One of the first harbingers of spring are the furry catkins of the willow. No one has to be told that the "pussy" willows are but clusters of minute staminate flowers. As the season advances their furry character is supplanted by the appearance of the stamens which have finally pushed from the protective shelter of the furry scales which had protected them earlier in the season. Bearing their yellow pollen upon the ends of these stamens the catkins then resemble bunches of golden beads. In addition are the pistillate catkins, borne upon different willow trees or shrubs, green and not so interesting in appearance. But each type of willow flower is possessed of a feature that is necessary to the existence of the species. At the base of each flower is a smaller nectar gland which serves to attract large numbers of bees at this early season and thereby, as they visit first one and then another willow, serve to pollenize the plants. Thirteen species of willows are native to Mt. Rainier National Park while approximately 175 species are known.
In the case of the alders, of which but two species are native to the park, both staminate and pistillate flowers are partially developed during the preceding summer. In the spring the staminate flowers, which are terminal on the branchlets and erect in the winter, develop into long pendant catkins which eventually shake themselves out to loose the pollen to the breeze by which it is carried about. These loose pendant catkins are very conspicuous in the park during early spring.
An added charm is given to many of our conifers at this season. In the case of the Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga taxifolia) its sombre green is enlivened by the reddish purple pistillate flowers that will, by late summer, develop into the characteristic cones. The staminate flowers are found near the ends of the branchlets - being clusters of small oblong bodies which are a tan or light brown in color. In the case of the Grand Fir (Abies grandis) the staminate flowers, found at the ends of the branchlets, are a grey-brown in color. (See illustration on page 12)
Then we have the Maple, represented in the park by three species. Only one of these three can be considered a tree and this, the Broadleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum), is festooned in the spring with long racemes of pendant, greenish-yellow flowers that appear after the leaves. This is a common deciduous tree throughout the northwest, as is the Black Cottonwood, another of the parks few deciduous species. Anyone who has lived close by any number of these trees can well appreciate the appropriate character of its common name for the air, after maturity of the seeds is filled with countless tufts of white "fuzz" which are really seeds attached to a light hairy parachute arrangement which utilizes the air currents in transporting the seeds to places where they may take root. As it is a member of the same family as the willow you will expect to find staminate flowers on some trees and pistillate flowers on others - and this is true. The Black Cottonwood's staminate flowers are densely arranged in long, pendant clusters, its units being flat and disk-like while the pistillate are small bead-like bodies, which are also borne in long loose clusters, that may be readily seen upon the ground in the late spring after a windstorm.
So look to the trees in your locality for flower interest! The oak, ash, elm, beech, chestnut, magnolia, sycamore, locust, horse-chestnut, catalpa, and many others which are not represented in the almost wholly coniferous forests of this park offer interesting possibilities for study. (CFB)
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