Greetings to all in Greensboro on a cool March day, 2009. I hope your day is going well so far.
The other day I walked by The Perfect Tree (a Post Oak) on Elm Street I saw that its end-buds (buds tend to be clumped at the end of oak twigs) were starting to swell, soon to open and fill the air with oak pollen. Last evening I noticed that the birch tree catkins (from the white or paper birch trees by our patio) are just starting to swell and elongate. Soon, birch pollen will cover our patio. I pity my neighbors with allergies, but I love, in the truest sense of deep and abiding affection (and praise to God), the “miracle” of Spring. OK, so I am a biology geek, but tree buds are way cool. Their formation, dormancy, and opening is akin to conception, development, and birth in animals, and almost as fascinating.
Spring is here! Take a break. Go outside and walk around and look at the perfectly ordinary and common tree buds all around you. They are swelling. Many have opened already and we see leaves on their trees – maple trees for example. Others are just getting ready to open, such as dogwoods. Notice the covering of the buds. All winter long those bud scales, sometimes one big scale, sometimes two, sometimes more, have protected the life inside the bud from the cold and wetness outside. One freezing rain storm after another may coat the tree with ice, but the bud scales keep the life inside the bud safe and ready to grow when the time is right.
Inside are tiny leaves and/or flowers, either well-formed in miniature, or at least already differentiated as cells ready to take on full form. What energy the tree didn’t put into its seeds or store in its roots last summer and fall, it has packed into these buds. Indeed, as last summer wound down, and the buds which would lie dormant over the winter started to form, the tree “knew” to transfer important energy sources from the leaves and roots to the buds.
These buds are rich in energy which is why deer and other animals like to eat them. As the buds open they will attract the season’s very earliest insects, crawling and flying, to their moisture and sugars. Over the next few weeks Greensboro will be filled with budding coming-to-life trees, awash with flowers. Tree flowers aren’t all as bright and glorious like red buds and cherries. But each is beautiful and fascinating in its own way, if you have eyes to see. And the overall effect of abundant small flowers and young leaves can be quite beautiful as well. I think in particular of the beautiful earth tones of oak tree catkins and early leaves. This lends a feel of autumn to stands of budding/leaving/blooming oaks. Sometimes the most beautiful things are faint, and less showy. So keep your eyes peeled, and if you have a chance, go bud watching. It’s at least as fun as sitting at a computer all day!