This week the trees in Pittsburgh are putting on the green.
The flank of Mt. Washington is my favorite place to see it. All winter the hillside is a flat brown color without the look of individual trees but now each leafing tree shows up as a pale green crown. Some are white with flowers.
This appearance is ephemeral. Soon the leaves will be large and shady and the hillside will look uniformly green. So now while the trees are changing so fast here’s a close look at what they’ve been up to.
Above, in Schenley Park an Ohio buckeye leafs out. Below at a later stage the flower buds emerge. (*see the Comments for discussion on this tree)
The bitternut hickory is not so quick but its mustard yellow bud has begun a leaf.
The pignut hickory’s end bud is furry, shiny and enormous.
These catkins look like caterpillars.
(Dark bark, perhaps a sweet birch. Do you know what tree this is?)
And the crown jewels are the magnolias, native to Asia. This is a star magnolia. Wow!
(photos by Kate St. John)
Every spring I’m stumped by this small flower that blooms in lawns, fallow gardens and waste places. With four petals and alternate “divided” leaves I could tell it’s in the Mustard family. When I keyed it out in Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide I arrived at Pennsylvania bittercress (Cardamine pensylvanica*).
But that’s not what it is. It grows too well in poor soil to be a plant known for preferring wet habitats, swamps and stream banks. I began to suspect it’s an alien.
Based on that hunch I sent photos to friends. Mark Bowers answered that this is hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), native to Europe and Asia.
Like Pennsylvania bittercress, its young leaves can be used in salads and are said to taste like radishes.
Click here for a video describing what to look for if you’d like to eat it. Notice the dog at the end.
(photo by Kate St. John)
* Not a typo, the person who classified Cardamine pensylvanica omitted the second ‘n’ in our state’s name.
Yesterday I wrote about coltsfoot but it’s not the first native wildflower to bloom in western Pennsylvania. That honor goes to snow trillium (Trillium nivale).
I looked for snow trillium last weekend at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve and found the leaves but the deer had eaten all the flowers.
Dianne and Bob Machesney found these blooming at Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County.
Thankfully there are fewer deer at Cedar Creek.
(photo by Dianne Machesney)
At last I’ve found coltsfoot blooming. Spring is officially here.
Coltsfoot is an introduced plant that blooms earlier than most of our native wildflowers. It’s not picky about habitat so you’ll find these dandelion-like flowers by the side of the road and in waste places.
When you see the flower you won’t see the leaves. They’re hidden at the base of the plant right now but will grow into large colts’- foot-shaped leaves after the flowers are gone.
Normally I find coltsfoot blooming around March 25. In last year’s hot weather it appeared on March 14. You can see why I’m impatient.
(photos by Marcy Cunkelman)
Easter is early, winter is late. Few flowers are blooming in western Pennsylvania.
This weekend my surviving crocuses opened fully to receive a visit from a honeybee. He emerged with pollen pantaloons just like this bee in Marcy Cunkelman’s garden.
The bees are happy to find flowers this Easter Day.
(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)
Snow again! We are so ready for spring here in Pittsburgh.
The crocuses bloomed early last week but were slammed shut on Wednesday by a low of 200F. Daffodil leaves emerged and paused. Don’t even ask about tulips.
But Spring is south of us and it’s on its way. There’s a rule of thumb that says Spring moves north 13 miles a day.
Here’s an easy way to watch its progress.
Journey North has a Tulip Test Garden website where observers report when leaves emerge and flowers bloom from the tulip bulbs they planted last fall. Many of the tulip gardens are student projects at elementary schools such as Della Kurtzhals’ class at Clarion Area Elementary School in Clarion, PA.
So how far away is spring? At Providence Day School in Charlotte, NC the first tulip bloomed on March 18. Using the rule of thumb, here’s my guess at blooming times in Pittsburgh and Clarion:
- Pittsburgh is 372 air miles north of Charlotte so I estimate our first tulip will bloom on April 15.
- Clarion is about 430 miles north of Charlotte so their tulips will probably bloom on April 20.
This is just an estimate. Actual blooming times may vary. I won’t be charged like Punxsutawney Phil was for “misrepresenting spring.” (Click here to read about the charges made against him in Hamilton, Ohio. The comments are hilarious.)
So while your garden is covered in snow, rest assured that spring is moving north. You can see it approaching on the Tulip Test Garden map.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day…
The first plant to open leaves in my neighborhood is always the invasive bush honeysuckle across the street. Though I’m not fond of the species I’m always happy to see these particular bushes green up. They’re one of my signs of Spring.
Yesterday, March 15, was the first time the leaves were green enough to see at a distance.
A year ago the hot weather put us well beyond honeysuckle leaves and into magnolia flowers by this date.
Here’s a picture from March 16,2012.
Frankly, I’m quite happy we’re having a normal spring.
(photos by Kate St. John)
On February mornings, the mourning doves sing songs of love.
The males perch high and puff their throats when they sing. Though they are slender, they resemble pigeons when they do this.
Coo-OOOO Cooo Cooo Cooo.
Some say they sound like owls but those who think the sound is mournful named this dove.
Click here to hear their mourning morning song.
AND A QUIZ! Identify the other bird singing in the recording. His song is not normally heard in southwestern PA in the summer. The mourning dove lives year-round from Maine to Mexico, from Canada to Cuba. The other bird will give you a hint on the location of the recording.
(photo by Dori on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
Lots of the trees are bare now that Hurricane Sandy came through Pennsylvania. But not everywhere.
Here, the trees look wintry in Schenley Park on November 1.
But just around the corner the view from Panther Hollow Bridge is mixed. The large sycamore is bare — see the ghostly white bark? — but the red oaks still show off their russet tones. (These pictures are dark because it was raining. It rained every day last week.)
Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, winter comes earlier.
Here’s a picture from the Quehanna Wild Area taken on October 13. Three weeks ago most of the trees were already bare in this part of Clearfield County.
What’s it like where you live?
(photos by Kate St. John)