Nature Notes

Vol. X April, 1932 No. 4

Tree flowers - that bloom in the spring

Western Dogwood flower

willow stamanite and pistallates

Heralding the approach of spring in this National Park is the flowering of the willows and alders. Even before the welcome, whistling song of the Varied Thrush, the long staminate catkins of the alder loosen and shake themselves about in the wind. From a distance this stage in their development can be readily ascertained by the purplish-red shade that these catkins, dormant throughout the long winter months, have affected. Snow may still lie deep on the ground; the streams may still be mute in their blanket of winter's drifts -- yet the alders bring a promise that spring is not far behind. But look closely at an alder branch bearing these catkins. On the same branch you will find a group of rather inconspicuous affairs that are the pistillate flowers -- and these, after fertilization, will develop into the characteristic "cones" which bear this tree's seed and which are so characteristic of the group. A twig of the Alder is sketched upon the cover of this issue where both the staminate and pistillate flowers are pictured as well as the distinctive stalked buds by which the tree is identified during the winter.

hazel-bush (Corylus) Stamanite catkins and buds

When one thinks of willows he thinks of "pussy" willows. These terms are linked closely in everyone's memory. The staminate and pistillate flowers of this group are found on different trees, or shrubs. The one -- the staminate -- is at first soft and silky; later covered with small yellow dots which is the pollen ready to be transferred to the more unlovely pistillate flowers by insects, mostly bees, seeking the nectar which is contained at the base of each of the many individual flowers that make up the flower cluster. Thus nature provides for the setting of the seed in the willows while in the alder the wind must perform this task. Staminate and pistillate flowers of the willows are sketched on this page.

Later other trees will flower also. The conifers will be possessed of theirs, even though the casual person rarely notices them until the undeveloped pistillate ones become cones. Yet they are there and easily found if one cares to give these trees a bit more than a hasty glance. Take the pines for instance. At the base of a leafy shoot of the year you will find a cluster of yellow, brownish or reddish brown flowers which do not conform at all to the popular conception of that term. Yet they are just that, being flowers of the staminate or male sex. The pistillate flowers which are the prospective cones of two years hence will be found elsewhere bearing a resemblance to a miniature pineapple.

maple stamanite flowers

The most showy of our native tree flowers are those of the Dogwood, of which we have one species attaining tree size -- though this is rare within the boundaries of the park. The flowers of this tree are small, numerous and closely packed in a head-like cluster and this is surrounded by a whorl of large, conspicuous white bracts. This effect gives the appearance of a single large flower -- and as such many people regard it.

The Maples will also be in bloom soon and likewise will be the Cottonwoods -- both of which are well known and have readily recognized flowers. But a common bush shrub in this region of the northwest is the Hazel or Corylus which, like the alder -- as it belongs to the same family (Birch) -- has pendent staminate catkins. The buds on this woody plant, however, are round and not stalked and will not be confused with the alder after one examination. Watch your native trees as they flower for they offer much of interest.


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