A journey into the eyes and mind of a naturalist.

Poppin’ the Seal

Spring has finally arrived here in Minnesota.  The last dwindling remains of former snow piles cower in the shade away from the warming sun rays.  Birds eagerly move northward as the frost-line retreats.  Insects, amphibians and other animals emerge from winter hide-aways.  All of these are a sure sign that winter has given leave.  One spring arrival that often goes unnoticed by most is the trees popping.  By popping I mean blooming of course.

Many deciduous trees are angiosperms, meaning they have flowers and release pollen and produce seeds.  Gymnosperms in contrast do not have flowers but still reproduce through exchange of pollen.  Pines, Ginkgo, and Cycads are all Gymnosperms whereas Maple, Ash, Aspen and a myriad of other trees are angiosperms.

Every winter I watch the buds gradually grow in size as the tree begins sending stored nutrient from its roots up to the developing flowers and leaves that are developing on the very ends of the branches.  When spring arrives and the temperature stays above freezing for a given period of time the trees begin to “pop”.  The Maples are always first to go, followed by the Aspen, Birch and then Ash.  My backyard has a Silver Maple that will be fully leafed out before the Green Ash in my front yard has even started to pop.

Silver Maple Flowers

The flowers serve an important role not only for their reproductive qualities but also as a food source for early rising insects.  Bees, butterflies and other pollinators use trees as a quick energy source often while there is still snow on the ground.  They eat the pollen for an instant protein boost and the nectar for some their carbohydrate fix.

Tree flowers are often very small and may go unnoticed (except by those afflicted by allergies).  They signal the end of winter and the very beginning of spring.  The succession of flowering is an amazing collaboration between organisms that we take for granted.  All species have the instructions of exactly when to “pop” locked within its DNA.  If a tree pops too soon or too late it will miss the chance to pass on its genes.  This is not a simple event carried out by an individual but a highly refined and orchestrated event that links individuals that may be tens of miles away, ultimately ensuring the survival of the species.


For more on flower anatomy see my previous post titled “Plant Sex”.


Up Next:  Return of the Herps!


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