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Early Bloomers

The first signs of spring have arrived and the show of wildflower blossoms has begun. On a recent warm day after the first week of May I thought I would capture some of the natives in bloom. I was surprised by how many blossoms I found in my own yard.

Two of my favorite shrubs happen to be very early bloomers. The most showy is the hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) sporting lacecap blooms before the leaves fully emerge. The flowers are a welcome and obvious sight that last for a couple of weeks. Less showy perhaps, but no less enticing are the flowers of our native honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis). So dainty and just a couple of shades more yellow than the emerging foliage, the lovely bells hang beneath the leaves requiring a little effort on behalf of the observer. I was happy to see that our native beats out the Japanese honeysuckles both in flowering and in leaf emergence, giving it a slight advantage in catching the earliest sunrays to start photosynthesizing for the season.

Among herbaceous plants, the earliest bloomer in my yard was the trailing arbutus or mayflower (Epigaea repens) which jumped the gun and began blooming on April 30th this year. The fragrance of the mayflower reminds me of jasmine and our local bumblebees are attracted by the abundant nectar. While I had always thought that you had to get on your knees to appreciate the fragrance (a ritual I have observed for many years) I noticed this year that while working near the patch that the fragrance wafted some distance on a warm afternoon in the sun. The patch of evergreen leathery leaves seems to be expanding each year.

The bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was next to bloom, but suffered more than the other herbaceous flowers in the recent rains. Individual flowers last only a couple of days in good weather. They are usually self pollinated, so the brief bloom period is not a problem. The leaves are folded vertically, clasping the flower stem while in bloom and fully emerge into a more horizontal position that shelters the developing seed case until mature. Seeds are dispersed by ants and are certainly being moved around my garden. Our native ginger (Asarum canadense) is also an early bloomer, but the flower is dark red and pretty much resting on the soil making it very obscure. I was lucky to see that many ginger plants were in full bloom well before the nascent leaves have unfurled while on my tour around the yard. They are pollinated by small flies seeking shelter in the tubular flowers and the seeds are also dispersed by ants. The hepatica (Anemone americana), however, blooms above a mound of last year's evergreen leaves and before this year's new leaves emerge. What a pleasure to see those lovely blue flowers held high to be pollinated by bees and flies. Subsequent seed capsules will also be dispersed by ants.

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