Cherry blossom and other tree flowers-A Visual Guide
Notes from a Lancashire Countryman
April takes its name from the Latin "Aperire" a word which describes the unfurling of the leaf, a fitting description at this time of the year.
"LOVELIEST OF TREES THE CHERRY-NOW
IS HUNG WITH BLOOM ALONG THE BOUGH,
AND STANDS ABOUT THE WOOD-LAND, WEARING WHITE FOR EASTERTIDE"
From a poem - a Shropshire lad by A E, Houseman.
It is not only the ground flora that enhance the countryside with an array of colourful blooms. Trees and shrubs put on a floral spectacular of their own.It is not necessary to travel into the heart of the countryside to gaze upon this spring time splendour, many varieties can be admired in parks and gardens throughout the region. Local Authorities have long employed trees and shrubs to brighten town centres, parks and industrial areas.
For many people, one of the most familiar flowering trees will be the ornamental cherries. The spring and Tibetan species are among the first to flower. However, it is the wild native cherry, reaching a height of thirty metres, which takes pride of place for me. To see a mature specimen in a pasture or woodland ride in all its blossoming glory is truly a sight to behold. The flowers appear with or just before the leaves, usually in clusters of two to six. They are white and borne on long stalks.
Other familiar flowering "garden trees" such as the laburnum will put on a display before the month is out. The bright yellow pea like flowers will cascade from pendulous sprays. These are then followed by the formation of seed pods which are hairy while young, becoming smooth as they mature. The seeds of laburnum are highly poisonous to animals and children and are copious in the autumn, they are round, small , and black when ripe.
April is the month that allows most of our trees to be clothed again in all their finest greenery, following the grim nakedness of winter. The horse chestnut is one of our earliest trees to take advantage of the new season. The swollen sticky buds are conspicuously large and of a deep brown colour. The stickiness is a ploy, also shared by other species of tree, to prevent damage, to the new growth. As the buds burst and new foliage begins to emerge, it is noticeable that the young, pale green leaves are clothed in a white down, protection for the forming leaves against the ravages of our coldest months. Once the leaves are fully expanded the down is quickly discarded.
The foliage of horse chestnut are palmate, having five to seven leaflets, toothed along their margins. Each are cut back to the base and spread out like fingers on a hand. They are of an elongated pair shape. The entire leaf may easily attain the width of 20cm, making it the largest leaf on any tree in Britain. The leaf stalks, known as petioles, may also reach a length of 20cm. The flower spikes are borne in April along with the foliage but it will be the middle of May before the spikes commonly referred to as candles burst into flower.
The common white flowered horse chestnut produces many white flowers spiraled around the "candle". They consist of four or five petals which have delicate shades of yellow or pink at their bases. The stamens protruding from the centre are red tipped adding to the alchemy of colour. These candles often up to 30 cm long, are in my opinion, one of the most beautiful tree blooms that nature has to offer. Two or three spikes in full bloom will enhance any vase of spring flowers. They have the bonus of lasting well in water. When in full bloom it is a majestic sight and few trees can match its floral contribution.
The red flowered species is a cross between the common white flowered and the red buckeye, a north American species of the same family. As its common name suggests, the flowers of this species are of a pinkish red. They are smaller in all respects to those of the white. However, a tree in fullbloom still produces a stunning display. It differs also by the seed cases which fall in autumn. Those of the white, which encase the "conker" are spiny those of the crossed species lack the spines. Most horse chestnut trees will have gained their stature after being planted. They appear to be reluctant getting established by natural means. It has been so widely planted that it is easy to forget that this common tree is not native to our shores, it was introduced from Europe.
Horse chestnut flowers
I recall on one occasion that I was admiring the floral display of the trees I was resting at the foot of a tree. I noticed a small white feather rocking its way to the ground from somewhere above my head. This was soon followed by an assortment of other small pieces of debris including straw and bits of paper. Moving to a suitable sight, I scanned the upper regions of the tree with my binoculars. The culprit was soon located. A starling was busy, presumably spring cleaning its nest site, in preparation of the coming season. A small round hole at the top of the tree trunk led to the chosen place of this bird. As I watched it made several appearances popping its head out, each time discarding a beak full of old nesting material. The starling along with the house sparrow, is a familiarbird, often noticed taking nesting material into any available nook or cranny, especially under roof tiles or weather boards of houses. It is an untidy builder, using elaborate amounts of coarse grasses, straw and bits of paper. The bird then lines the nest with feathers or/and hair on which to lay its eggs.
The eggs of the starling are beautiful. They are rather long and of a lovely pale blue colour without a single blemish. Although there are records of dull, rough surfaced eggs, the ones I have encountered over the years have had the typical smooth glossy finish. Four to six eggs are the usual clutch size. Most books on the subject inform me that they are usually laid in April. The local starlings can not have read the script and many begin to layeggs during the early weeks of March. The birds are easily tempted into using nest boxes that are especially designed for them, which need to be located a t a suitable height. These boxes were once used to control their numbers, the eggs being removed when the clutch was complete. Sadly, however, this familiar bird is declining in numbers nation wide.