Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Spring Progress Report, 4/23

Spring sure is taking its own sweet time to warm up this year.  We get a little teaser of a sunny warm day now and then, then back to chilly and gray again.  But one by one, the spring wildflowers are making their annual appearances, even if a little delayed.  Here are a few that arrived this week, just in time to celebrate Earth Day.

At Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton, the Round-leaved Violets popped up overnight.  No sign of them on Saturday, but on Sunday afternoon, there they were, bright lemon-yellow in a bed of emerald moss. (A couple of bright-red mites add their startling dots of color to the composition.)

It sure would have been easy to miss this tiny Northern White Violet on Monday, when my friend Sue and I celebrated Earth Day on Monday with a walk at Moreau Lake and Mud Pond.

Along the same sandy shore, we also found the Trailing Arbutus in bloom at last, including this vivid pink variety.

Today, I went to Bog Meadow Nature Trail to see if I could find the Spring Beauty I know grows there.  I did, but because it was chilly and dark today, most of the flowers were closed up tight.   Not so for this first of the Marsh Marigold flowers, whose golden glow seemed to provide its own heat.

Sharing that same Bog Meadow marsh were several shrubs of Spice Bush, their fluffy tufts of yellow flowers fully open now.


Here's an update regarding those puzzling tree flower buds I found at Ballston Creek last Friday, buds we decided were most likely Sassafras, due to the tree's green bark and aromatic wood.  But I had never seen Sassafras flowers with such red anthers on its staminate flowers.

I broke off a twig and brought it home to place in a vase of water, and now those stamens have grown to remarkable lengths.  I wonder, would they have grown that long if left on the tree?  I'll have to go back and check them out.

For comparison, here's a more typical Sassafras flower.  I'm wondering now if our mystery buds are not Sassafras after all.

Update:  All the experts are now in agreement.  Our mystery tree is Box Elder and not Sassafras.  Once Ed Miller saw my photo of those elongated stamens, he recognized Box Elder and sent me a note.  Also,  be sure to check A.L. Gibson's comment to this post to read his explanation for why this couldn't be Sassafras.  Thank you, dear friends, for my continuing education.


Andrew Lane Gibson said...

I think what you have is boxelder maple. They have greenish twigs and from what I can see the buds appear to be oppositely arranged. The photo you posted with the extended flowers look just like boxelder too. It's impossible for it to be sassafras at this point. Angiosperm's flowers have determinate growth and stop growing at maturity; so there's no way they would ever grow to that point if it was sassafras. I'm pretty sure you have boxelder! When the leaves show that should clinch it :)

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Great minds think alike, Andrew! I just got a note from Ed Miller suggesting this is Box Elder and not Sassafras. Also, although this trees twigs were aromatic, the aroma was not that of Sassafras. I will now post an update. Thanks for weighing in.

Stephen Puliafico Photography said...

I've had a lot of experience with box elder, mostly cutting it from my parent's property. It usually grows like a weed and is multi-trunked. It has seemed to sprout up in an around where the barns used to be on my parent's property. I read somewhere that if you lose a tree in a wind storm there is a good chance it's an elder. This is probably due to a number of reasons. It can be tapped just like the other maples and syrup can be made from the sap. Wood turners love it for making bowls and the like because if you've ever seen one cut into, the wood can have a flame red pattern. I still don't think scientists know exactly why this happens. Some of it can be quite beautiful.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks for stopping by to comment, Stephen. I have seen that red flame pattern just recently, on a cut log, and it was quite impressive. I know Box Elder is often considered a "weed" tree, because it grows quickly and unbidden. But those same traits contribute to it being one of the highest value trees to wildlife, especially because it holds on to its seeds until well into the winter, providing food for birds and squirrels when most other sources are depleted. I have a Box Elder right outside my kitchen, on my next-door neighbor's property. My neighbor cut it down, but it grew back even higher within a very few years, and I am glad for it, for it provides wonderful shade for the south side of my house and it is always full of birds and squirrels.