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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Marvels of May

When people think of Spring flowers often times they don't think about the trees and shrubs filling the air with their color and perfumes. The month of May is wonderful as everything bursts back into life and the air is filled with the buzz of insects and chatter of excited birds.

Below are a few wonderful plantings for either a yard landscape or a naturalized setting.

Autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, is a deciduous shrub from 3-20 ft. in height. It is easily recognized by the silvery, dotted underside of the leaves. In early May, small, yellowish flowers are abundant and give off an exotic honeysuckle sweet aroma. Come September the fruits begin to ripen but are much too sour until they develop a speckled look to the red berries. Autumn olive invades old fields, woodland edges, and other disturbed areas. Autumn olive is native to China and Japan and was introduced into North America in 1830. Since then, it has been widely planted for wildlife habitat, mine reclamation, and shelterbelts. Though the Autumn Olive is ideal for a hedgerow shrub, (it grows every which way forming an intertwining safe haven of cover for wildlife and birds), it is now considered an invasive. The birds love its berries and therefore spread the seeds through their droppings. These bushes are tough, spiny to handle and hard to kill if you do want to get rid of them. If you do choose to plant this bush be aware that it will pop up elsewhere, much to the irritation of farmers.

Highbush cranberry, Viburnum trilubum, is not related to true cranberries; the name comes from its tart, edible red fruits. This northeast native grows best in sunny (does tolerate some shade), moist areas. In ideal conditions this shrub can grow 10 to 15 feet tall as well as broad.
A delight for every season, the show begins in May with dainty white flower heads that look like a delicate pinwheel. By late August the shrub is loaded with clusters of dark red berries. These are edible though very sour. They usually hang on throughout the winter supplying a great food source for winter birds. Any remaining berries are usually stripped clean in March by migrating cedar waxwings.
One of my favorites, this trouble free shrub is ideal for naturalizing. This species is hardy, doesn't outgrow its bounds, looks great as a yard specimen plant as well as out in the field for the wildlife. A visual display for every season, this shrub is a must for providing food and shelter to the birds.

Often confused with the much taller Chokecherry, the Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), only grows to about 6 ft. Tolerant of poor or wet soil conditions, this deciduous shrub provides plenty; fruit for the birds, nectar for insects, cover for wildlife and multi-season beauty. Clusters of spring blooming white to pinkish flowers provide loads of nectar for pollinators. Dense clusters of glossy red fruit follow the flowers. The fruit ripens in late summer and persists through winter. The glossy foliage turns brilliant red in autumn, a wonderful visual.

The American Plum, also known as Wild Plum, (Prunus americana) are members of the Rose family and are also native to eastern and central United States. Its white, sweet blossoms emerge in early spring before the foliage breaks bud. It easily forms colonies and thickets in fields, fence rows, and along roadsides and woodland edges, where its suckers from roots and its germinated seeds create mass plantings. These small trees can reach 20 ft tall, grow best in moist, well-drained soils but do tolerate various conditions. Its fruits are sweet when fully ripe and are loved by the birds as well as those inclined to make jam.

You know it is spring when the early flowering Redbud, (Cercis canadensis), bursts into bloom with its bright pink blossoms. A relatively small tree, it has spreading brances and a small short trunk. Delightful heart shaped leaves are sure to please if you choose to plant this ornamental.
Redbud is also known as Judas-tree. According to legend, Judas Iscariot hanged himself from a branch of the European species Cercis siliquastrum.

The Cornaceae family of dogwoods has up to 110 types. The Common Dogwood, (cornus sanguinea), is a very popular ornamental planting but it is also a great understory tree grown in the wild or in naturalized settings.

There is a beautiful story about the dogwood tree being the wood used for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The story, generally told at Easter when the dogwoods flower, adds that Christ caused the flowers of the dogwood to be a reminder of the cross on which He died. He allegedly did this by giving the flower two long and two short petals, and to have what look like nail prints on the petals to remind us that Christ suffered on the cross with nails through His hands. The story is quite remarkable, but unfortunately the legend is not true.

“When Christ was on earth, the dogwood grew
To a towering size with a lovely hue.
Its branches were strong and interwoven,
And for Christ's cross its timbers were chosen.
“Being distressed at the use of the wood,
Christ made a promise which still holds good:
'Never again shall the dogwood grow
To be large enough for a tree, and so,
Slender and twisted it shall always be,
With cross-shaped blossoms for all to see.
“'The petals shall have bloodstains marked brown,
And in the blossom's center a thorny crown.
All who see it will think of me,
Nailed to a cross from a dogwood tree.
Protected and cherished this tree shall be,
A reflection to all of my agony.'”

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