Apr 16, 2011

Know Your Flowering Trees!!


This is the view I wake up to for the next precious few days: a cloud of Bradford Pear blooms and the particular scent they carry. Now Father R doesn't share my enthusiasm for them. He says it smells like "dead fish." ("Then it's followed by a lilac-y smell, but first it's dead fish! I lived here for three years before I figured out that I was smelling those trees!") I admit it isn't exactly honeysuckle, but dead fish?

Oh, well.


The point here is not scent-bashing , but a quick flowering tree ID session. There are so many out there in our Mid-Atlantic area right now, all blooming their big, fluffy heads off and all hoping it doesn't either: a) freeze; b) storm; or c) blow a gale force wind. At this moment they're getting C.


See the Jefferson Memorial in the background?

Always ask someone with a good camera around their neck to take your picture.







Then there's also the  National Cherry Blossom Festival which is winding down, but living a few miles north means our trees are just peaking. The pleasure Mei Wei and I enjoyed on a record-setting day a week ago in DC is now extended to our own garden.


So it seems fitting that we start with...

The Yoshino or Flowering Cherry
Look for smoothish bark with horizontal cracks, a bright green leaf that doesn't come out  until the flowers are passing peak, and pale pink flowers with 5 simple heart-shaped petals. The Japanese cherish them as a symbol of the beauty, but also fragility of life. The Festival this year, a bare few weeks  after the earthquake, was especially poignant.


The Weeping Cherry
This one's easy. Beautiful, drooping branches loaded with medium pink blossoms. Like a pink waterfall in the garden.

Doubled pink blossoms of Weeping Cherry






The Bradford Pear.

Probably confused with the Yoshino Cherry because it blooms at the same time. However, notice the flowers are white with a slight greenish cast, and the general shape of the tree is upright. The Yoshino has a spreading habit like a small oak. 

The Bradford was the tree of choice for lining modern suburban neighborhoods until its ugly habit of losing huge limbs--even splitting in half--from storms made it more eye-sore than eye-catching. That's what happens when science (in this case hybridization) tries to play God. The branches simply can't support themselves. If you're going to plant one, plan to prune it regularly.





The Redbud Tree

Not as nice as mine, the neighbor's seems to be dying.
Still in bud.
 Also called the Judas Tree, its small reddish- purple flowers seem to creep up and down branches like blood oozing from its pores. Blooming during the Lenten season, it's easy to see how it was named. Despite the creepy description, it's really a lovely and unusual tree, particularly its growth habit: long, thin, many-twigged branches twisting about in sinuous movement. In my photo, the tree has not quite bloomed as they come in a bit after the Yosihino.






The Kwanzan Cherry
Not my pic, but when mine blooms, I'm gonna take one just like it!

This was my childhood favorite, planted by my mother next to a stream, that my girlfriends and I climbed all season. You could imagine a lot of lovely things inside a pink cloud. When the breeze blew, down would come pink rain. It could also conjure petals thrown at Cinderella weddings held just for us.
Sadly, cherry life-expectancies are comparatively short and on my last visit home, I discovered only the trace of a stump from my old friend.


The Kwanzan blooms after the Yoshino, so having both in the garden will extend the flowering tree joy. Its double blooms are gi-hu-normous for a flowering tree, like small carnations. The color is medium pink. It's not as graceful what with all those big blossoms but it sure stands out. You can't not notice it.



The Flowering Plum
Notice the Yoshino behind it. See the difference?

This one can easily be confused with the Yoshino Cherry. They're blooming at the same time, the shape is similar and the blossom is almost that same pale pink. Almost, but a little pinker. And smaller. AND the leaves are coming out and are PLUM colored. So look for leaves!








Finally:
The Flowering Crabapple

This one mimics the Flowering Plum in foliage color, but the hint is that it comes out later, not at the same time as the cherries. In addition, the blossoms are large, and very pink. We had a lot of fun in this one as kids too! After the pink snow season, you could throw the crabs at boys.



This should help you figure out what you're passing when you drive through town. It's not exhaustive; there are still apple trees, and (edible) cherry trees, and others I might just be forgetting, but the ones here are the ones you're likely to see in the 'burbs. Now, go grab your kids, your sketchbook, and some lunch and enjoy some spring nature study!


For more about the National Cherry Blossom Festival, go here. 
To learn about the trees planted there, go here.


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