down close to the ground, but not very often in the last decade or so.

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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Red maple season (Acer rubrum) is in full swing now, and the hillside are starting to take on that reddish haze that is so common to this area in spring. It’s beautiful but so far in my experience, impossible to capture with a camera. Maybe I’ll do another climb and try again.

The female flowers, tiny scarlet stigmas, have appeared right on schedule and the male flowers continue to bloom. They might not look like much but to me they are as beautiful as any other flower, especially because they tell me that spring has arrived.

The male flowers cover the whole spectrum of blooming. Some have shed their pollen and are dying off while others are justs starting to open, as these were. Sugar maple flowers haven’t opened yet but it shouldn’t be too much longer. Once they open that will be the end of the maple sugaring season. I’ve heard it was a good year, though shortened because of the early warmth. I’m sure it was welcome after a terrible year last year.

One morning I went to one of the spots where I know coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) grows and saw nothing at all. Then that afternoon, after a day in the 50s F., there they were.

Coltsfoot isn’t native but it is still welcomed as one of our earliest blooming wildflowers. It won’t be too long before the plant’s leaves apper, and that will mean the end of their season. I was happy to see them; they helped push winter a little further back into my memory.

I know where to go to find almost all of the spring flowers that appear in these posts, but little chickweed is always a surprise. I never know when or where it will pop up. I’m not sure which one it was but it was pretty.

American hazelnuts (Corylus cornuta) continue their spring journey with the male catkins just starting to release pollen. I was happy to get this shot because it shows the transition from what the catkins look like in winter, there on the right, to what they look like in spring, on the left. As can be seen, the catkins lengthen by quite a lot and turn golden.

But that isn’t all that happens to the catkins. If you think of a catkin as a spring, when the spring gets pulled the coils are pulled apart, and that’s essentially what happens to a catkin. Each of the tiny manta ray like parts are bud scales. They have a white fringe and a blackish “tail.” As the central stalk of the catkin lengthens in spring the spirally arranged buds slowly pull apart, and under each tiny bud scale the actual flowers are revealed. The hundreds of flowers are the very small, roundish golden bits under each bud scale; maybe 3 to 5 per scale. To me all of this is simply a miracle. I can’t think of any other way to describe it.

And there were the tiny, sticky female flowers, already dusted with pollen grains.

Just after the hazelnuts start taking care of their spring business the alders (Alnus) begin, so as soon as I see golden hazelnut catkins blowing in the wind I start checking the alders. The two plants aren’t that different really, as far as strategy goes. It’s easy to see the way alder buds are arranged in spirals just like the hazelnuts, even in catkins that haven’t opened. Spirals are nature’s way of packing the most life into any given space and you see them used in everything from galaxies to our own inner ear.

I think alder catkins are more attractive than hazelnut catkins because of the contrasting purple and yellow colors. The brown and purple scales on the catkin are on short stalks and there are three yellow/ green flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers, which are usually covered in yellow pollen. This was the only bush I found with open catkins and it was very early, I thought. Soon though, all the bushes that line pond edges will look like they’ve been strung with jewels.

I wanted to see what the plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) was doing. It looked fine but it was too early for it to be flowering. It is one of the earliest though, so it shouldn’t be too long.

The other day I saw a Forsythia trying to bloom.

And the next day it had bloomed with two or three blossoms showing, but the day after that it got cold again, with a low of 15 degrees at night, so I’ll have to go see how it’s doing. Many of the plants that grow here have built in cold resistance but since Forsythia isn’t native it might have suffered.

Scilla have started blooming as well. I love the color of these small blossoms. I once worked for some people who had a large drift of scilla, thousands of them, under some old oaks, and it was beautiful.

There was no wind but this one looked as if it was in a gale. It was also beautiful.

Reticulated irises have finally appeared. This is a strange plant, because some years it blooms before crocuses and other years after, so I’ve learned not to count on it doing anything that I expect it to.

This was my favorite iris, but there was only one. I’ve heard that they will kind of fade over the years so that what was once twenty can become just one or two.

Snowdrops have fully opened.

