Early Spring Blooming Dictated by Elevation and Longitude

In central Pennsylvania the elevation of the Appalachian Mountains delays the blooming times of many plants. Traveling around the Ridge and Valley Province you can see the mountain ridges look bare as the trees haven’t leafed out yet. They still have the brown and grey barren appearance of Winter. As the temperatures warm and the days get longer the trees will burst forth with their greenery.

We're located in the Ridge and Valley Province of the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania.
We're located in the Ridge and Valley Province of the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania.

The trees are not yet leafing out on our ridge top, nor are they leafing out down in town near the Juniata River, which is more than three hundred feet lower in elevation. Soon, we’ll be able to see the trees in the valley leaf out and the trees on the mountain ridges will still be holding onto their winter buds. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be able to see the progression of the trees awakening as their green colors rise up the mountains.

A short distance in longitude can make all the difference in the kinds of plants that are blooming in late March and early April. We took a weekend drive of a couple hundred miles and saw that we’re a bit behind in blooming compared to places south of us.

About 40 miles south we saw the redness of maple leaves developing but otherwise the landscape still appeared barren. Driving further south we saw forsythia in bloom as we crossed the state line into Maryland. In this region the daffodils or narcissus were already blooming.

By the time we got down to central Virginia, in the Piedmont Region, many of the spring-flowering ornamental and fruit trees were in bloom, including crabapples, pears and cherries. The redbuds along Route 64 were blooming, too. The first bloomers were already dropping petals and developing their leaves.

In flower beds the bulbs were showing their pretty colors along with moss phlox. A lone azalea bush was spotted in bloom, too. Henbit, dandelions, violets and purple dead nettle were some of the yard weeds blooming in the south, but not yet in the north.

There are no specific rules regarding the blooming times of plants. Each individual plant has several factors affecting its flowering time, including elevation, longitude, microhabitat, soil fertility, local weather and individual variation.

Microhabitat refers to the location of the plant and its surrounding cohorts. A plant in a shady or drier location may bloom later than a similar plant nearby that receives more sun or water. The soil fertility may dictate whether the plant blooms at all. Early Spring can be tumultuous with respect to weather, so if a cold front rolls in with a late snow the blooming of many plants may be delayed. Finally, each individual plant has a genetic makeup that dictates when it will bloom.

Snowdrops and Bittercress Flowers Bloom First

The warm winds that have blown our way for the last few days have been awakening. Geese flocked by overhead, bird activity in general is picking up, and chipmunks have been seen. I’m not sure if the juncos have flown away yet, but the red-winged blackbirds are back. Record high temperatures were tied in several local areas yesterday. It was in the mid-70s, well above normal. Now, it’s one day away from the calendar start of Spring and flowers have started blooming.

Although wildeherb concentrates on the wild herbs or plants that you might find blooming on a hike in the woods or other natural area, sometimes garden variety plants are included. It’s only natural to relate what we find out in nature to what’s going on in the flower beds or vegetable garden.

Our first-blooming plant was a bulb, the snowdrop. The first snowdrop was spotted blooming on March 12th and it has bloomed for a week now. These are hearty little flowers that you can sometimes see blooming in the snow. Once their blossoms are seen, the thawing of Spring can be felt.

Snowdrop blooming among the heritage flower rosettes.
Snowdrop blooming among the heritage flower rosettes. Photo taken 19Mar2011.

The snowdrop bulbs were planted in a bed where the heritage flower grows. You can see the crumpled-looking, velvety leaves of the first year rosettes that have overwintered. They will sprout long stalks with beautiful magneta flowers in May-June.

Snowdrop flower dangles.
Snowdrop flowers dangle. Photo taken 19Mar2011.

The snowdrop flower opens up its three petals on sunny days. On cloudy days the petals remain dangling. The linear leaves are broad compared to the shorter, variegated ones of the crocus bulbs that are just starting to develop blossoms underneath the snow drop flower above.

Pennsylvania bittercress was first spotted blooming yesterday, 18Mar2011. Its miniscule flowers are quite low to the ground.

PA Bittercress blooming between the flagstones along a walkway.
PA Bittercress blooming between the flagstones along a walkway. Photo taken 19Mar2011.

In our little micro-climate the first blooming garden plant is the snowdrop and the first natural plant to bloom is the Pennsylvania bittercress. With respect to first-blooming times, the plant pictured here most likely had an advantage living among the warm flagstones and sand. No bittercress plants were found blooming in the yard away from the heat of the rocks next to the house.

Photo taken 19Mar2011.


Looking Forward to White Raspberry Fruits

As I look out onto the frozen land I see plenty of fruits dancing in my head. The plants look bare, but they’re not barren. The plain-looking sticks that we see will come to life shortly. The thermometer said it was ten degrees on the back porch this morning and it sure felt like it so the dog was fast doing his duty. A little coffee and we’re warm inside again.

The white raspberry canes that we planted a couple of years ago did nicely last summer. The canes were planted in three areas and the two areas that received the most sun provided the most fruit and cane growth. No surprise there.

These everlasting white raspberry canes are kind of stingy with the fruit though. They ripen slowly and only one or two fruits will ripen from a cluster at once. So, you won’t get a lot of fruit at one time – unless you had a great bunch of canes planted. It’s more like a nibble to be enjoyed while walking about outside.

The taste is really sweet, almost perfume-like. The aroma is quite strong unlike other raspberries or blackberries, which don’t seem to have much of a scent.

White raspberry canes.
Holding up a cane that has arched over to the ground you can see others upright in the background. Photo taken 15Jun2010.
Fruits of black raspberry, blueberry and white raspberry.
Going clockwise from the top right, we have wild black raspberries, three types of blueberries and white raspberry fruits. Note the fleshy color of the white raspberries. Photo taken 15Jun2010.

I can’t emphasize strongly enough how good these fruits taste when you pick them right off the vine, so to speak. I never really like blueberries before, but now I can’t wait to get out there in June to sample them again!

Ripening white raspberry cluster.
Cluster of everlasting white raspberries with one ready to pick, two maturing berries, and two that are still small and green. Photo taken 26Jun2010.

The everlasting white raspberries will ripen one or two berries in a cluster at a time, which spreads out the harvest. A second round of berries will ripen in the fall, but they’re not as plentiful as the summer harvest.

Swans and Geese Fly As Tulips Peek Out

The weeping willows are showing a bit brighter yellow in their stems and the birds are moving. Snow is melting and spring is surely on its way!

The other day I heard a mixed flock of geese flying low. It was early in the morning and too cloudy to see them, but I heard the calls of Tundra Swan and of geese, perhaps the Snow Goose. I had stepped out to take a picture of the tulips that have been silently pushing out of the ground.

Tulips emerging from the ground.
Tulip tips poking out of the ground. Photo taken 27Feb2011.

Granted, the tulips are right next to the house so they’re getting a fast start, but it still brought out a couple smiles to see something green for a change.

Oh yeah, if you want to brush up on your bird calls, visit the Patuxent Bird ID Infocenter.