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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Early Blooms

Calm winds, bright sunshine and above freezing temperatures have begun thawing the city. By Sunday all traces of snow and ice could vanish from the parks. Today I noticed some signs of spring sprouting from trees and peaking up through the forest floor.

I took a late afternoon walk into Prospect Park to look for a patch of Winter Aconite in the Ravine. There's a small bed of these tiny Eurasian buttercups on the north slope that leads down to the water. It is the only place that I've found them in the park and, as of last weekend, they hadn't appeared. I walked into the Ravine from Rocky Pass and, even before I arrived at the Rock Arch Bridge, I could see up ahead the golden yellow blossoms glowing in the late day sun.

Another yellow, early flowering plant is the Common Witch-Hazel. As early as two weeks ago, I saw some blooming in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. There are several shrubs at the south and west side of Prospect Park's Picnic House. Those are now in full bloom. The next "yellow" that will adorn our gradually waking parks is the Cornelian Cherry. We could even see them by next week.

Nearly all the elm trees now have millions of alternating rows of reddish buds. They seem to have appeared virtually overnight. I'm not certain if the elms are American Elms, european species or hybrids. Besides the fact that I can't tell the buds apart, early in the last century millions of native elms were destroyed by Dutch Elm Disease. I believe that many were replaced with more disease-resistance species.

I was on the Nethermead staring up into the slender, curving branches of a young elm. The shapes reminded me of fractals. Against a pure blue sky, its trunk, branches, twigs, stems, buds and (folded within the buds) leaves seemed to create a perfectly balanced and infinitely regressing hierarchy of forms. I imagined that, if I could see through the soil, the pattern would reverse through its taproot, laterals and mycorrhizae.

This is a dangerous time of year for our urban Eastern Gray Squirrel. Red Maples are now covered with flowers. An irresistible late-winter treat, squirrels are busy gorging on the sweet food. Not being a squirrel, I can't be entirely certain of the reason, but I guess that more sap is circulating through the twigs to supply the red blossoms. I've counted as many as 12 squirrels at a time in the more mature Red Maples. Sometimes they will hang upside down to get at the succulent buds, making them easy pickings for our resident Red-tailed Hawks. Hundreds of short, nipped off twigs were scattered about in the snow below a maple in the Ravine. The small gathering of vulnerable squirrels were just yards from Alice and Ralph's nest. Perhaps they are aware of the danger, but the syrupy snack is just too tempting to pass up.

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