Sunday, March 27, 2016

Quaking aspen finally flowering

Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) makes one of the earliest moves in spring, producing catkins like the fuzzy things on pussy willow.  (Aspens and willows are in the same family.)  But it has taken until now for those catkins to lengthen into dangling flower clusters and get down to business.  My visit to the weedy stand of trees at the edge of the empty parking lot (beside D'Angelo's) at the top of West St. yesterday showed good many catkins shedding pollen.  This pollen drifted off on the breeze to (hopefully) female flowers on other trees, ensuring future generations of quaking aspens on the west side.  (A place to look for bigger trees is the edge of Poliseno Field at the high school.)

Many buds had opened to reveal downy catkins more than two weeks ago.

What the catkins looked like inside: each tiny green bump is a single flower; 
a catkin has many hundreds.

 Yesterday the lengthening catkins were shedding pollen as they swayed in the breeze.

Flowering catkins up close.  The buds always seem to me to look like shiny brown beetles.

I help spread the pollen!  See it drifting off?

Meanwhile, the alder at the high school pond is about done (the male catkins dried out and darkened), silver maples (Acer saccharinum) have dropped their male flowers, leaving the females to develop their winged seeds, while red maples (Acer rubrum)--including later-blooming males--are now in full flower.  I was surprised yesterday to come upon a couple of yews (bright green evergreens with broad, flat needles often pruned into yard bushes) shedding pollen from little, ball-shaped cones.  I hadn't realized any local conifer* "bloomed" this early.  

The alders on the banks of the high school pond look dried-out--not like a week or so ago.

 Fallen male silver maple flowers, and remaining female flowers.

 Red maple female flowers (above), and male flowers (below).

 Though commonly planted and pruned, yew (Taxus canadensis) is a native tree.  
The little yellow balls are male cones shedding pollen.

*If you've seen the juicy, bright red "berries" of yew in fall, you'd be entitled to doubt it was a conifer at all, but each "berry" surrounds a tiny round cone.  Another conifer that disguises its cones is juniper, which coats its tiny, berry-like cones with blue-white wax.

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