Whyizzit that every spring presents us with so many whatizzit's?
When it's April but winter just won't quit you can come here to dip into spring. Be prepared: It's like the real thing, full of questions as well as surprises.
27: Pulmonaria species (P. saccharata, P. longifolia, P. angustifolia, P. rubra and their hybrids) are colorful creatures, many with flowers that are blue in bud but more pink when open. The combination of blue buds and pink flowers accounts for the name boys and girls.
The scientific name Pulmonaria and another common name, lungwort (literally, lung plant) recognize one of the plant's ancient uses. It dates to when the Doctrine of Signatures assured medieval herbalists that a plant's resemblance to a body part meant it was a useful cure for related ills. So the spotted-leaf species of this clan that seemed to resemble a diseased lung were used in whooping cough medicines.
26: Tulips must rest warm and dry in summer and have at least 9 weeks below 40F in winter to go through all the chemical and physical changes necessary to produce and mature a flower bud. Some tulip varieties are not good perennials in a given locale because they're programmed at the genetic level to require more heat than a northern garden can provide in summer, or more cold than they'll receive in a southern garden's winter. We've seen that the ability to keep producing flowers year after year in our zone 5 garden is directly related to height and bloom season. Our rule of thumb is to treat tulips as annuals if they are very tall, very frilly or very late to bloom.
Other factors that can affect tulip bloom are within our control. If a given tulip perennializes for one gardener in a neighborhood but not another, chances are the non-bloomer is not planted deep enough (we set tulips 12" deep), is in an area that's too wet in summer, or has both strikes against it.
25: In the spring a pond goes through a natural turning over as the surface thaws and warms. For a brief time the surface layer loses the buoyancy of iciness yet is still colder than the depths. It sinks and we see water from below rise, carrying its organic debris. This is a good thing for the life of a pond, as it means oxygen from the surface is being mixed into the depths. For the sake of the fish, frogs and aquatic life in general, let the spring turnover proceed!
(This Missouri Department of Conservation guide does a great job of explaining spring turnover.)
23: It's known as pigsqueak for the leathery texture of the leaf, which might be seen as shaped like a pig's ear and is said to produce an "oink" if rubbed between the fingers. We've worn out many a Bergenia cordifolia leaf trying to find that sound... Did you know: This leaf and many plant parts develop maroon or red color in cold weather as a defense against the cold. The pigment anthocyanin is a pretty red-purple, and a pretty effective cellular antifreeze.
22: Daffodil buds can tease a body for weeks with just a hint of yellow. If your daffs "come up blind" -- seem to have a bud but never open a flower -- it may be that there was a very dry spell as the plant began to grow in late winter, or that the ground in that place is not cool for a long enough period in winter so the plant doesn't grow enough root to support its flower. That's why most daffodil species won't bloom if planted in the warmest zones in North America. We've also seen them fail to bloom some years in a northern garden if they are planted very close to the warmth of an old, uninsulated foundation or a heavily used septic tank.
21: Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is a cousin of the flowering dogwood. This small tree blooms yellow before the forsythia flowers. The red fruit is favored by songbirds and can be made into jam. Be sure to use lots of sugar, as one taste of this sour fruit will give you an idea just how hard life once was, that our desperate forebears would preserve just about any fruit they could. High in vitamin C, cornelian cherry preserves could provide calories in winter and help a body stave off scurvy.
20. The true flower of lenten rose or hellebore (Helleborus hybrids) has green petals. Look for them surrounding the fertile parts -- the frill of pollen producing, antenna-like stamens and the central, seed-producing pistils. What we take to be the flower and what makes this plant's show so long lasting, are the colorful flower bud covers or "sepals" -- purple in this example. Even after the seed's set and well along to ripening, the sepals are still there, providing color.
18: Maiden grasses (Miscanthus species, which stand tall and sturdy in winter) do not usually produce viable seed when grown in cold northern areas. It's likely that the growing season simply ends too soon so these fall bloomers don't have time to ripen seed. That's a good thing. You know how tough it is to dig these big clumps to divide them, so you can imagine the effort required to dig out a proliferation of volunteer seedlings, or clear a wild area of a mature infestation!
Trouble is, some varieties have proven themselves capable of setting viable seed. That's why Miscanthus earned itself a place on some State- and Province noxious weed lists, and they're banned from sale. The earlier they bloom, the more likely they are to have time to set seed. So if you grow this plant without trouble and it's still legally sold in your State, avoid the lure of summer-blooming varieties. Stick with those that have no plumes until way late in fall.
16: Dutch hyacinth flowers have a very strong sweet fragrance... when they first open. As each individual floret ages the chemical composition of the nectar changes and becomes offensive. When people complain about a sudden, mysterious headache, we look around for hyacinth flowers in the room.
15: Watch for and grub out reversions to all-green. Ajuga reptans 'Burgundy Glow' is not a stable variety and all-green shoots with their higher concentration of chlorophyll more energy!) will out-grow and crowd out the colorful-leaf sections.
13: Box elder (Acer negundo) is full cousin to sugar-, silver- and red maple. It's important for its ability to grow even in wet places, hold seeds through winter for birds and small mammals to eat, and provide homes for those same animals in the cavities and snags that come with constantly breaking and regrowing limbs.
12: Cattail fluff and a maple seed. Don't want to populate your wet shore with cattails? Okay, but Mother Nature abhors a vacuum and will populate it for you, and very likely with taller, more aggressive species.
11: When evergreen needles lose their color, and a look back along the branch does not turn up any break or tear, look a bit deeper for green. There's hope if you find moist green when you scratch the bark or slice open one of the tiny tip buds.
10: Deer and rabbits can both do this damage by nipping off the still-furled spear of foliage as it first breaks ground. Deer tend to bite with an upward slant, however. So this tulip probably lost it to a rabbit. Droppings can tell the tale but it's a comparative thing, between deer and rabbits. More at the topic on our Forum and in What's Coming Up 211.
9: Canada thistle is no Canadian. It's a Eurasian species that moved so far and developed into extensive colonies with such speed that early European botanists exploring North America figured it to be a native.
In spring it's low, small and not even very spiny but don't be fooled. That little sprout is fueling prodigious root growth. Put a garden fork into the area NOW and remove all the root emanating from it!
6a: That's marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), which translates to goblet of the marsh. In early spring the flowers are shiny gold over big, deep green leaves. By summer, the space is bare, but maybe your foot or another vector of erosion cracked off some of the plant's buoyant crown, and it floated away to lodge against a different bit of muddy bank. Next spring when its new roots form, it'll settle in. So the color multiplies.
5: Those eyes belong to American toads (Bufo americanus), and that male called the female in with a long high trill. Spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) are smaller, smoother, and call with a peep-peep. If you know to listen for that modulation you can hear it even in the big sound made now by a gathering of dozens or hundreds of peepers.
Learn more about peepers from the National Wildlife Federation:
and be sure to listen from that article's link to the Audubon Reptiles and Amphibians Guide:
3: Puschkinia scillioides. Common name puschkinia. (Come on, if you can manage to say Forsythia, why not Puschkinia?)
4: Woods anemone (A. blanda and A. nemerosa)