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I love spring.  First, let me apologize to all those who suffer from hay fever; pollen used to bother me too.  During my teens and twenties, I was miserable throughout the entire growing season.  But through it all, I loved spring.  It is not my favorite season, that position belongs to autumn, but I still love spring.  I love spring because of the NASCAR – like speed at which the natural world moves. Over the past two months, plants have awakened from their winter slumber to provide food for the rest of us on this blue planet, and reproduce. 
pine candles - andy baril.jpg
There is a unique pattern to this explosion of life, and it is absolutely amazing!  Back in late January and early February, the official coldest two weeks of 2014, the elm trees woke up and began sharing their pollen with each other to produce a new generation of elms. The next voice in this symphony was the maples.  Remember driving down the highway and seeing the slight red tone in the tree line?  Those hints of red were the maples as they broke open their buds and revealed their tiny red flowers.  Today, the elm seeds have already fallen, but the maple seeds continue to cling to their parents awaiting the day of their helicopter release into a new world.  After a slight gap in large tree activity, during which the cherry, plum, redbud, and dogwood bloomed, the large trees resumed their activity too.  Today hickories and oaks are adding their flowers and pollen to the mix, and at any moment the pines will shout with a loud burst of yellow. 

Two weeks ago in Mobile I viewed the first “Candles of Spring”; the new shoot growth of our Southern pines.  Palm Sunday, I saw them here in Birmingham. As I returned to Birmingham from Mobile, I had the privilege of crossing the Mobile/Tensaw Delta on the I-65 Bridge; on top of the bridge I wanted to stop.  The beauty of the Delta awakening, even at a distance, was breath-taking. 

Take a close look at the end of a tree branch.  Look at the tiny flowers, the male anthers releasing their pollen with every shake or wisp of wind, and the female stigma waiting for that one microscopic grain of pollen that will begin new life and produce a new seed.  While this dance occurs every spring, don't allow this year’s dance to go unnoticed.  Allow the natural world to amaze you with its beauty and complexity.  Look at that mountainside.  Look in your yard, go to a park, or walk a woodland trail.  Look at both the showy flowers of an iris or dogwood, and the simple flowers of an oak or pine.  Take a close look, maybe you, like I, will be amazed.

by Andrew J. Baril of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. 


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