Suddenly spring has exploded. Make the most of each day, because big changes in woodlands and gardens are occurring by the hour. This is the time to enjoy the bigger picture of spring unfolding, but also the nuances of nature as well.
Retired University of Georgia professor Michael Dirr, writing of the flowers of pawpaw, famously wrote in his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, that their “lurid purple flowers” were “rarely seen by the uninitiated.” This is an apt turn of phrase for springtime as the riots of spring bring major changes in plants daily. Magnolia flowers open and of course sometimes are blasted by frost the next day. Chartreuse-yellow Norway maple flowers and intense reds of red maple flowers and developing helicopter-like fruits are stunning but often many “uninitiated” question whether maples even have flowers.
Ultimately we are all uninitiated and ignorant of far more than that which we know. Marcel Proust gloried in the thrill of discovery of that which we have seen but not registered when he said: “The true voyage of discovery lies not in finding new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” So, when you do finally observe the flowers of katsura tree, showy in detail for perhaps a few days each spring if we are lucky, take it in amidst our busy nurture of nature days. I was stunned this spring by the leaf buds with their elaborate scales and then leaves emerging on three-flowered maple (Acer triflorum) in my backyard Chatscape.
Speaking of that three-flowered maple (Acer triflorum), it was our featured tree last week on Ohio State University’s Buckeye Yard and Garden Line (BYGL) newsletter. This Asian maple becomes a small- to medium-sized tree (20-25 feet). Like its cousin paperbark maple, it has exfoliating bark but not as papery or with the cinnamon color of Acer griseum. Leaves have trifoliate leaflets, with leaves oppositely arranged on the twigs, as with all maples. Flowers are arranged in three as the name suggests.
Winner of many landscape design awards throughout the world for its multiseason appeal of bark and foliage characteristics, three-flowered maple is something you should try in your specimen garden.
According to the National Arboretum website, plant explorer Ernest Wilson found Acer triflorum on the Korean peninsula in 1917 and described it as “perhaps the best find of the trip.” Plant in well-drained soil.
Finally, at the OSU Main Campus Arbor Day celebration last Friday, I took a page from the OSU development campaign of “But for Ohio State,” which focuses on what education can create. In this case, we emphasized “But for the trees …” or in Spanish Solamentes por los arboles …
Solamentes por los arboles …We would not enjoy the Jesse Owens oak, the Buckeye Grove honoring OSU’s All-American football players, the mighty sycamores on the oval providing their bone structure to the landscape, and the white redbuds about to bloom at the Chadwick Arboretum labyrinth.
Solamentes por los arboles … We might be Wolverines or Boilermakers or Badgers, instead of what we, along with all Ohioans, most arboriculturally are — Buckeye — trees.
Solamentes por los arboles … There would be no true solar power, since trees (and other plants) harness the sun in chloroplasts and with carbon dioxide and water produce carbohydrate energy source. The food chain starts with plants: we all eat plants or animals that eat plants.
Solamentes por los arboles … We would not have paper for books that channel Shakespeare’s words: “In Nature’s infinite book of secrecy/A little I can read.”
Solamentes por los arboles … OSU would not be one of only six universities in the country with more than one Tree Campus USA site: OSU’s Main Campus 2012, OSU Wooster Campus 2013.
Solamentes por los arboles … Toledo would not receive more than $3.95 million annually in energy savings alone (shade in summer, windbreaks in winter) from the city’s street trees.
Solamentes por los arboles … We would not have the Chadwick Arboretum on Main Campus and the Secrest Arboretum in on the OSU Wooster Campus.
Solamentes por los arboles … We would not understand what Helen Keller meant when she said: “I wondered how it was possible, to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing of note. I who cannot see, find hundreds of things: The delicate symmetry of a leaf, the smooth skin of a silver birch, the rough, shaggy bark of a pine. I who am blind can give one hint to those who see: Use your eyes as if tomorrow you will be stricken blind … Smell the perfume of flowers, taste with relish each morsel, as if tomorrow you would never taste or smell again. Make the most of each sense.”
Speaking of which … solamentes por los arboles … We would not have that perfect pairing, the genus Coffea, the tree that gives us coffee, and Theobroma cacao, the cocoa tree, that literally translates to “food of the Gods.” Case closed.
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is — today, Arbor Day and everyday.
Jim Chatfield is a horticultural educator with Ohio State University Extension. If you have questions about caring for your garden, write: Jim Chatfield, Plant Lovers’ Almanac, Ohio State University Extension, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691. Send email to email@example.com or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number if you write.