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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog
Silver maple flowers in the spring.
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Not so Obvious Springtime Flowers


Spring flowering plants make an impressive display at a time of year when we need it most. Redbuds, magnolias, forsythia, tulips, and so many more are a welcome sign that we are finally past the long winter.

But, if you look closely you will find some less obvious spring displays that are just as welcome and impressive in their own way.

One of the earliest flowering shrubs is witchhazel. It blooms so early that some people miss it. The most common witchhazel grown here is the Vernal Witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis). This native shrub offers several desirable ornamental traits. The pungently fragrant flowers are the smallest of all witchhazels, with each petal only about one-half inch long. Flower colors vary from yellow and orange to red and open in January and February. This plant is very adaptable to moist or dry soils and is a great plant for naturalizing.

The other witchhazel actually flowers in late fall from October to as late as December. The common witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is usually found as an understory plant in woodlands. Unfortunately, the flowers are rarely seen because fall foliage color develops as the flowers appear.

Two of the earliest flowering trees are silver maple (Acer saccharinum) and filbert (Corylus sp.). Silver maple flowers range in color from yellowish to a good red and also are not obvious. They appear as clusters on branches. Upon close observation, they look like miniature anemone emerging from small round balls.

Filbert (hazelnut) plants each have two different flowers: male and female. Male catkins appear in early March, are 1 ½ to 3 inches long, yellowish brown and quite showy. These long pendulous and flexuous male catkins provide a noticeable and somewhat interesting display in early spring, while the female flowers are mostly hidden in their bud.

And don't forget the weeds! Winter annual plants came up last fall and spent the winter as small leaves. In spring they start to grow and flower, but will die out as summer approaches. Examples of these include henbit, common chickweed, and most of the wild mustards. Most often these plants are considered weeds, but they actually have beautiful flowers when observed closely.

Look closely and enjoy spring as it begins to burst in the plants around us.



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