Thursday, April 18, 2019

Early Arbutus Flowers

Returning home from a therapy session today, I decided to drive to the back and check on the garden by the woods.  In two places string fastening the wire fence to the posts had rotted.  Temporary repairs were made and naturally a stop was made to look at the Arbutus plants.  Six plants, three of each gender, were transplanted here in 2013

Arbutus plants form their flower buds in the fall.  I was expecting to see only white tipped buds.  These were more swollen than expected.

Open flowers came as a complete surprise.  Most of the buds remain tightly closed now but here are open flowers.  Looking at the base of the blossom, one can see five objects resembling grains of wheat.  Those structures will in time produce pollen identifying this as a male plant.  The appearance of the pollen is quickly over and I have yet to see a pollen laden anther.

These two plants were placed in a deep deposit of white pine needles.where nothing resembling soil as I know it exists.  Arbutus plants require extremely acid but poor ground in which to grow.  The growth of these plants is visually different from the others.  Long stems bearing sparse leaves is the rule here.  Each gender is present here and seed production happens each year.  Despite the occurrence of mature seeds, we have yet to see the appearance of a new plant from seed.

This is our only patch of wild plants.  We have no idea just how many plants grow here or what genders are present.  We became aware of their existence when we first purchased this land twenty-five years ago.  Flower buds are rather numerous now so the gender question should be answered this year.

It is surprising how small this group of plants is considering their age.  They were eaten to the ground by a starved rabbit and that is the reason for the cage.  Apparently that is a common experience for wild Arbutus plants.  These have totally disappeared several times in the past before we learned what was happening to them.  Now all of these native treasures grow under wire cages.  We would prefer that they grow without a wire cover but we need to keep them alive and expanding.

These flowers are on a plant far removed from the other pictured plant in bloom.  A close look down into the base of the blossom will reveal a green thing growing above the bottom of the open flower.  It is the pollen grabbing stigma marking this as a female plant.

This is a picture of our first group of transplants.  When these four plants were moved in May of 2011, we did not know that some would be girls and others would be boys.  As luck would have it, one female plant is surrounded by three males.  One new plant from seed did appear here but the seed that grew was in the soil clump surrounding a transplant.

We cannot leave without mentioning the outstanding feature of this plant.  It is obviously a low ground cover with dark shinny leaves but it is the fragrance that has made this plant famous.  One must place his nose close to the soil to sample the scent.  The flower is sweet beyond description and accompanied  by the smell of rotting pine needles, it is an experience will be enjoyed and remembered possibly forever.  Each year as the blooming period comes to an end, I make a promise to myself that I will live long enough to experience the scent of Arbutus at least one more time.  That is a promise that I have kept once again.

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