Harbingers of Spring


March 20th marked this year’s Vernal Equinox – better known as ‘The First Day of Spring’!

I don’t need a calendar to tell me it’s spring though. There may still be frost in the ground, but spring is in the air – literally. Just look up – the trees are telling us it’s spring. You can see the subtle flush of colour, a slight aura emanating from their branches – leaf buds are beginning to swell. As spring gathers momentum the buds continue to swell, thousands on each branch, so when backlit by late day sun the trees appear adorned with jewels.  Closer inspection will show the buds to be plump and fleshy – life will soon burst forth. This multitude of bulging buds adds a dazzling texture to our skyward view.

Shrubs too are showing life in their branches – rounded buds, like colored baubles, cling to each branch and everything takes on a rich layered appearance.

A shimmer of colour rests atop Salix pentandra on a March weekend at Confederation Park.
Photo: Pat Gaviller

The deep red hue of Betula papyrifera branches intensifies as buds swell and life returns.
Photo: Pat Gaviller

The buds on this Acer negundo look like tiny pearls against an ocean of sky. The Manitoba maple, often maligned for its weedy growth habit and tendency to aphid infestation, is one of the earliest trees to bud out in the spring. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Acer negundo ‘Sensation’, a cultivar of the Manitoba maple, is a lovely tree with yearlong interest. Though debatably hardy here, this specimen has been growing in a protected spot in Northwest Calgary for many years. Viewed up close Manitoba maple buds are soft and fuzzy – this cluster of buds is reminiscent of puppy paws or bunny feet. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The ruby-red buds of Viburnum trilobum rival the colour of the berries that will be produced at season’s end. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Fat rounded buds like tiny soccer balls, line the branches of Larix sibirica. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The new growth on Crataegus mordenensis, both buds and branches, is rich plum red – shiny, supple and leathery in appearance. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Syringa buds almost ready to open: from left, Syringa meyeri, Syringa vulgaris, Syringa prestoniae Photos: Sue Gaviller

Ulmus pumila, the Siberian Elm, has pea-sized spherical buds – here they glow copper in the late day sun. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The enlarged buds of this Populus sp. embody the delicate colour and texture of spring. It won’t be long before these buds open to become the leaves of summer. Photo: Sue Gaviller

 Yes indeed spring is in the air.

Just look up – the birds are telling us it’s spring. Our red breasted friends are back – there are few sounds quite so heart warming as the first Robin’s chirp each spring. I heard it a couple of weeks ago, which seems quite early to me, though birding enthusiasts tell me that a few of these passerines actually overwinter here in Calgary. That may be true but I doubt many of us have witnessed this – for most of us the robin is still the quintessential sign of spring. Soon we will hear them singing their merry song each morn before dawn breaks, and little blue eggs will turn into tweeting baby robins – how very sweet that thought.

The American robin or Turdus migratorius (I dare you to say that with a straight face) is one of our country’s most beloved birds, likely because they herald the coming of warmer weather.
Photo: http://www.naturespicsonline.com/

Other birds have returned as well .

I’ve seen and heard Woodpeckers and Flickers hammering away on whatever hard surface will make the most noise – this is part of their courtship behaviour.  Merlins too, are squealing overhead as they call to potential mates. These are all such noisy birds, but so full of character and personality that one can easily forgive them the racket they make.

A male red-shafted flicker perches high up in a poplar tree in Centennial Park, Calgary
Photo: Pat Gaviller

Yes indeed spring is in the air.

Just look up – the sky is telling us it’s spring. Well, more specifically the sun. Today, March 27th, the sun rose at 7:22 AM and will set at 8:02 PM. Tomorrow, sunrise will be at 7:20 AM and sunset at 8:04 PM. The following day – 7:17 AM and 8:05 PM. We  are currently gaining approximately 4 minutes of daylight every 24 hours, and the angle that the sun’s rays strike the earth is increasing daily.

Angle of sun at Winter Solstice, Vernal Equinox and Summer Solstice.

Of all the harbingers of spring, the native Salix discolor is for me the most poignant – this pussy willow resides in a school yard in Northwest Calgary and is covered in these sweet little fluff balls.
Photo: Pat Gaviller

The air is rich with new life and new possibilities – yes indeed spring is in the air.

Just look up!

Happy Spring,

© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

4 comments on “Harbingers of Spring

  1. Bayberry says:

    Sue, I am enjoying your thoughtful and interesting posts so much! Your photos (and your sister’s) are beautiful as well. It’s almost like being in one of your design classes.
    I saw a gorgeous hepatica blooming this morning – another true harbinger of spring!

  2. Edith Weiss says:

    Sue, your blog is delightful!
    I was wondering if I/we could use your Lilac “3 buds comparison” and “3 syringa plant comparison” for a “Schoolyard Naturalization Resource/Powerpoint” that will be made available to schools? I am volunteering to help Jaclyn (Calgary Zoo) with putting together this resource.
    Thanks in any case,


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