Showy redbuds are in bloom

The warm weather we have experienced recently have really set flowering and leaf development into motion; most of our trees and shrubs are experiencing bud break. Many of the early spring flowering trees are now in bloom, including the plums, crabapple, cherries, serviceberry and the redbud.

Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a very common native plant that prefers disturbed areas that are somewhat dry, such as along roads. Right now, redbuds are showing their pinkish-purple flowers. The redbud is a smallish tree, rarely attaining a height of 30 feet. They have a brief life span, usually no longer than 30 years.

Eastern Redbud blooms

Redbuds are in the legume family, meaning their seed is enclosed in a pod. Legumes can extract nitrogen out of the air and deposit it in the ground, thereby enriching the soil. This capacity makes redbud a good choice for reforesting dry, barren sites such as strip mine reclamation areas. The showy, persistent bloom makes it a popular ornamental tree, and a number of varieties have been cultivated. The Bible recounts how Judas hanged himself from a redbud tree after betraying Jesus. That is why the redbud is also known as the Judas tree.

Pollen

Soon our outdoor landscapes will come alive with a multitude of fresh colors as flowers bloom, leaves unfurl and a host of young plants sprout from the ground. This onslaught of growth and life also spurs the unpleasantness of allergies in some as large amounts of pollen are expelled into the air.

Pollen is produced by the male part of the flower, the anther. This pollen is expelled in the hope that it will reach the female ovule and a young seed will be produced later in the season. Some trees contain both male and female parts; these trees are called monoecious plants. Some trees have separate genders and are called dioecious plants.

In most monoecious plants the male flower lies below the female flower. At first thought, this may seem counterproductive since this arrangement would not be ideal for the pollen reaching the ovule on the same plant. However, this setup prevents self-fertilization and promotes diversity, which is more beneficial to the species as a whole.

Plants having small inconspicuous flowers, such as the maple, elm or ash, rely on wind pollination. Plants with large showy, fragrant flowers, such as dogwood, crabapple and magnolia, are pollinated by insects or birds.

Trees are the first plants to produce pollen; this production can run from January to June in Maryland, depending on the weather. At its peak, pollen production can be astronomical, causing sniffles and red eyes for those with allergies, along with sticky buildup on cars, outdoor furniture or anything else outside. Dry, windy days have the most pollen, while heavy rain can wash much of the pollen out of the air.

The trees that cause most allergies include ash, box elder, sycamore, hickory and pine. Despite these drawbacks, pollen is an essential part of plant reproduction and life on our planet.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 4/24/2011