Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Early August Arbutus Buds

This is how our oldest transplants looked today.  Bright green new leaves obscure the older darker growth.  One of my unanswered questions is the life span of an arbutus leaf.  Seldom is a dead leaf seen and the plant is evergreen but there has to be a point where leaf death happens.  The unbroken canopy of new leaves my hide the dying old leaves from my prying eyes.

We knew that arbutus forms its blossom buds ahead of winter.  We had no idea that buds formed this early.  The season of the moment is summer not fall.  Bud clusters form at the joint between the stem and a new leaf.  Many buds form at the end of the new growth bud they also occur well short of the end of the new stem.  It may be safe to say that flowers will appear only on new growth.

This is our wild patch that is more than one quarter of a century old.  We are in agreement that this is the largest appearance that these plants have ever made during our ownership of this land.  This is only two summers of regrowth following decimation by a hungry rabbit.  It appears that pruned to the crown is a frequent occurrence for wild arbutus.  This likely explains many reported failures with arbutus as a garden plant.  I am tempted to brew up some arbutus leaf tea and discover for myself the popular taste.  Apparently there is nothing toxic in an arbutus leaf but the human body produces a poison from the components of the leaf tea.  We will leave the tasting to the rabbits.

We had many incompletely formed bud clusters earlier this year.  Last year's fall drought and my inability to carry water to the plants then were identified as the cause.  This bald tan bud cluster might be the remains of buds incompletely formed one year ago.  They may also be the remains of unfertilized female blossoms from this year.  New buds can be seen on the new growth pushing out from the end of the old stem.

Our more recent transplants have made contact with the stones intended to support the wire cage.  New growth will likely surround all of the stones next year.  Reaching the edge of the protective cage will soon follow.  When that happens, we will remove the edge stones that prevent predators from slipping under the cage and allow the arbutus to grow at will.  Growth outside of the wire will likely be eaten but we cannot expand the size of the protected area.  We did intend to introduce this wild plant to a natural environment.  There may be more rabbits per acre now but that is out of our control.

This young female plant receives no direct sunlight planted under a huge white pine tree.  Her growth habit is totally different from our other plants.  Dark green centered leaves mark the extent of the plant as it was when winter ended.  Light green leaves at the ends of long stems are this year's new growth.  We will be able to see what happens to the older leaves as more time passes.  The leftmost stem in the nine o'clock position sports new buds.

Our drought is over for the moment and everything is growing at a reckless pace.  These arbutus plants should be well ready for fall.  Thoughts of extensive sweet flowers are hard to deny.  They are half a year away but we are looking forward to their appearance.

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