Our snow cover continues to be widespread but under the protective canopy of a white pine tree our five arbutus plants have thrown off their white blanket. Tips of dark green leaves found an opening in the snow and soaked up warmth from the sunlight and the snow melted. Warm fog and light rain finished the job here. The ice that held the wire cage in place is gone so an unobstructed view is now possible.
From a normal viewing distance, the hairy nature of this plant would go unnoticed. These mature leaves still have hairs along their edges. Stems also bristle with reddish brown hairs. Blossoms formed last Fall look nearly ready to open. I did manage to resist the temptation to check for the presence of their delicious scent. Taking pictures in the rain seemed bizarre enough.
Three bud clusters are easily seen in this photo. Another may be seen near the left edge of the picture. In seems somehow unfair that the treasures of these flowers are so frequently secreted away. Last year early warm weather drew the flowers out before their pollinators were active and none of these plants set seed. This year I plan to hand pollinate but that activity will be limited to easily accessible flowers.
This plant is located in the lower right corner of the first photo. When we moved these plants from the wild, we selected only remote small specimens. Their root systems were also small and the move was made without inflicting any damage to that fragile mass. This plant was the runt of the group and has only recently put out growth that extends beyond the moss. Flower buds are making their first appearance on this plant. We will finally know the gender of each plant moved here. Our from seed baby plant has yet to flower although it may be carrying buds now.
The plant that was chewed to the nub by a foraging woodchuck sent out impressive new growth last season. My peering eyes were unable to find any flower buds on that plant. It may be that arbutus flowers only on growth that is more than one year old.
Another unanswered question deals with the life span of arbutus leaves. In the wild I have seen large dead leaves among the green actively growing leaves. Some of these mature leaves display brown sections but that may be the result of fallen tree leaves covering the arbutus leaf.
It is difficult to accurately describe the improvement in my general mood that followed the brief time spent peering down on these plants. Their already white flower tips and the promise of sights and scents soon to follow removed much of the gloom attached to this severe winter. We are under a Winter storm warning again today. As the temperature plummets to well below freezing, rapid icing of the roads will occur. Then up to nine inches of new snow will fall. The green leaves and new buds will again disappear beneath the snow. I think perhaps it is better or at least safer for them that way.
Bitter wind, freezing temperatures but almost no snow were the features of this latest storm. Some protective snow remained around the crowns of the plants but all else was exposed to the harsh elements.