Buds and blooms

Many fellow bloggers out there have been posting some lovely images of spring events and as this time of year is an exciting one from a nature perspective I felt inspired to get out and get some pictures of vernal regeneration in my part of the world.

I didn’t have to wander too far, the apple and hazel trees and the beech hedge in my garden are showing signs of waking up from the winter slumber:

Nascent apple blossom about to burst into life

A catkin – the flower of the hazel tree, above. And below, the diminutive inflorescence that will eventually become a hazelnut.

Hazel trees (Corylus avellana) produce catkins early in the year which are monoecious, which means they are either male or female, the one above is a male one, the females being tiny and hidden in the buds and the pollen is wind dispersed.  They provide not only nuts but if left to their own devices hazel ‘poles’ sprout from the ground which grow tall and straight and are coppiced to make fencing, and in the days when wattle and daub was used for building  walls the poles were used to make the wattle on which mud was plastered to provide the daub.

Beech leaves sprouting from the apical buds at the top of a hedge

A couple of hundred metres along the road on the grass verge was this cluster of lesser celandines (Ranunculus ficaria)

According to the font af all wisdom that is Wiki, lesser celandine used to be known as ‘pilewort’ because it was thought of as a remedy for haemorrhoids. I like this cluster because all the flowers are in different stages of opening, from a tightly closed green bud to a fully open flower.

Once into the fields the hedgerows were lined with the thorny stems and freshly shooting leaves of the bramble:

Lining the drainage ditches which delineate the field margins in this part of the world are willow trees (Salix cinerea) which need the water that drains from the fields and in the spring are covered in the furry catkins which give the tree its common name of ‘pussy willow’:

Willow catkin – unlike the hazel the catkins of the willow are dioecious, containing both male and female reproductive machinery in the same catkin

The wood of another species of willow tree (white willow, Salix alba) is very light and very strong and is used to make cricket bats and the bark of the willow contains a compound called salicylic acid which is the chemical precursor of aspirin. The analgesic properties of willow bark have been known of for centuries and have been maximised by acetylating salicylic acid to make aspirin. As well as analgesia, aspirin is now used as an anticoagulant to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and recent studies suggest it may have anti-carcinogenic activity too.

The plants in this post are a random selection from the garden, roadside verge and the countryside within 200 of my house and all of them provide us with something useful. The beech is structural and is ideal for hedging. Apple, bramble and hazel all have edible fruits. Lesser celandine may shrink your chalfonts* and the willow provides drugs to treat pain, heart disease and cancer (not forgetting cricket bats).

* Chalfonts = ‘Chalfont St Giles’ (I’m sure you can work it out)

15 responses to “Buds and blooms

  1. Hello Finn – thank you for another beautiful and informative post…on subject matter within 200m of the house, no less. 🙂

  2. I just read (or as much as my rudimentary French would permit) this post from the excellent nature blog from Belgium ‘Naturanaute’: ‘http://naturanaute.com/2012/03/27/couleurs-de-printemps/’ which has some very interesting stuff about the lesser celandine, Ranunculus ficaria.

    I quote: ‘It was apparently used to treat haemorrhoids and tumours (which are called “fic” in ancient French, hence the name “ficaire”)…’

    So the taxonomic species name for the lesser celandine derives from the ancient French for cancer. Fascinating stuff

  3. Wonderful, educational and beautiful. This post makes me so happy about the time of year, despite tomorrow’s impending snow! Who can resist the soft pussy willow? I always loved it as a child and it still fills me with joy now. I’m looking forward to more of your nature observations in the months to come, they are a true delight.

    • Thanks Lorna, I enjoyed writing this post too. I saw that snow is forecast for your part of the world, seems a bit mad after your 23oC last week. I’ve got another couple of spring related posts in the pipeline. Watch this space!

      PS I’ve had lots of blackbirds in the garden all day today, this morning there were four at the same time and the two males were going at it like a couple of prizefighters!

      • You have a very blackbird friendly garden, by the sounds of things! Perhaps they know you’re interested and they enjoy performing for you.

        I can’t believe the snow forecast, it seems like madness, as you say. I don’t want any more winter! I’ll certainly be watching and waiting for your forthcoming spring posts to cheer me up if it does snow.

  4. Coincidentally I have been reading up on catkins myself just this week after a tree surgeon identified the big tree at the bottom of our garden I now know it is a (a) a poplar, (b) it is male because it has red catkins and (c) shouldn’t really be planted in a domestic garden 😦

  5. Must love spring! It’s so interesting how closely the hazel catkins resemble those now in abundance on our river birches. Thanks!

    • Good point about the catkins, I guess some species have been imported by humans and others live in a similar environment and have separately evolved the same solution to a particular problem, in this case reproduction. I often look at pictures from your blog and others from the US and notice how particular species are very similar to ones here in the UK.

  6. I miss pussy willows, Finn! We don’t have them here in Colorado. When I was a child, my mother would cut branches and put them in a vase, and we would hang wooden painted Easter eggs on them. A sure sign of Spring!

    Thanks for the post and the great info!

    • Hello Ruth, I like the idea of using willow branches to hang Easter eggs on, my Mum is from Denmark and the Danes are very imaginative when it comes to festive decorations and she does a similar thing with a witch hazel branch which she hangs from the ceiling with wooden eggs on.

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