Friday, February 1, 2013

Native Definition of the Beginning of Spring

     Every year toward the end of January and the beginning of February, I reach that point where I am waiting.  It's winter, a season that I hate but logic keeps telling me that it is necessary.  The cold reduces the bug and pest populations so that they are not a problem in the warmer months, and certain plants need a cold trigger in order to go into their next stage of development - whether that is blooming or putting on new growth buds.  Logically I know that we are about six weeks away from more spring-like weather regardless of what the groundhog sees.
     I am waiting for that first day when I wake up and take a deep breath of outside air to find that it makes me sneeze.  Then I truly know that the spring is soon to follow.  That late winter sneeze is brought to me directly from the myriad of red maple trees that grow in the woods everywhere here in North Carolina.  For weeks the woods are dull gray and dark green - deciduous tree trunks and branches and pine trees.  Then one day there are patches of red.  Nothing showy really.  Red maple flowers are not big.  What you see is that the grey branches look a bit fuzzy and red rather than their usual sharp edges and gray color.
     Usually when that happens, we have already begun to see daffodils blooming.  Some of the early blooming ones will start in January.  Some of the cherry trees will start this early as well.  In fact I noticed some of both blooming earlier today.  Those don't really count.  Daffodils came from Europe, North Africa, Asia and the Middle East.  They were brought here and have not evolved here.  Their blooming is a function of the variety planted and where its ancestors came from.  The same can be said for trees like cherry trees that bloom early.  The ones blooming now are not the native ones.  Native cherries have the good timing to bloom when their fruit will not be damaged by future frost and cold. 
      No, I am looking for the native plants that tell me that spring is on the way.  I want to see that witch hazel blooming in the dead of winter.  It lifts my gloomy winter mood.  After that I want to see the red maples in bloom.  I know that by the time the seed is mature and ready to be dropped into the wind, spring will have arrived.
     On the ground I am also looking for something.  Once the red maples begin to bloom, I look for the yellow trout lilies and the pink spring beauty to bloom.  They complete my definition of the beginning of spring.  By the time they begin to bloom the spring peepers are kicking up a fuss in the local ephemeral ponds looking for mates.  Their eggs will hatch in the spring and by early summer the tadpoles will have become frogs and be already to venture out of the pond.   
     Spring might be an exciting time defined by wonderful showy blooms in the garden, but to really know that the season is here you need to go out into the woods.  Let the native plants show you the way!

1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to provide a postscript. As of today, Feb. 6, I have now seen my first blooming red maple and a handful of blooming trout lilies. The spring beauty is not blooming yet, but the spring peepers were out today 'making hay while the sun was shining.'