Saturday, May 5, 2018

A Tale Of Four Plantings

This is the current status of our only naturally occurring patch of Arbutus.  In our more than two decades on this land, these plants have taught us much about the natural growth setbacks these plants endure.  Some years we could find no trace of Arbutus plants in this area.  Other years a few of the delightfully scented flowers were found.  Why these plants were here one year and gone the next had us stumped.  Three or four years ago my return walk from the mailbox took me past the location of these plants.  Since Arbutus is evergreen its dark green leaves appeared as the snow cover diminished.  Then the number of leaves grew smaller while the pile of bunny berries increased.  It was apparent that a hungry rabbit had found a source of fresh greens at a time of year when such food was scarce.

A wire cage was placed after the damage was done and we watched to see if the severely damaged plant would recover.  In the first year following the attack, only new leaves  appeared.  The following year stems and more new leaves grew.  Since flowers form near the stem ends, three years were required before the first flowers appeared.  They are few in number but they are definitely here.  Next year we expect to see and impressive display of flowers here.

We have wondered for years just what method was used to pollinate these flowers.  Last year we were horrified to find a huge pile of blossom cups littering the ground in front of their former stems just two days after the flowers first opened.  Nature then followed its course as seeds formed where the blossoms had been ripped off.  This year we saw for the first time just who spreads the pollen.  Two massive bumble bees were working these plants when we arrived there.  The bees are huge compared to the tiny flowers and we watched in amazement as the bees partially entered the blossoms.  Not every flower was pulled free but we did find flowers that had been ripped from the plants.

This is today's picture of plants transplanted in 2011.  Only four plants were moved but a plant from seed soon followed. That seed was in the soil moved here with the plant.  We have yet to see another plant from seed despite the huge number of seeds produced here.  Just how many years must pass before an Arbutus seed sprouts is not known by us.  We hope to someday see new plants appear naturally here.  In the meantime these plants have reached the edge of their protective cage.  If we are going to continue to remove the cage for both maintenance and close up flower sniffs, we must direct all of the new growth under the cage edge.  There it will likely be eaten by rabbits but larger cages are simply out of the question.  We prefer a cover that can be simply lifted clear rather than a fence.

For some unknown to us reason, many of this year's flowers are a delightful pink color. These are female plants as shown by the green stigma at the center of each flower.  When seed clusters form here, the remains of the supporting style will still protrude from the center.  For now, noses were brought close to revel in the sweet scent of these blossoms.  As the number of years pile up, a life goal is to live long enough to once again drink in this unforgetable sweet aroma.

This is the second group of Arbutus  transplanted here.  By 2014 we had learned enough to distinguish between the female plants and their male counterparts.  Three plants of each gender were placed here.  Each year many seed clusters form here but no new plants from seed have yet appeared.  Seeing new plants from seed could be another life goal.

These are male flowers despite their soft pink coloration.  Tan colored structures that produce pollen are located deep at the base of each flower.  Pollen collection by bumble bees must be a somewhat violent event as flowers with no reproductive parts are seen.  The purity of the color of female flowers is already streaked with tan pollen stains.  We are amazed that pollination is completed so soon after the flowers open.  Only two days have passed since the first buds opened.

When plants were being selected for moving four years ago, a cluster of tiny plants was inadvertently disturbed.  We brought them along and tucked them in a corner of the first transplants bed.  Two years later these plants were moved under an old white pine that grew from the stone wall built when the adjacent field was cleared for planting.  Decades of rotting pine needles have created super acidic soil.  These two plants seem to find conditions here to their liking.  As luck would have it, both genders are here.  We have seen a few seed clusters form in each of the past two years.  We hope to repair the long fallen wall creating a solid stone wall behind the arbutus.  If I can complete that task, a beautiful scene with a place to sit will receive frequent visits as we enjoy watching the life cycle of these treasured plants.

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