City Trees in Spring

Guest Post by Leslie Day

Apple blossoms

Most people are surprised that trees actually flower. Yet this spring ritual of pink cherry blossoms, white clouds of Callery pear blooms, magnolia, apple, and purple leaf plum flowers exploded in March, about 5-6 weeks ahead of schedule. It was so striking that fashion photographer Bill Cunningham of the New York Times, devoted his weekly Styles column to the beauty that Mother Nature wore up and down the streets and throughout the city parks. So that you can see these trees with your own eyes, check out the slideshow below for photos of the really showy tree flowers–callery pear, cherry, apple, magnolia, and purple leaf plum flowers.

Now we are a couple of weeks into spring and, for me, the real beauty is slowly revealing itself. I am referring to the delicate tree flowers most people never notice: red maple flowers, oak catkins, elm flowers, and samaras (the winged seeds now a brilliant lime green). Wherever you live, as you walk down your block , you cannot help but notice color coming back into view: pale pinks, reds, terra cottas, and myriad shades of green as early spring tree flowers and then delicate leaf buds start to bloom.

Red maple flowers

Most of us learn in high school biology (or in elementary school if we are lucky enough to have a good science teacher) that it is the flower that produces a plant’s seeds. However, most adults forget that trees could not reproduce unless they possessed flowers, some incredibly showy in order to attract pollinating animals, and some inconspicuous because they just hang out there, waiting for the wind to carry their sperm-filled pollen to an ovary  of the same flower species waiting on another tree. Although people suffering with allergies always blame the flamboyant flowers of cherries, apples, and magnolias, it is the small, inconspicuous, wind-pollinated flowers (from oak trees, for instance) that make us sick. And yet they too are incredibly delicate and beautiful.

To help you identify these trees, see the slideshow below for photos of the smaller, delicate flowers–red maple flowers, elm keys, American elm samaras, and red oak catkins.

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Whether you are allergic or not, here’s to spring in all her beauty, thanks mainly to our glorious trees.

Leslie Day is the author of two beautifully illustrated guides to the natural side of New York City: Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City and Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City, both available from the JHU Press. 

1 Comment

Filed under Botany, General Science

One response to “City Trees in Spring

  1. Robin Noonan

    Gorgeous!