This little crocus is one of my favorites, but more for its beautiful outside than its plain white inside. My blogging friend Ginny tells me small crocuses like these are called snow crocuses, which I guess nobody I gardened for years ago ever grew or wanted, because I had never heard of them. They’re very pretty little things.

Hyacinths are up and showing color.

And magnolia bud scales are starting to split open, because the flowers inside are now growing. It won’t be long before they show themselves.

Daffodils, the last time I saw them, were heavily budded and I expect by now many have opened. I hope to be able to show them to you in the next flower post if the cold didn’t get them.

It’s hard to say when the hellebores will open but they were showing some fine looking big red buds. Though the buds are red, the flowers on these plants will be a kind of not very exciting light, greenish color.

I’ve met many people who didn’t think spring was anything special, and some who have even said they didn’t like it at all. I have to say that I felt sorry for them because I’ve never understood how anyone couldn’t become excited by the promise and hope of the season, and why the beautiful miracle of the earth awakening once again didn’t make them want to sing. I’ve loved spring forever; since I was a very small boy, and it still just blows my heart open and makes me want to run and play and see and smell every flower that blooms and see every new leaf unfold. While I was taking some of these photos I heard the loud quacking of wood frogs, and then the next day I heard spring peepers. The grass is starting to show green in places and all of the birds are singing their beautiful songs of spring, and how could you not love it? If you don’t love it, I hope you can at least put up with it because I’ll be showing a lot more of it in future posts.

Free your heart from your mind. Embrace wonder for one moment without the need to consider how that wonder came to be, without the need to justify if it be real or not. ~Charles de Lint

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We’ve had a string of very warm days here lately and that was all it took to kick spring into high gear. As you can see in this photo of the buds, red maples are responding to the warmth and buds are breaking. You can just see the male stamens all tucked inside the now open buds.

And then on another branch of the same tree the male flowers had fully opened and were producing pollen. I looked at several different red maples on this day, but this was the only one I saw flowering. Tree blossoming periods are staggered over several weeks, so if frost damages some flowers it won’t damage them all. That’s a good thing because this tree has misjudged the weather and jumped the gun. The night time forecasts include below freezing temperatures this week, so there is a good chance that any open flowers on this tree will die. However, thanks to the staggered bloom times that nature has seen to, I might still find red maples flowering a month from now.

I checked hundreds of hazelnut buds but hadn’t seen any of the tiny scarlet, female thread like flowers. They would appear at the top of a bud much like this one, which is so small I don’t really know how to describe it.

But then I saw this bush, loaded with golden colored male catkins, so I decided to check it for female flowers. Hazelnut catkins are just a string of tiny male flowers that usually spiral around a central stalk, and though these weren’t open and producing pollen yet the fact that they have readied themselves to do so is enough to awaken the female flowers.

And there they were, just barely opened on the first day of spring. If the wind blows just right and they are pollinated these almost microscopic scarlet threads will become hazelnuts, which will hopefully ripen by next fall.

There was a time, when I was gardening professionally, that I dreaded seeing dandelions starting to bloom, but I can’t tell you how happy I was to see this, the first dandelion I’ve seen this year.

I suppose my outlook must have changed. All the prejudices that I had toward them began to slip away and I started seeing dandelions for what they really are, which is a beautiful yellow flower that shouts spring is here! When I stopped fighting them and just let them be, I saw the beauty that had always been there. It was only my thoughts about them that had kept their beauty hidden. As Marcus Aurelius said “If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgement of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgement now.” Though I didn’t consciously “wipe out my judgement” of dandelions I have certainly softened my attitude toward them over the years. My dislike (that was mostly learned from others who didn’t like them) has completely fallen away, and maybe that is as it should be. All of my life they have been here. I have eaten their leaves and drank the coffee I made from their roots and dusted the tip of my nose with their pollen, and they are old friends.

I’ve spent a few years trying to figure out what the name of this plant is. I know it is in the mustard family and I know it’s a cress, but I’m not sure which one so I’ll just call it a spring cress. I think it might actually be hairy bittercress but by most accounts it’s a hated weed that is almost impossible to eradicate because of the huge numbers of seeds it produces. You can pull plants until the cows come home but you’ll always miss one or two. It’s like sea turtles; most will get eaten by birds or fish but there will always be some that survive to carry on the Prime Directive, which is continuation of the species. Nature has taken care of it.

