Archive for the ‘Shrubs’ Category

This year’s spring has been beautiful – it started earlier than usual so we’ve been able to enjoy the spring flowers for longer. My favorite thing this time of year is seeing the flowering trees. There are magnolias, dogwoods and cherry trees. The magnolias have all finished blooming, but the cherry trees seem to hold on to their flowers for longer. This year, they have hit their peak bloom in April, whereas last year it was early May that they were at this stage.

Cherry Tree, The Fens, Boston, MA in April


The cherry tree’s genus is Prunus and it is in the rose family (not surprising when you see the rose-like flowers). Cherries have trunk bark with numerous cross streaks and buds with many scales. The whitish flowers are in long grape-like clusters cherries are always thornless. The leaves sticks and seeds from cherry trees often contain hydrocyanic acid, which makes the crushed twigs smell a little sour and if ingested, can make cattle or horses sick (or kill them). The fruit of the cherry tree is important to birds and mammals for food.

There are several species of cherry tree, but many of them are ornamental and not native to the U.S. The main way that the book I use distinguishes among species, “A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs” by George A. Petrides, is to look at the bark, the leaves, and the placement of the flowers. Is the bark rough and dark or smooth? Are the leaves sharp-toothed or blunt? Egg-shaped or narrow?  Are the flower clusters umbrella-like or in long clusters?

Cherry Tree Leaves, Boston

You can see that this cherry tree’s leaves have egg-shaped sharp-toothed leaves, with teeth that are so small they are almost hair-like. They are red underneath and green on top. I don’t know what type of cherry tree this is, but I know it’s good to sit under and read on sunny days and watch the birds fly from tree to tree.

Cherry Tree, Boston, MA

The flowers are quite showy and have not fallen off yet, despite the heavy winds the other day.

Cherry Tree Flowers, Boston, MA (April, 2012)

Cherry Tree Flowers, Boston, MA April


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At the end of October, I traveled to Barcelona.  The temperature was in the sixties and I was pleased to see many flowers blooming.  I had traveled from Boston, where the fall was starting and the golden rod, the last flowers left, were pretty much gone.

What was fun about the Spanish flora was the cacti!  Being from the Northeastern part of the U.S., we don’t have naturally growing cacti so it’s a special thrill to see cacti growing in the wild.  As I was walking a path near Park Guell, I took a snapshot of this huge prickly pear.  In Spanish, it is called Nopal Estricto.  Nopales is the vegetable made from the prickly pear.

This kind of cactus is the most cold-tolerant cactus.  New fact: all true cacti species are native to the Americas.  Therefore, this one found in Spain is a transplant… I wonder when they first came over? The prickly pear is on the list of the world’s 100 worst invasive species.

I hope to some day get a photo of the prickly pear in bloom or with some fruit.  This one looks like it must be pretty old, it is very big and it holds the scars from people carving into its stems. In cacti, the stem has evolved to be photosynthetic and succulent and the leaves have evolved into spines through adaptation to dry and/or hot climates.

Prickly Pear, Barcelona, Spain

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Over the past few weeks, lilacs have bloomed all over Stockholm.  Wafts of their perfume would stop me in my tracks.  People say ‘stop and smell the roses’ but I am much more likely to stop to smell lilacs.

Lilacs (Syrener), Stockholm, Sweden

When I asked a friend what they are called in Swedish, she said ‘syrener’.  I thought that she was calling them ‘sirens’ after the greek mythological creatures who lure sailors with their music to die on the rocky shores of their island.  It turns out that was just my imagination going a little wild with the Swedish language.  The Swedes call lilacs syrener after their genus’ name, Syringa, which comes from the word ‘syrinx’, meaning hollow tube or pipe.  Apparently the shoots of lilacs can be hollowed out to make reed pipes and flutes (I haven’t checked this out yet).

Lilacs (Syrener), Stockholm, Sweden

Native to southeast Europe, lilacs in Sweden are ornamental.  The first ones to bloom were light to dark purple and now I see white ones at their peak.  This deciduous shrub is from the olive family.

Lilacs (Syrener), Stockholm, Sweden

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Chaenomeles speciosa

Flowering Quince, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

After quite a bit of flipping through photos, I finally identified what this beautiful flowering shrub was by the side of the highway in Chapel Hill, NC.  Thanks to the North Carolina Botanical Garden’s website (http://www.ncbg.unc.edu) I found what was in bloom and matched it to my photograph.

These bright red blossoms with a showy yellow center are flowers growing from a Flowering Quince, or Chaenomeles speciosa.  Originally from Eastern Asia, they are members of the rose (Rosaceae) family.  This may be what is commonly known as the Texas Scarlet variety.  Apparently I caught it at the right time, because this plant only blooms for about 2 weeks and then spends the rest of the year as a thorny mess.

It turns out that C. Speciosa is also, like the magnolia tree, used in traditional Chinese medicine.  The fruit has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that have been used for treating rheumatoid arthritis, among other ailments.  One source from Wikipedia claims that the plant’s glucosides also serve as a potent selective dopamine reuptake inhibitor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaenomeles_speciosa).

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