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Hazels add to the tree flowers of April

As we move into the second half of April, the pace of spring becomes much more rapid. Longer days bring on more warmth. It is not uncommon that the Northland will record 70 degrees during this time. Ice out, the anticipated event of our lakes, us...

As we move into the second half of April, the pace of spring becomes much more rapid. Longer days bring on more warmth. It is not uncommon that the Northland will record 70 degrees during this time. Ice out, the anticipated event of our lakes, usually happens during these weeks. (This year, a bit earlier than normal, the date of this dramatic change in my area was April 11.) After nearly five months under the ice cover, the lake waters now mix with the prevailing winds.

Such conditions invite more migrant water birds and each day now I see geese, mallards, ring-neck ducks, wood ducks with other ducks and swans showing up occasionally. The first loons are arriving. But the migration goes far beyond this and the region is now hosting more songbirds back from the south. During a recent walk, I noticed juncos, song sparrows, robins, bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, flickers and phoebes. Many were singing. There will be more kinds here tomorrow. In the spring sunlight, early butterflies are flittering about seeking sap on available trees. And with the vernal ponds now open, recently-awakened frogs are calling as a sign of their breeding season. I find a trio of frogs begins these songs; chorus frogs, wood frogs and spring peepers. This year, it was the chorus frog that began the singing with the wood frog close behind. Spring peepers join in a little later and team up to give an anuran April performance each day that is not too cold. Their breeding season is short since lots of these home ponds will dry up by summer. When many frogs are in these vernal ponds it is an indicator of good aquatic conditions in the northland.

While wandering through these April days, I have noticed the flowering time is starting as well. Out in a lawn, I saw the ubiquitous dandelion glowing yellow with new flowers of the season. These hardy plants seem to always be the first. But in the woods, we have a native flower that is beginning to open its blossoms as well. The hepatica (sometimes called liverleaf) is always the first native wildflower that I find in bloom in the woods. This spring was no exception. Its early start is attributed to growing in sunny sites where snow melts and warms faster. But they also have the advantage of keeping leaves all winter. With leaves already on the plant, the hepatica will put energy into opening a flower immediately. Nearly all of the other spring wild flowers need to grow leaves and blossoms.

Trees have begun their flowering season as well. The time of large showy blossoms on trees is later in spring. Next month we will be graced by the presence of blooming plum, cherry, apples and many more. Now the flowers present are smaller and not as noticeable. With the exception of silver maple (and later, the red maple), the April flowers are in the form of catkins. Catkins are usually long hotdog (or caterpillar) shaped structures that hang down from the branches of trees. Back in March, we noted the furry buds of pussy willows and quaking aspens. Now, if we look at these same trees, we would see these long catkins. Male catkins produce an abundance of pollen grains when ripe. With no leaves on the trees, the pollen will drift in the spring breezes. Most pollen misses its mark of finding a female receptor, but enough do find the site to continue the tree’s growth. Catkins of alder abound at the wetlands with yellow pollen filling their elongated catkins. Not looking much like what we think of as flowers, these catkins are indeed flowers. They produce the pollen to help for reproduction, but do so in the absence of petals.

In late April, I find two more small trees are flowering as well. Abundant small trees in our woods are the hazels. (They are often called hazelnuts since they produce a nut commonly referred to as filberts.) We have two kinds of hazels in the Northland - American and beaked. They are easy to discern when we see the nut with husk - beaked has a long extended growth, American does not. But now they are quite similar. Both have catkins that are now lengthened and ripe with pollen. Also small twig buds are opening to reveal minute reddish-purple flowers. Barely one-fourth inch in size, these tiny blooms adds a bit of color to the small trees of April. The male catkins and the female flowers are on the same tree and so the pollen drifting from the catkins is more likely to find the female. Soon other trees will be flowering as well. Before the month is over, yellow flower of leatherwood, reds from red maples and more catkins from birches will be giving arboreal displays. All of this happens in the trees of April, before the leaves and large blossoms appear in May.

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