Spring blossom

When people come in to the park they don’t need to told where to look for trees, or blossom trees in particular. Just keep walking, and you’ll find them. If you are a frequent visitor to the park no doubt you know where to look and can get straight to where you desire. Nevertheless, I am going to post my two pennorth worth on the blossom trees in the park.

When I say ‘blossom’ I may be thinking of the Japanese custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers which almost always means the flowering of cherry trees. So, the blossoms that I’ll be referring to will quite often be cherry-like. That is to say, the flowers may look like cherry blossom, or they are Prunus species, or they flower at a similar time such as Malus species. However, there are other trees that should not be overlooked even though they are nothing like cherry trees.

The first one to mention is the Campbell’s magnolia, opposite the café. At this time last year, it was in full bloom and had a mass of glorious flowers. This year the flowers are still in bud and thin on the ground. It does not look like the tree is going to put on a good show this year. Some might be tempted to say it is due to the poor weather we are having now, but things were decided last season and the poor show of flower buds now is probably down to the stress of last summer’s drought. Having said that, the Campbell’s magnolia is due to blossom in early March each year – all things going well – and is usually the first magnolia, in the park, to blossom. The flowering lasted until the end of the month in 2022, which is about three to four weeks from onset. The Campbell’s magnolia is suffering both a reduced number of flowers and a delay in blossoming. It is the number of flowers that were determined by last season’s conditions.

Will all the trees respond in this way to last summer’s drought? Very unlikely. But it is not just the drought that affected the trees. The unseasonal warm weather in December saw one Japanese cherry begin to blossom only to lose all of its flowers in a hard frost a week or so later. That same tree is currently producing a few flowers and seems to have a few more buds in store. Quite remarkable, really, but we’ll have to wait and see if it manages a full on blossom.

Some trees have already blossomed and some are just about to based on last year’s behaviour. I put a notice on the Boxleaf azara predicting it was about to flower and produce its wonderful vanilla aroma but I didn’t see any buds – the flowers are tiny and the tree is out of my reach. I just hope it sticks to its usual calendar and has its biological clock well adjusted and that it didn’t suffer too much last year. We may be in for another annual treat or I may just have to sneak into the park early one day and retrieve my notice. The truth of the matter, though, is that although trees do have an internal clock they do not have to stick to a rigid timetable with nth degree precision; they need some latitude or margin of error. If they are not ready they are not ready even if the day length says it is time to flower.

One Prunus species that has flowered so far is the cherry plum. A small tree alongside the pond has been in blossom for a week or so. It is Prunus cerasifera and the small white flowers look like blackthorn but if you look behind the flower the sepals are bent backwards whereas the blackthorn’s sepals cup the petals. Another, larger cherry plum is next to the path down the hill with the hawthorn hedge. This one is still in bud and is just about to flower so it is behind last year’s timing. The tree had finished blossoming by the end of March, last year. A third cherry plum that was in full bloom by early March last year is near the Thrive garden close to one of the large oak trees. These are usually the first Prunus to blossom, but they are a plum tree not a cherry tree, just a small plum. All of these tree have a good number of flower buds on them. One tree has started to bloom, the other two are close to it. I wonder if the current cold spell will delay the second two in blossoming or whether they stick to a rigid timetable. My bet is on delay. There is too much energy tied up in those flowers to risk opening them in the current cold spell.

The cherry plum near the oak tree can be seen on the 11th March last year and this year in the slideshow. There is a slight difference, with the tree slightly behind this year. The number of flowers looks about the same but there are more closed buds now, than this time last year. The weather was milder, this time last year and whether the trees react to the cool temperatures in a deliberate manner or not, it is fair to say that lower temperatures are bound to affect bud growth. The flowers need to develop within the bud and this requires biochemical reactions. The rates of these reactions are temperature dependent and will go slower at lower temperatures, so like it or not the trees are going to grow buds more slowly in cold weather. This is bound to be one of the pitfalls of being an early bloomer, when the temperatures can not be depended upon.

In the meantime, some of the next trees to blossom are busy with their leaf buds. Various apples, pears and cherries will bring out a flush of leaves before they blossom in early to mid April. Some of the leaves are just as glorious as the blossom, emerging in a wonderful maroon red.

By the end of March the cherry plums should be in full swing, the crab apples should be well underway and the pears not far behind, but everything picks up in April. In the first week of April the cherry tree on the Avenue Road path was coming into bloom, last year and was in full blossom by the second week. In fact by the second week of April, last year all the crab apples were in blossom, as were the cherry trees near the basket ball court and the one further down the hill. The Serviceberries (Amelanchier canadensis) next to the old tennis courts were in bloom making a wonderful avenue of pink. So much was in blossom by the second week of April it was difficult to turn a corner anywhere in the park and not see a tree in bloom. That included a spectacular show by a Norway maple, although this was at its best in the first week of April. The easiest way to list all the trees that were blossoming is to put them on a map. This map is largely restricted to the ‘typical’ blossom trees – apples, pears, cherries – but I have included the Canadian serviceberries because of their splendour. Even though I’ve used the Campbell’s magnolia and the Azara as examples in the text I have not included them on the map – a line has to be drawn, otherwise the conker trees will be pushing in too. Nor have I included any trees from the wooded area in the corner by the railway bridge, and I know there are some good blossom trees in there but that is an area I have yet to dare explore too deeply.

I might find this map useful to record times of blossoming, over the years, and see how much variation there is. I think there is a slight delay this year compared to last but I don’t know if last year was early or normal. Whatever the case, there is still a lot to look forward to and it’s all just starting to happen.

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