Can you see the beauty in this “horrible weed?” Its leaves were just unfolding when I got there, which I thought made it even prettier.

If I go all the way back as far as my memory will go, I find the flowers of ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) living there. Both houses I spent my time at when I was young, my father’s and grandmother’s, had plenty of ground ivy in the lawns and I used to love seeing them bloom so early in spring. Ground ivy is in the mint family and is related to henbit. It has a powerful and unusual odor when it is mowed, with the kind of smell that gets in the back of your throat and stays there for a while.

I brushed some leaves aside where I know Solomon’s seal plants grow and there were the spring shoots. After I took this photo, I covered them up again and let them be. They’re beautiful just as their first leaves start to unfurl, so I’ll try to be there at the end of April to see it happening.

Even after temperatures in the 60s and 70s F. willows still aren’t showing any signs of their yellow flowers. They know what they’re doing and they bloom when they’re ready but I have seen bees and other insects flying already, and they would love to forage on some willow pollen, I’m sure.

I looked at the buds of a native pink azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides) and though the bud scales looked like they had relaxed I’m not sure any actual swelling had begun. They bloom in June so there is time. As can be seen in this photo this is a very hairy plant, and it is the hairs on the outside of the flowers that exude the wonderful scent.  

Looking for the seedpods of a wild azalea is a good way to find them. They’re quite large and showy.

Snowdrops bloomed while there was still a bit of snow left near them. Maybe that’s how they came by their name.

Johnny jump ups have lifted their heads up and are blooming far better now than they were just a week ago. The warm weather and rapidly melting snow have given everything a boost and plants now seem anxious to get going.

I saw a crocus, then two, and then just a day or two later they were everywhere. It’s remarkable what a couple of warm days will do for flowers in springtime. It was all very sudden; it seemed like most of the flowers in this post had appeared overnight.

I saw some of my old favorites. There were lots of bees buzzing around all the open flowers but they were too skittish for me to get a shot of them.

This one was very dark. Better to show off the yellow stamens and pistil in the center to the bees, maybe. I certainly enjoyed the contrasting colors.

This white one was quite small for a crocus. I’d guess barely an inch across.

All of these crocuses were small. I don’t know if they’re a new kind of hybrid or if they’re just getting smaller with age.

A new witch hazel has come out, or at least it’s new to me, and it’s very pink. I don’t remember ever seeing one with pink petals but I must have because I visit these bushes every spring.

I went to see the skunk cabbages and wow; I saw a lot of them. So many in fact, that I couldn’t move without stepping on the ones still under leaves that I couldn’t see. When you step on a skunk cabbage spathe they squeak, much like a head of cabbage does sometimes when you cut into it, and that’s how I knew I had stepped on them.

Luckily, I only stepped on one or two and didn’t damage them too badly. In any event the spathe isn’t quite as critical as the spadix, which is the pinkish thing that carries the tiny flowers seen here. The spadix is what, through a process called thermogenesis, can raise the temperature of the plant to as much as 70 degrees F. inside the spathe, thereby attracting insects to the tiny flowers, which on this day were already producing pollen. To a cold, hungry insect it is a nice warm cave that serves food. Though this plant’s roots are poisonous and the leaves can cause burning in the mouth Native Americans new how to prepare it, and used skunk cabbage medicinally. I’ve read that they also used the roots as an underarm deodorant, though I’m not sure just how that might have worked. In the 1800s medicine made from the plant was sold as a cure all, most likely by traveling salesman.

Spring in the world! And all things are made new! ~Richard Hovey

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Last weekend I went looking for signs of spring again and this thin ice sign was one of those I found. Thin ice at this time of year is a good sign if you happen to be a spring lover. The town puts them up in fall as the ice starts to form, then takes them down for the winter and puts them up again in spring when it starts to thaw. It’s good to pay attention to them; there have been photos in the local newspaper of plow trucks sitting in water up to their windows after going through this ice.

The ice was pulling back from shore so you wouldn’t catch me skating on it.

