Signs of Spring, and More Winter Buds

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As March arrives, we Bostonians are enjoying more gorgeous weather and record highs. Signs of spring are everywhere. Bulbs pop up where dirty snowbanks lingered one year ago. Birds and mammals are out in force, digging up food stores and scavenging for last season’s berries. Tree buds are beginning to swell, preceding an early-spring explosion of flowering, pollen release, and the mass-purchasing of allergy medication.

Before our first annual Tree Spotters training session on Saturday, I explored the Arnold Arboretum for a few hours to see what signs of spring I could find.


Galanthus nivalis (Common Snowdrop) in bloom


Look closely in the first image, and you’ll find large clumps of common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) growing along the streambank. These hardly little flowers, in the Amaryllidaceaeare family, are among the first to emerge in early spring. Named by Carl Linnaeus himself, Galanthus is from the Greek gala (milk) and anthos (flower). Nivalis means, ironically, “of the snow,” as this plant can bloom as early as January in the wild.

The delicate blossoms of Galanthus nivalis contain galantamine, a compound used to treat memory impairments, including Alzheimers. Wherever the plant becomes naturalized, it spreads out in a thick white blanket of blossoms.


Mimus polyglottos (Northern Mockingbird)Viburnum dilatatum (Linden Viburnum) fruit


By mid-morning, the leafless trees were full of chattering birds. I came across this northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) happily eating the berries of a linden viburnum (Viburnum dilatatum). This species was also recognized first by Linnaeus (clearly a busy guy), who dubbed it “many-tongued” (polyglottos) in observance of its ability to create a range of sounds and songs. The mockingbird has been known to imitate other species of birds, mammals, and even mechanical sounds. It’s an amazing species and one worth reading about.

This bird watched me patiently until I came within arms reach, tucked his head back indignantly and departed.


Lonicera tatarica var. pallens (Variety of Tatarian Honeysuckle) with breaking leaf buds


In the fall, I wrote about specimens that had fooled into blooming by warm December weather. This weekend, I was surprised to find plants trying to leaf out, despite the early date. This honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica var. Pallens) had vegetative buds breaking all over. I searched the surrounding honeysuckle varieties and found no other breaking buds. Perhaps this one is genetically predisposed to gambling. A sudden drop in temps will likely destroy its new foliage. Frozen water is the enemy of plants, forming crystals that indiscriminately rip through living tissue. A longer leaf-out period allows a deciduous plant to gather more energy, but unprotected leaves will quickly be wasted to freezing temperatures.


Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise' (Cultivar of Witch-hazel) flowers


The witch-hazels are in full bloom. This stunning cultivar, planted near the visitor center, is covered in miniature flowers and swollen buds. It is a sight worth seeing.

Last week, on a particularly warm day, we saw a witch-hazel covered in honeybees, an auspicious sign of the coming growing season.

Below is a gallery of more beautiful buds from the Arboretum. Soon, these buds will begin swelling as they build the coming season’s leaves and flowers.


 


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Later in the day, after two training sessions full of enthusiastic new volunteers, we journeyed outdoors to visit the lindens and buckeyes. The temperature dropped as we examined the large swelling buds of Aesculus flava and discussed what to expect in the weeks ahead. It seems the trees, just as much as the rest of us, are ready for spring.

 

Thanks for reading,

Danny

 

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