A Year in My Yard
It has been a very long time since I last posted. Raising children, moving jobs and houses is demanding in its own right. Last summer, in a moment of humility, I realized I there were plants on my property that I couldn’t name or even identify. In this moment I gave myself a challenge to photograph and document every flowering plant on my modest 4 acres. This challenge will give me an opportunity to better understand and connect with the land and improve my understanding of the plants in the place I call home.
SO here we go. I’m going to post as the flowers pop and try to keep up!
March 22, 2016
Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)
The Silver Maple is a very common tree in southern Minnesota. It is native to the floodplains and basins of the great rivers where it thrives in the sandy moist soil. It’s rapid growth rate made it an ideal tree for yards and developments and today we see them in many more places than their native habitat.
The photo below is the the female flowers of the Silver Maple tree. The long red protrusions are the stigma of the flower each awaiting a single grain of pollen. Once the stigma absorbs a pollen grain from a male flower it will develop into a seed. Come summer each of these seeds will come whirling down as a samara or as my daughter calls them “helicopters”
The male flowers illustrated below have long pollen covered stamen that allow any passing breeze to release the pollen in the hopes of connecting with a stigma of another Silver Maple.
In many species of plants the flowers will start off in one sex and then morph to the other to prevent self fertilization. This adaptation maximizes the chances of cross pollination between individuals and thus adding genetic variation to the population.
Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
My property has many many aspen trees. These soft wooded trees can reproduce in several ways. They have the traditional sexual reproduction using flowers, called catkins, pollinated by the wind but they can also clone themselves. Cloning occurs when the roots from an adult tree spread to a neighboring area and sprout as a tree. In the mountains of Colorado there are vast forests of aspen trees comprised of only a few individual actual trees, making them one of the largest single living organisms all connected through a maze of roots.
My students often find these “caterpillars” on the ground in the spring. What they have actually found is the reproductive organs of the aspen, a catkin. These unique looking flowers are often one of the first signs of spring. Their fuzzy appearance helps catch the slightest breeze sending a load of pollen to the sky.
Note the yellow pollen on my hand in the picture below.
Snow Drop (Galanthus sp.)
This is the first non-tree flower of the year. As the common name suggests the Snow Drop can often be in full bloom even with snow still on the ground. The day after I took the picture below we had several inches of snow. These and other flowers are an important early season pollen resource for bees and other pollinators. The Snow Drop lays dormant for nearly 10 months a year as a bulb. The bulb stores all the energy the plant needs to push through the soil, produce leaves, and flower. After a short month or so above ground the plant will once again retreat below ground to wait for the following spring.
That’s all for now. I’m anxiously waiting for the boxelder, cottonwood, and a tree that I’m not sure of to pop! I also have tulips, daffodils and iris poking through the soil, not to mention the ground ivy or creeping Charlie that will be flowering soon too!!