The willows are really coming along now. The soft gray catkins could be seen everywhere on this day.

I’m not seeing any yellow in them yet though, so it will be maybe a week or two before they flower.

I did see lots of pinecone galls on the willows. This gall appears at the branch tips and is caused by a midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides) laying eggs on them. Once the eggs hatch the larva burrow into the branch tip and the plant reacts by forming a gall around them. They aren’t very big but are very noticeable at this time of year. Galls and the insects that cause them, and the reactions of the various plants they appear on is a fascinating subject but they always lead me to two questions: how and why?

Hazelnut catkins are continuing their spring color change over to gold from green. I usually see the tiny scarlet female flowers in April but I have a feeling they might come a little earlier this year.  

This might look like an old pile of leaves but it is actually a hellebore plant. Hellebores bloom quite early so I usually start watching them at about this time of year. Another name for them is Lenten rose, because they will often bloom during Lent.

Crocuses have appeared alongside what I think are reticulated iris, and they are growing fast. A week ago there was no sign of them. The warm weather and rain this week should give them and everything else a good boost.

Daffodils are on hold, just waiting for the silent signal. The bed they’re in needs some serious weeding.

Since these are not my gardens, I can’t be positive but I do know that hyacinths grow near the front of this bed. Unfortunately an animal had dug down and eaten many of them. I’ve seen chipmunks and squirrels but no skunks, racoons or possums yet, so I’m not sure what could have done it.

There was quite a mound of good-looking soil that had been dug up. There’s nothing like the smell of newly thawed soil in spring.

This bulb had been rejected so it might be a daffodil. Daffodils are poisonous and somehow, animals know it.

I was surprised to see tulips up. No buds yet though, just leaves.

I keep checking the trails, hoping the ice will have melted. It is melting but not very quickly. Hopefully after the warmth and rain this week they will finally be clear of ice. I’ll never forget this winter. It has been one of the iciest I can remember. Even trail reports on the radio are saying that you should bring spikes.

I went to see a Cornelian cherry to see if it had woken up yet and I was very happy to see some yellow inside the bud scales of that pea size bud on the left. It won’t be long before its small but pretty yellow flowers unfold. I’ve seen them as early as late March. Last Sunday it was 65 degrees, so we might see them in March again this year.

Magnolia buds are covered by a single hairy bud scale called a cap and when the bud inside the cap starts to swell in spring the bud scale will often split and fall off, but as can be seen here by the bare space under the bud scale, the bud seems to be pushing the cap up and off. I’ve never noticed this before, but maybe it happens regularly, I don’t know. In any event it signals that magnolia buds are beginning to stir.

I took a look at the big horse chestnut buds. They’re easy to see but not so easy to get a photo of because they’re up over my head. Beautiful flowers will appear out of these buds in mid to late May.

Since most people have probably never seen a red horse chestnut blossom (Aesculus × carnea,) here is a not very technically good photo of what they look like. The tree is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) I’ve read that bees and hummingbirds love the beautiful red and yellow blossoms.

After visiting the horse chestnut, I thought I’d wander over to the big old red maple. There still wasn’t a lot going on in its buds but they bloom in March so it won’t be long. Maybe it will be a sudden awakening. Speaking of sudden awakenings, I heard the first red wing blackbird today. If that isn’t a sign of spring then I don’t know what is. Soon the spring peepers will add their trills to the chorus.

Johnny jump ups were still blooming, even though they had been covered by snow for a week. I might apply for a part time job at the local college. That’s where some of the beds you see in these photos are located and they’re so full of weeds I’m almost embarrassed to show them. Maybe they would welcome a part time weeder. This bed is full of spring bulbs so it should be weeded before they come up.

I went to see the skunk cabbages, hoping that the spathes had opened so I could get a shot of the spadix with its strange little flowers, but they weren’t quite ready. You can just see a crack opening on the lower rights side of the bulbous part of this spathe but it’s nowhere near open enough to get my lens in. Maybe next week. I’d better bring something to kneel on though because the swampy ground had thawed and water filled every footstep.

