The trees were all in flower when I was at my parents’ last week. Some trees have already flowered and finished, such as the cherry, but most of the trees were just at their peak, or on the downside of flowering but with plenty of blossoms left. I enjoy the flowering trees, and it’s a shame that their blooming period can’t last longer. However, I suppose it makes it that much more enjoyable while they do.
One of my favourites for its gaudiness is the crabapple. The tree in my parents’ backyard must be getting on in years as I can always remember it being there. Yet it continues to put on a good show in the spring. The tree’s proximity to the birdfeeders means it’s usually full of birds of different sorts, and in the spring the contrast of an Indigo Bunting or Blue Jay among the fuchsia flowers is particularly eyecatching.
The flowering trees that we typically think of are all fruit trees of one variety or another. Although many trees “flower”, the ones that produce these large, colourful flowers do so in order to attract polinators. Once the flowers are pollinated they set seed and develop fleshy fruits to attract animals, their primary seed-dispersal method. Other trees with less showy flowers usually develop seed pods or cases. This isn’t an exclusive relationship, however, as there are trees with large flowers that produce seed pods, and fruit-bearing trees that don’t put on gaudy shows like this.
The flowering tree that most people probably think of in the spring is the apple. There are several apple trees on my parents’ property, and all of them are also quite old, by fruit tree standards. Having never been pruned, they’re large, magnificent trees, which flower beautifully in the spring but don’t produce a lot of fruit. The apples they do grow tend to be small and usually slightly bitter; not so appealing to people, but the horses still love them.
The apple blossoms have a single style, the female reproductive organ, in the centre of the flower, surrounded by many anthers. Each flower blossom produces a single fruit once pollinated.
Although superficially similar in appearance, the hawthorn’s white flowers can fairly easily be told from those of the apple tree. They have many styles in the centre of each flower, each of which, when pollinated, produces a seed. The flowers also grow in “corymbs”, or groups, and the hawthorn fruits (called, appropriately, “haws”) form in clusters as a result.
Hawthorns are generally known for the long, sharp thorns they produce, but their flowers can be just as memorable. The hawthorn trees my parents have are also very large, having grown in the open, unobstructed by other foliage.
In the winter I clipped the infected branches from the chokecherry bearing Black Knot, and this spring it’s been blooming prolifically. Unlike the domesticated cherry, both chokecherry and black cherry produce flowers (and subsequently fruit) in long racemes. As a kid I liked to pick the stems of ripe fruit and slide my finger down it to collect a handful of berries; what happened to the berries after was less important, it was the satisfying way they popped off the stem that appealed to me.
This last one isn’t really a tree but a very large shrub, lacking a clear main trunk. The lilac is one of those that doesn’t produce fruit, but instead develops clusters of small seed pods. Like the others, the lilacs near my parents’ house have grown quite large, and over the years have produced fewer blossoms. They remain my favourites, though. I absolutely love the intoxicating smell of the clusters of flowers, and am sad when they finish blooming each spring. Someday, when I own my own house, there will be a large lilac bush planted at the corner.