Friday, March 19, 2010

Update from Chicago

It’s not quite spring yet in the Chicago region, but we’ve been given a teaser. The temperature crept up above 60 degrees for the first time this week and we all celebrated by shedding coats and opening car windows. The ice on the lakes at Chicago Botanic Garden finally disappeared today and some of the earliest signs that spring is on its way are appearing on nature’s calendar. Red maples (Acer rubrum), one of our earliest blooming native tree species, and Black alder (Alnus glutinosa), a weedy exotic tree species, are blooming right now. Some of the Black alders look almost yellow from a distance since their reddish-brown catkins are releasing so much pollen. The release of pollen from a flower, called “anthesis” by us botanical types, is a sign that the flower is fully mature. When you are ready to report a first-flower observation, please check that the flower is completely open and (if your eyes are good) look for pollen being released.

As I was driving into the Garden yesterday, I almost gasped…in the distance was a shrub with bright yellow flowers. Could it be forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia) already? It would be 10 days earlier than last year. I went back later in the day on foot and checked. Alas, it was a beautiful yellow cultivar of the spring witch hazel (Hammamelis vernalis). While out and about, I checked the forsythia and its buds were still tightly closed. But I did see some other very early flowers, including snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) and some early purple crocus cultivars. It’s a sign that, despite the forecast of snow this weekend, spring will be here soon!

Thanks to all of you who are watching plants and submitting your observations! We appreciate your efforts!

Kay Havens

Photos: Pati Vitt. Chicago Botanic Garden on March 18th.

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