The spring blooming witch hazels were in full bloom and I wanted you to see this one because of the translucence of the petals. Having to get so close to them to get a photo meant that I was awash in their wonderful fragrance. I find it impossible to describe but other have likened it to fresh laundry just taken down from the clothes line.

This witch hazel couldn’t have bloomed any more than it was. It had nice color too.

I chose this photo so you could see the different stages of a witch hazel bloom. On the upper right the petals are just emerging, and below that they are about half way unfurled. Finally in the center the flowers have fully opened. I’ve discovered this year that this can happen very fast. There are 4 or 5 different varieties in this group and as I wandered among them taking photos by the time I got back to where I had started many more flowers had opened on that first shrub I looked at. This was in the space of maybe 15-25 minutes.

In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against Nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth.  ~John Milton

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The roller coaster changes between winter and spring go on in this area. Yesterday I was taking photos of Johnny jump ups and today as I write this it is 30 degrees F.

But the cold won’t hurt the early spring plants any, especially those in the pansy family like viola tricolor. They’re hardy, and built for cold finicky weather, and that’s why you’ll often see them blooming away beautifully in window boxes in March. I have to say I was quite surprised to see them blooming in February though. I think that is a first, but after two or three days in the 50s they responded. This is why, when I talk about spring on this blog, I’m not talking about calendar spring. I’m talking about the spring that the plants and trees and birds tell me is here now.

Except for an ice shelf over there on the left the ice has melted off the stream that runs through the skunk cabbage swamp. It was blue and beautiful on a sunny day.

And the skunk cabbages are growing quickly. Soon the spathes like the one seen here will open to reveal the spadix, which will be covered in tiny, pollen bearing flowers.

It rained hard the night before this was taken and instant ponds popped up everywhere. That’s a good sign that the soil under them is still frozen. Since the water can’t soak into the ground and has nowhere to go it ponds up in the low spots. This one was huge and I was surprised there were no ducks in it.

After it started to cool off again, I went to a waterfall to see if any ice had formed. I wasn’t disappointed.

Everything on the shoreline was covered with ice.

This grass plant had grown ice on its leaves that was thicker than my thumb, all from splashing drops of water. When I see ice like this I think of a candle. A candle starts with a wick, which is dipped again and again into melted wax. In this case each blade of grass is like a wick, splashed over and over by water.

This stone was covered in round spheres of ice. I can’t explain the mechanics of how this ice forms but I do know that splashing water creates it.

There was also plenty of white puddle ice to be seen. I’ve read that it is oxygen that makes the ice white like this. Microscopic bubbles, I suppose. It held the memory of what looked like a current.

This was a surprise and it was flowing right out of the ground just where I stood. I thought it was bright red but my color finding software sees rosy brown, chocolate and dark salmon pink. Though it looks strange it’s really just groundwater that has leeched out various minerals in the soil. Most of those minerals I’d guess, are iron oxide based. There are probably bacteria present as well and I’d guess that the heavy rain we had flushed everything out of a groundwater reservoir of some kind. Scientists say it’s all non toxic and harmless, but I admit it doesn’t look it.

I can remember as a boy seeing the Ashuelot River run almost the color of that seep in the last photo, when the woolen mills in Keene released their dyes into it. It ran all the colors of the rainbow, but when I need to think of a good success story I think of the river, because over the years it was cleaned up. Now trout swim in it once again and bald eagles fish here. We humans can accomplish quite a lot when we put our minds to it.

The river looked fairly placid in that previous shot but this is what was going on downstream. The camera made the water look dark but it was really chocolate brown from all the soil that is washing into it from flooding. This section looked to be about twice its normal width and it roared mightily.

Instead of a roar the ice on Halfmoon Pond in Hancock pings, creaks and twangs, especially when the wind blows. It was covered in melt water recently and looked like a mirror. It will freeze and thaw until one day, it won’t freeze any longer. I still think that ice out will happen in March this year.

When warm air flows over the cold ice sometimes the pond creates its own fog. Just another hint of spring that I enjoy seeing.

