Thursday, April 30, 2015

Early Spring Blooms

Harbingers of Spring

When winter finally loosens its firm grip, our earliest spring flowers begin to grow.  People, overly tired of winter, look forward to the first precious colours of spring flowers.  Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is one of our first wildflower blossoms to poke its head out of frozen soil.  It is so anticipated, there is often an unofficial contest to see who can find the first blooms.  Our Coltsfoot have been in bloom for about 2 weeks now.  

Coltsfoot is a yellow, dandelion-like flower that grows on disturbed sites, mainly roadsides, stream banks and waste areas.  The flower heads are about 2.5 cm wide and the plant grows 7 to 40 cm tall.  The flowers appear before the leaves.  The leaves are vaguely heart-shaped and about 7 to 20 cm wide.  Coltsfoot can be differentiated from the Common Dandelion by its early blooming date, the scaly stems and the shape of the leaves.  In ancient times the leaves of Coltsfoot were used to make a cough syrup.  That explains the Latin name, Tussilago, which is derived from the Latin word, tussis, meaning 'cough'.

Skunk Cabbage (Photo by Nelson Poirier)

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is another harbinger of spring.  It appears so early it is often seen poking out of the snow as in the photo above.  This is a very rare plant in New Brunswick and is found in a few sites in Charlotte County, along the lower Saint John River, and in the Cape Tormentine area.  Skunk Cabbage grows in alder thickets and swampy areas.  It is noted for its bad smell.  The flowers are in a knob-shaped cluster called the spadix inside the hood which is purplish-brown or greenish in colour.  The leaves are large and roundish and appear after the flower.  When crushed they produce a bad odour.  According to H. Hinds, the Mi'kmaq used the oil from the crushed leaves as an inhalant for headaches.  If you have ever smelled this plant you might opt for the headache ahead of using it as an inhalant!

Skunk Cabbage is often confused with another plant which is often called 'skunk cabbage'.  That plant is False Hellebore (Veratrum viride).  False Hellebore grows in alluvial soils along streams and meadows.  It also has large, broad leaves which are vein-streaked like the bellows of an accordion.  

Silver Maple

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) is the third early spring bloom in New Brunswick.  Silver Maple is also called Water Maple or Soft Maple.  Its flowers are among the first to appear in the spring and appear before the leaves.  The tree grows along rich bottomlands bordering rivers, swamps and lakes.  It doesn't mind getting its roots covered with water.  That makes it an ideal species for the banks of our yearly flooding streams and rivers.  The Silver Maple is a medium-sized tree growing  20 to 25 metres high and up to a metre diameter at the base.  Its leaves are 10 to 15 cm in diameter and deeply palmate and 5-lobed.  They are a pale green colour above and  silvery below.  In the fall they turn a beautiful yellow to orange colour.  When the flowers bloom in the early spring, they paint the tree line with a beautiful pink colour.  

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