Nature Notes

Solar Spring Surprises!

The Norway Pines have an abundance of gorgeous, larger female cones on their swooping branches. Each one has such symmetry and beautiful geometric spirals.

By Lee Anne Laskey

Come nurture yourself this week at the Arboretum, indoors or out! If you are craving cozy warmth and incredible color, enjoy this last week of the lovely Spring Flower Show that goes through Feb. 27.  If you need a little more vitamin D, bring your binoculars and wander awhile on the well cared for trails. These refreshing longer days of the Solar Spring are a perfect time to grab your hat and head this way!

Solar Spring is the first of three spring markers and one of the best. Light is so important and when we have more of it, lots of things change. It is a signal for plants to start growing and animals to start becoming more active.

I’m obsessed this week with the amazing cone crop displayed around every corner outdoors. If you stop and look closely, each variety has such unique, intricate details. It makes for a fun scavenger hunt! Thanks to a recent tip from Arb Director of Operations Alan Branhagen, I will also be looking for the White-winged Crossbills feeding on them all.

The first interesting cones I spotted were on a Jack Pine, closed and curled around the branch in a creative way.  This scrubby looking tree with a valuable story to tell of the cool ecology associated with it. Take time to learn why some of the cones are glued shut and how this strange looking tree has helped the Kirkland Warbler, which nests on the ground beneath young jack pines. 

Jack Pine’s Curling Cones

The Douglas fir I stumbled upon has cones now that are showing off their cool looking, bracts, which are structures in some seed cones. With these cones, the papery looking bracts extend well beyond the cone scales, making them whimsical and worth some observation for sure.  Unfortunately, my photo didn’t do them justice, but have fun finding them online or here!

The Norway Spruce have an abundance of gorgeous, larger female cones on their swooping branches. Each one has such symmetry and beautiful geometric spirals. Today, I stop to hear the brisk breeze as it moves these distinctive branches with such grace, greeting me with its own version of a friendly wave.

Norway Spruce Nature Art!

I also am fascinated with elegant tree trunks and eye-catching bark, especially in the winter.  Are you? Take a look at the Red Pine, pictured below. I couldn’t help but stand under it, admiring its tall, straight trunk and maturing bark divided into large, reddish-brown plates.

Red Pine Beauty

I end my long, winter walk having fun finding new plants I’m drawn to that provide year-round interest, after revisiting some old favorites like the Sweet Mockorange that gives beautiful contrast to the Norway Pines behind it. I get excited anticipating its late Spring show of intoxicating scent, sweet blooms and abundance of nectar for the happy pollinators. Right now, it provides needed shelter from the cold for our Chickadees and other birds.

Anticipating the Sweet Mock Orange Show

Today’s year-round interest plant find that I jot in my notebook is the long-lived Juniperus virginiana “Grey Owl” or Eastern Red Cedar. It has a Zen like quality with its prized soft, silver gray foliage and showy blue berries that Cedar Waxwings especially love right now.  Consider this plant not only in a wildlife garden, but for erosion control.

Gray Owl Shrub Show!

What plant will you be drawn to today? I can’t wait to run into you this week soaking up this Solar Spring too at the most inspiring place to be in February!

Lee Anne Laskey is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

3 comments on “Solar Spring Surprises!

  1. Love it! Finding beauty in small things.

  2. Maija Sedzielarz

    The “red pine cone” photo – is that a Norway spruce? The needles are not pine.

  3. Jill DiLoreto

    Beautiful descriptions and photos! Can’t wait to return to the Arb!

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