Breaking Buds and Early Blooms

Scilla siberica (Siberian Squill) in flower

Another week of beautiful, albeit chilly, weather has brought us our first flush of early blooms and emerging foliage. The prolonged sunlight and warmer temps are sending a wake up call to plants. These first few weeks of spring bring with them the dynamic shapes, colors and smells of organisms coming back to life. As dormant buds begin to break, a flush of flowers and foliage precede the arrival of insects, birds and mammals. With a clear uncluttered view, cool temps and no insects, it’s the perfect time for close inspection.

At the Arnold Arboretum, many species are already in full bloom, and others have begun to push out leaves to take advantage of the early, unimpeded access to sunlight.

Scilla siberica (Siberian Squill) in flower

It’s hard to miss the open patches of Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) as they push up around the base of trees and shrubs. These bulbous perennials bloom early and spread quickly, filling entire  fields with a deep blue.

Salix gracilistyla (Rosegold Pussy Willow) in flowerSalix gracilistyla (Rosegold Pussy Willow) open male flowers

The gorgeous flowers of the Rosegold pussy willow (Salix gracilistyla) are already playing host to honeybees. The red stamens provide the bees with an abundance of food as they open and release their golden pollen. They are truly spectacular.

Leptoglossus occidentalis (Western Conifer Seed Bug)

Insects are still scarce, although I found what I believe is a juvenile western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis) hiding inside a ripe birch catkin. This true bug is native to the west coast but has become invasive in other parts of the US and the UK, where it feeds off conifer sap.

Cornus officinalis (Japanese Cornel Dogwood) in flower

Not far from the entrance of the Arboretum, a Japanese cornel dogwood (Cornus officinalis) displays its golden inflorescences on fine, twisting branches. Each tiny yellow tip is actually a flower, with minuscule reproductive organs, nearly impossible to see without a hand lens.

Acer saccharinum (Silver Maple) with open flowers

Another stunning but inconspicuous flower is that of the silver maple (Acer saccharinum). Maple flowers are often tiny, and appear early in spring, giving the profile of the tree a colorful hue.

Lonicera x purpusii (Purpus Honeysuckle) in flower

The purpus honeysuckle (Lonicera x purpusii) produces a more conventional but equally beautiful flower. Honeysuckles were among the first plants to leaf out at the Arboretum this year.

Ulmus americana 'princeton' (Cultivar of American Elm)

The wind-pollinated flowers of this American elm cultivar (Ulmus americana ‘princeton’) are perfect, having both female and male parts. The female organs will mature faster than the male organs, reducing the chances of self-fertliization. This clever characteristic is called protogyny, and is an important evolutionary mechanism for avoiding the detrimental effects of inbreeding.

Corylus heterophylla var. sutchuenensis (Szechuan Filbert) open flowersCorylus heterophylla var. sutchuenensis (Szechuan Filbert) open male catkins and pollen

Another wind-pollinated species, the Szechuan filbert (Corylus heterophylla var. sutchuenensis), produces a multitude of dangling male flowers called catkins, which release the fine pollen that causes much annual suffering for those with allergies. In the image above, you can see both open and unopened male catkins.

Alnus serrulata (Hazel Alder) open catkins

This hazel alder (Alnus serrulata), also from the Betulaceae family, sports a multitude of windswept male catkins. Female catkins, on the terminal ends of branches (as seen above, in red), contain tiny flowers that will form seeds upon pollination.

Larix ghelinii var. olgensis (Olga Bay Larch) breaking foliage and flowers

This delightful image contains three types of breaking buds. The Olga Bay larch (Larix ghelinii var. olgensis) is a deciduous conifer, which loses its needles every fall, after a brilliant golden show. Here, we see tiny whorls of juvenile needles emerging near the bottom of the image. In the center of the image, the colorful female flowers emerge upright, while the male pollen-producing cones hang underneath the branch, facing downward. Once pollinated, the female flowers will form ripe cones over the summer, as with most other conifers.

Viburnum setigerum (Tea Virburnum) breaking bud

Many species are just awakening, the tips of of juvenile leaves and petals beginning to peek out from behind bud scales. This tea virburnum (Viburnum setigerum) was covered in breaking flower buds. The Arboretum is home to a number of viburnum species with a spectacular range of buds and flowers. I may have come just a day or two early for this one..

Platanus x acerifolia (London Planetree) breaking bud

The animal-like bud of the London planetree (Platanus x acerifolia) is fantastic, its sap-covered golden mohawk emerging from colorful bud scales. This tree has serious character.

Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium' (Cultivar of Full Moon and Japanese Maple) breaking bud

This cultivar of the full moon and Japanese maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’) is also beginning to break. It’s stunning, graceful profile hints at the flowers and foliage that will soon emerge.

Ginkgo biloba branch and dormant buds

The knobby buds of Gingko biloba are strange but lovable. This is a dioecious species, and only female gingkos are capable of producing fruits, which produce a profound odor when decomposing. For this reason, female plants are seldom used in urban plantings.

Magnolia stellata 'rosea' (Star Magnolia) breaking flower bud

I’ll leave you with the profile of a breaking star magnolia (Magnolia stellata ‘rosea’) bud, which will open soon, producing a gorgeous pink flower–yet another reason to make your way outside during these next few dynamic weeks of spring activity!

Thanks for reading,



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