The witch hazels didn’t dare to unfurl their petals on this cold day. It’s kind of amazing how they can pull their long strap shaped petals back into such tiny buds but they’re fairly accurate. I’ve seen them get frost killed in the past but that doesn’t happen often. Each fuzzy bud that the petals come out of is less than the diameter of a BB that you would put in an air rifle. That’s 0.177 inches so I’d guess the buds are about an eighth of an inch, or .125.

The reticulated iris (I think) had grown some in the week since I had seen them last, and so had the daffodils. The seed pods you see are from redbud trees. These spring flowering bulbs grow under them.

Tree buds were calling to me as they always do in spring but I couldn’t see any signs of swelling in the pretty blue buds of the box elders. This tree in the maple family has beautiful flowers in spring so it’s always one of those I check regularly. They’ll bloom just after the red maples do.

These are the beautiful sticky, lime green female box elder flowers, for those who haven’t seen them. I’ll be waiting impatiently for both them and the red maple flowers. Box elders usually flower in April and red maples sometimes by mid-March. It all depends on the weather.

Speaking of red maples, here are some of their flower buds. I can see a little movement in them. The bud scales are starting to ease and open but I hope they won’t because it’s too early. I’ve seen trees with every flower killed by frost but nature has that all figued out, and not all trees bloom at the same time. The bloom times are staggered over several weeks, so if a killing frost happens not all tree flowers will be damaged by it.

I walked past the European beech I know of in Keene and saw its seed pods all over the ground, falling I suppose, to make room for new ones.

They were all empty, even the ones still on the tree. No wonder there are so many happy squirrels in that area.

Many, many years ago someone went around Keene with a stencil of a foot and spray-painted small feet here and there throughout town. I was surprised to find one still in good condition one day. It told me to stay on the trail. Keep walking and keep seeing the wonders.

It doesn’t take much to make my heart soar in spring; seeing sap buckets hanging on the sugar maples will do it every time. Though this post might seem to be all over the place, with flowers and ice and snow, that’s what spring is in New Hampshire. We are in the push-pull transition time between winter and spring and right now, winter is making a comeback. We are expecting a foot of snow as I finish this post, but it won’t last long and spring will win out as it always does. The trees producing sap means the ground has thawed and soon everyone will be wearing a smile. If you ask most of them why they’re smiling chances are they won’t be able to tell you but it’s just that spring tonic. It just makes you happy, for no particular reason.

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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I don’t know about anyone else but I am really itching for spring to come this year. I knew I shouldn’t have snapped that sugar maple twig a while back because I knew if it dripped sap it would begin. “It” being spring fever, which I seem to catch every year at about this time. I find that one of the best ways to alleviate it is to go and find spring, so that’s what I do. I always learn by doing this; one of the first things I saw was a henbit plant, which had come through winter beautifully green and as healthy as it was in September, so I’ve learned how cold hardy they are. I’ve never seen the light shining out of one before though, like it is over there on the left. Henbit blooms quite early, so it shouldn’t be long.

Hollyhocks also come through winter with a few green leaves. At this time of year any green thing is worth more to me than a sack full of gold. Actually that’s true at any time of year.

I told you a while back that the daffodils I saw in the snow had made a mistake and would surely die, but it was I who made the mistake because here they are again, looking heathier than ever. It’s easy to forget that plants that come up in spring when it’s cold have built in defenses against the cold. Unless it is extreme below zero cold. In that case the snow can actually protect them from the cold and I think that must be what happened here.  

The ice pulled back and almost immediately the shoots of what I believe are reticulated iris came up. That’s the story this scene told to me and it’s most likely accurate because I’ve seen reticulated iris blooming in the snow. They are one of our earliest spring bulbs, often blossoming before crocuses.

Ice melts in mysterious ways sometimes.

While some mallards were swimming away other braver birds were hanging out on the ice at the edge of a small stream. I suspect they must have been citified birds because they weren’t anywhere near as skittish as their country cousins are. All I had with me for a camera was my phone and my small point and shoot so this isn’t a very good shot. It says spring to me though, and that’s why it’s here.

I went into the hummocky swamp where the skunk cabbages grow. I was fairly sure I’d come out of here with wet feet because I had forgotten my big boots but surprisingly, I stayed dry. I didn’t even have to dance from hummock to hummock like I will have to later on when all that snow and ice melt.

