Flowering phases I: spring flowering trees

Moving into Fall it is hard to remember the possibilities of spring. Creating a landscape with staggered flowerings is aesthetically interesting and serves to mark the  passage of time.  Those early spring blooms cheer us as much as the watery sunbeams peeking through grey clouds, but they also have an important ecological function in providing a continuous  food source for those species that utilize pollen and nectar.  So now, as the heat of summer burns away all memories of cooler weather, lets consider some of the early spring bloomers.

The Crabapple (Malus ioensis)

seen here blooming out near Johnson city in February is perhaps one of the earliest.  Deer are very fond of this tree and so they do have to be protected from browsing.

Crabapple blooming in February

Small bitter fruits will follow in early fall.

Redbuds seen in a spring landscape

Redbud blooming in February

Texas has several native trees that are early bloomers.  Some like the redbud and Mexican plum have very obvious blooms that are enjoyed by humans and pollinators alike.

Red Admiral on a Mexican Plum Blossom

These are well-known trees for landscape and pair well together visually and in terms of flowering time.  Mexican Plum has the added attractions of plum-like fruit and fall color in later seasons, while Redbud’s offer interesting leaf shape and large pods.

Mexican Buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa) is equally attractive mid-size tree or large shrub that has early flowers

Flower of Mexican Buckeye

and very interesting seed pods later.

Fruit of Mexican Buckeye

Red buckeye, note the classic buckeye type leaf

The Mexican buckeye is not actually a true buckeye.  The Red Buckeye (which is a true buckeye) has a similar common name but belongs to a different genus and species – Aesculus pavia The images of the flowers were taken in March on a hike down to Hamilton Pool.

Not all blooms follow the traditional flower form of petals, stamens, stigma, style and ovary.  Huisache (Acacia farnesiana) combines flowers in clusters with the yellow filaments of the stamens producing the attractive color.

Huisache blooms in May

Pods 3 -4 in long soon follow.  The light green compound leaves are very attractive, however the tree is thorny and readily sheds small twigs.  Combined with the fact that a dark blue-brown color leaches from the pods when they are wet, this might not be the best tree for a patio or walkway but it is delightful set in a parkland.

Catkin and new leaves of the Spanish oak

The oaks are another group of trees with flowers that may not immediately be recognized as such.

The catkins are a collection of flowers (inflorescence) just as the yellow balls of the Huisache are.  The male and female catkins of the Spanish Oak (Quercus buckleyi) have a slight pinkish tint just like the new leaves.  The flowers on the male catkins produce pollen and then fall away while the fertilized female flowers of female catkins produce the acorns that we are familiar with.

These are a small sample of early flowering trees.  They may be selected for their flowers, or for other characteristics such as leaf shape, autumnal color, food source or animal habitat.  How would you rate selection criteria for trees?  Do you have particular features that continue to frame decisions time and time again?  How important is flowering time to you?


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