A dry March

March turned out to be very dry. This meant it was one of the better years for photographing crocus. Usually, the unrelenting rain mashes them down into a sodden purple pulp. This year, though, was a banner year for crocus flowers in early March. Spring Beauty is one of my favorites for the purple flames that are visible when viewed from the side.

Dark purple flames on the side of Crocus Spring Beauty

The charming Crocus tommasinianus.

Purple flowers of Crocus tommasinianus

Crocus sieberi ‘Tricolor’ is one of those that is usually a smushy wet mess. This year I actually got to enjoy it for a couple weeks.

A yellow, white, and purple crocus flower

Crocus ‘Ruby Giant’. I remember buying these as a little boy, maybe about 8 years old. The first time, they were in a little plastic planter with a blue plastic windmill. I remember staring at them for hours.

Deep purple flowers of Crocus Ruby Giant in the shade.

The second time they were in one of those ceramic blue and white crocus pots. Now, I am glad to have these growing to perfection in the garden. 

Flowers of Crocus tommasinianus 'Ruby Giant' in the rock garden

One last look at the snowdrops. There was one left out in the woods last weekend.

White flower of a snowdrop
Galanthus elwesii

And, one last look at the winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis). I am a little annoyed that these, and the closely related E. hyemalis Cilicica Group (later blooming, thinner foliage), seem to be hard to establish in our yard. I planted about 50 in fall 2020. Only about a dozen came up in 2021 and this year it seemed like even fewer survived. Either they don’t like our location or perhaps I got a bad batch of tubers. Still, once they do make it past the first year or two, they seem to settle in and start to slowly seed around.

Yellow flowers of winter aconite

I know I posted a picture of the stinking hellebore a few weeks ago, but the sun was hitting it just right one afternoon. I couldn’t resist posting it again.

Red and green flowers of stinking hellebore

I managed to get one decent picture of an osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis) in flower back in early March. One of our first native shrubs to bloom and also one of the first to leaf out. Osoberries are related to cherry (thus the specific epithet “cerasiformis” meaning cherry-shaped, referring to the fruit) and are the only species in the genus Oemleria.  The leaves smell a bit like cucumber and supposedly taste like it too, though I haven’t tried them (I went out and tried a leaf right after I wrote this. Tastes like a very bitter cucumber, so this won’t be a salad item on our menu any time soon). The fruits are edible too, but are also bitter by my recollection. However, take a gander over at the blog, Gather Victoria. Danielle Prohom Olson created an osoberry cocktail recipe that I just might have to try later this spring – if I find enough fruit. They disappear quickly once the birds find them.

White flowers on an osoberry

One thing I didn’t remember about osoberry is that there are both male and female plants. I was amused to read the following in one of the scientific articles written by Geraldine Allen and Joseph Antos “…we determined sex ratios for 60 natural populations and found an excess of males in 56 populations. The male bias was greatest in populations with little recent recruitment.” Amused, I guess, in part because of the wording “excess of males” and, well, because I couldn’t help but anthropomorphize it a bit as a subtle dig about some human beings too.

So what’s going on that there are more male osoberries than females? Turns out that female plants die at a faster rate than males because they put more of their energy into reproduction (producing fruit).

Of course, I had to go out and take a look for myself to see if I could find both sexes. On the left, a female flower, with five pistils arising from the interior of the hypanthium (cuplike floral structure). The pistils are the five greenish-brown blobs in the very center of the five-pointed “star”, consisting of five triangular sepals and a single white petal sticking out to the right (the other petals fell off while I was trying to get a good photograph). Incidentally, it is the presence of five pistils that separates Oemleria from cherries, peaches, and plums with a single pistil (Prunus species). You’ll also see what looks like very reduced anthers (the little whitish dots) around the rim of the hypanthium. This was a surprise as I wasn’t expecting to see male reproductive parts on the female flowers. I don’t think they are functional though because I didn’t see any pollen grains with my hand lens.

On the right, the male flower, with about 15 threadlike filaments, each with an anther, arching in towards the center of the hypanthium. You can see these are much larger than the tiny anthers on the female flower.

Closeup of female osoberry flower
Five pistils in a female osoberry flower
Numerous stamens in a male osoberry flower

Today (3/30), the leaves have come a long way since that first flower shot from March 5, above. By far, the earliest shrub to leaf out in our woods.

Incidentally, osoberry is super easy to propagate from cuttings. I found out by accident one winter when I jabbed some one-foot-long branches in the ground as a temporary fence to protect new garden plants from rabbits. A few months later, I noticed some leaves growing out of my “fence” and found that every single one of the branches had rooted in place. Now, I make sure to jab the branches in upside down so that they don’t root.

Green leaves of osoberry in spring

One of the things that I found most interesting while reading about this plant was its phylogeny. I’ve already mentioned that it is related to cherry, but it’s even more closely related to Exochorda and Prinsepia species, all of which are from various parts of eastern, southern, and central Asia. Probably doesn’t mean a lot to anyone who isn’t a botanist, but I like learning how different plant species are related to each other. It’s amazing to me that the closest living relatives to our native osoberry occur so far away in Asia and that one of them, Exochorda, has a completely different type of fruit (sort of a dry, woody capsule, see the bottom of the page here) than either Prinsepia or Oemleria.

I also enjoyed finding out where osoberry grows geographically (west of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains, from British Columbia down to California), where it seems to prefer more moist habitats, like along streams. Bonus pictures, here are the seedlings of osoberry with their very distinct lobed cotyledons (seedling leaves) about the size of a nickel.

Cotyledons of osoberry
Cotyledons of osoberry, Oemleria cerasiformis

Hah! I got a little sidetracked on osoberry. This post was supposed to be a round up of pictures from early March so that I could finally feel caught up. Instead, I got sidetracked and didn’t end up posting the other pictures I wanted to. Just part of the botanical chaos I am hoping to embrace through this blog. I’ll wrap up the post with a more pictures of things that I didn’t plant, but showed up in the garden anyway. First, a moss.

Mosses in the sunlight

And second, a pixie cup lichen (Cladonia species). Both of these are growing on the same rock in the front rock garden. Glad I took a closer look. I may have to get sidetracked on one of these some day.

Greyish green cups on a Cladonia lichen

3/23/2022 to 3/30/2022: Lowest temperature for period = 31°F, highest = 68°F. Humidity = 88-90%. 0.2 inches of rain.

Garden notes: Spring frogs are singing at night. Hearing a winter wren along the creek in the mornings. Mid-spring by my phenological calendar has arrived, with most of the daffodils/Narcissus and scilla (S. sibirica) in full bloom. Early spring bloomers like crocus, snowdrops, and winter aconite are mostly done.

Garden chores accomplished: Weeding, planted some overwintered potted plants. Pruned apple trees, cut back ferns and grasses, watered for first time! May be a little too late in the season, but attempted grafting some new apple varieties onto our existing apple trees on 3/26/2022.

Articles on osoberry:

Antos, Joseph A. and Allen, Geraldine A. 1990. Habitat relationships of the Pacific Coast shrub Oemleria cerasiformis Rosaceae. Madroño 37: 249-260.

Allen, Geraldine A. and Antos, Joseph A. 1993. Sex ratio variation in the dioecious shrub Oemleria cerasiformis. The American Naturalist 141: 537-553.

Lee, Sangtae and Wen, Jun. 2001. A phylogenetic analysis of Prunus and the Amygdaloideae (Rosaceae) using ITS sequences of nuclear ribosomal DNA. The American Journal of Botany. 88: 150-160.

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