There is nothing worse than trying to keep your balance while squatting on a hummock like a garden gnome, so I was very happy that I didn’t have to do that to get this shot of a skunk cabbage melting its way through the ice. Through a process called thermogenesis skunk cabbages can raise their internal temperature to as much as 70 degrees F. in the flower bud to melt their way through Ice and snow. That’s the splotchy maroon and yellow flower over on the left. The outer splotchy part is the spathe and inside is the spadix, which holds the flowers. They should be blooming soon.

I got lost in the curled tip of a cinnamon fern for a bit, trying to get a shot of what I saw.

Skunk cabbages aren’t always easy to find. I took this photo of a melted spot in the swamp to show you that it was warming up and I thought that it was too bad there wasn’t a skunk cabbage in the shot. When I got home and looked at the photo, I got my wish. The finger like growth on the left is the skunk cabbage I didn’t see, even though I was looking right at it.

This might not look like much but this is how winter often ends here, with the south facing slopes melting off first. It’s always nice to see it happening. Of course we could get another two feet of snow tomorrow, but that can’t change the fact that it is warming up and the ground is thawing.

Tree melt rings are another good sign of spring’s approach. I’ve read that they happen when trees reflect the heat from the sun enough to melt the snow around them.

I was hoping that I could get this shot full of dark eyed juncos, which line the bare sides of the roads in winter and spring, picking seeds from between the stones, but I’ve seen just a few birds this year and most of those were here in my own yard. I don’t like the thought of our birds disappearing and I hope that it’s just my imagination, but it seems like it was just two or three years ago when they were everywhere for most of the winter.

Mud is another sure sign that spring is near hereabouts. Though it makes an awful mess on cars, shoes, and anything else that gets near it, I think most of us are happy to see it. Mud season doesn’t last all that long, usually.

I happened to walk past a Cornelian cherry shrub and thought I’d check to see how it was coming along. I didn’t see any signs of its early yellow flowers yet but it’s an early bloomer.

I walked past the Cornelian cherry to get to the vernal (spring blooming) witch hazels and I saw flowers there. Here were some petals just about to unfurl from the bud.

And here were some almost completely unfurled. What a beautiful thing to see after this cold and icy winter we’ve had. Spring, even the thought of spring, warms my insides first.

And the flowers were even spilling pollen onto their petals already, hoping to entice an early bee or two. I haven’t seen one yet but it shouldn’t be long. These flowers are normally very fragrant but I couldn’t smell them om this day. I think more sunshine and warm days will bring out the fragrance.

I saw the moon in the afternoon sky and though I didn’t have a tripod with me I thought I’d try to get a shot of it. Surprisingly, this is the result. It’s grainy but at least you can tell it’s the moon. The first full moon in spring is called the worm moon here because the ground is thawed enough for earthworms to be active again.

I think for me spring, more than anything else, means softness. In winter in New England everything freezes and contracts and gets very hard. The ground is like concrete for months but in spring things begin to loosen and soften. It’s a soft, sweet time and I’m very much looking forward to it. I hope spring is wonderful wherever you are.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ~ John Galsworthy

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Last Monday morning I watched as the rising sun touched a few pieces of ice covered stove wood.

When the sunlight fell on the logs and was magnified by the clear ice, they blazed with flameless fire. 

But none of that now-by Friday the early morning sky looked like milk, and had no fire.

 Last weekend, I admired the petals of Vernal Witch Hazel fluttering in the breeze.

Not this weekend. Witch Hazel petals will no doubt stay tucked away until another warm, sunny day.

For nearly all of this winter animals walked over the sandy river banks at night. 

 Now they seek out patches of dry ground under spruces. 

Nature has toyed with us this year, but spring has started and it isn’t likely to stop now.

This was taken a week or so ago, so It shouldn’t be too long before the daffodils are blooming.

I hope all of you and yours are well after the recent severe weather outbreaks. Thanks for visiting.

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I have a friend who is against forcing bulbs because, she says, “it isn’t natural.” Forcing simply means that you are exposing bulbs to warmth sooner than if they were growing outside, so I’m not sure it could be considered unnatural either. Most spring flowering bulbs, except paper white narcissus which don’t need a cold period, can be forced, including the smaller grape hyacinth, crocus, and scilla.

