The Middlebury Landscape

A watched Spring never boils

Filed under: Blooms,Trees — Tim Parsons at 7:08 pm on Wednesday, March 31, 2010  Tagged ,

The problem with watching the weather is the frustration. Even my years of experience in spring anticipation somehow still hasn’t prepared me for the wait, the fits and starts of the season. The landscape waits patiently, though, and the plants are right where they need to be.

Today in blooms? Well, it’s pretty mellow. The family Betulaceae is showing it’s stuff. On campus, that would the Birch, Hornbeam, and Hop Hornbeam trees, and in shrubs the Corylus, or Hazel, genus. Michael Dirr states, of birch flowers specifically, “the birches flower in April before or with the emerging leaves; they possess a hidden beauty which is lost to most people because they have never examined or considered the birches a flowering species…” After three days of a cold rain, I’ll consider any flower.

Look for large catkins hanging from birches. They hang in clusters of three from the ends of the branches, and have been there unobserved all winter. In Birch they are male and female-in Hazel, the female flowers arise from the leaf buds.

How would I describe the flowering catkins? Ask the Dutch. Catkin comes from the dutch word katje, meaning kitten, as the flowers resemble a kitten’s tail. I’d say I’ll get around to a picture but, well, the buds are swelling on the forsythia, and I swear I saw a couple of whitish blooms on a Magnolia in front of Forest, so I probably will once again ignore the catkins. Hidden beauty is all well and good until the Magnolias start popping.


  1.    Anne Harlan — April 1, 2010 @ 2:27 pm   

    I found some of these when I was under our birch the other day. At first I thought they were caterpillars, but when I looked closer I could see they are a beautiful, maroon-colored, fuzzy bud! I brought one into the house so I could take a photo, but haven’t had a chance yet; once I do, I’ll send one on to you!

  2.    Tim Parsons — April 2, 2010 @ 6:41 am   

    A picture would be great! The birch catkins on campus are all too high in the tree for a close-up…

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