Forcing bulbs is easy; simply pot up your favorite bulbs in soilless potting mix, water them well and then put them in a cold, but not freezing, place for at least 15 weeks.  Cool soil stimulates root growth, which continues until it gets quite cold. Warmth after the cool period stimulates top growth and flowers.

Using the correct soil is probably the most important part of forcing bulbs because they will not stand soggy soil. A soilless potting mix like pro mix is an excellent choice, or you can make your own with 2 parts compost, 2 parts sphagnum peat moss, 1 part vermiculite and 1 part perlite. Personally I find using pre mixed easier.

Fill the pot half full of mix, place the bulbs in it and finish filling around them.  Do not compact the potting mix. Give them a good soaking to settle the mix and then add more if necessary.  When finished the tip of the bulb should be just peeking out of the potting mix. Tulip bulbs should have their flat side toward the pot, because this is where the first leave will form. Label the bulbs clearly!

After potting I dig a trench just deep enough to sink the pots to the top of their rims and then pack leaves or straw loosely around the pots. Then I cover the pots and trench with a foot deep mulch of leaves or straw. Finally I cover everything with plastic or a tarp so it doesn’t get wet and become a big frozen together mass. After 15 weeks I pull back the plastic and mulch, grab a pot of bulbs, bring them inside and water them, set them in a cool spot until I see top growth, and then set them in a bright window. 

You can also use an unheated shed, garage, crawlspace, or even a refrigerator. Many people put them in cold frames but the temperature can rise quickly on sunny winter days, so the top will have to be opened occasionally to keep the temperature at or below 45º F (7.2º C). Bulbs need cold but they shouldn’t freeze, so temperatures shouldn’t fall below 35 º F (1.6º C). Bulbs cooled in a trench should go in no later than November 15th for late February blooming. 

When bulbs have finished blooming put them in the coolest, sunniest spot available and continue watering until they can be planted outside. It may take up to 2 years for the bulbs to produce large blooms again after they have been forced.

 Tulip Potting Photo by Iowa State University Extension service

 

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When planting bulbs in the fall it’s easy to forget how their foliage will look in the spring after the flowers fade. Let’s face it-ripening bulb foliage is not pretty, but since photosynthesis is the way the bulb makes and stores enough energy to bloom again the following season it is important that the foliage isn’t removed. Bulb foliage also shouldn’t be tied into bunches or flattened down to the soil surface either, because doing so will impede the process.

Unless planted in a bed dedicated only to bulbs, ripening bulb foliage is best hidden among the plants in a perennial bed or behind ornamental grasses. The foliage of bulbs planted between and behind perennials that reach a foot or more in height will be visible only until the surrounding perennials or grasses grow taller later in spring. From then on it will blend in and be much less noticeable.

If bulbs are planted in a bulb-only bed, their ripening foliage can still be hidden by planting taller annuals among them. Since most annuals have shallow root systems the holes don’t have to be dug so deep that bulbs are disturbed.

Another method of hiding ripening bulb foliage is moving the bulbs and “heeling them in” in another location. This is labor intensive and requires accurate labeling of the bulbs so they don’t get confused.  A label that says “Red Tulips” won’t be much help when re-planting in the fall, so variety, height and blooming time should be noted.

To heel bulbs in first dig a trench about six inches deep and as wide in a sunny spot. With a spade or fork, carefully lift the bulbs from their current location, keeping the foliage intact, and replant them in the trench. When the bulb foliage is brown and pulls from the bulbs easily the bulbs can be dug up and dried, out of direct sunlight in a spot with good air circulation like a carport or porch. Once dry the bulbs should have all loose soil brushed from them before they are stored in a cool, dry place until fall planting. Any soft or damaged bulbs should be discarded. As I said-labor intensive!

Bulbs that are naturalized, which is a process in which handfuls of bulbs (usually daffodils) are tossed on the ground and then planted where they fall, also need time for foliage ripening, so naturalizing should be done only in areas that don’t have to be mowed until early summer.

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