Trail Flora: Spring

We’ve just come through the Magic Season in Northern Virginia.  While my midwestern cousin complains about the persistent winter, and my new England cousin’s husband blogs about Easter morning snow (on a late Easter, too!), around here the magic is trees leafing out.

The Magic comes in a two-week bracket sometime about mid-April.  Almost all the trees get their first leaves at once, while the Dogwoods are in full white-cross glory and the Redbuds flash almost garish magenta.  But for the big trees, their almost simultaneous leaves come in different delicate pastel hues: pea green, lime green, grass green, hunter green, red, rust, maroon, even off-white!  You need to look quickly, because this display is evanescent and elusive.  A couple of warm weather-front days in the 80° range, a loud line of thunderstorms gutted of their tornadic energy but not their deluge of rain, and next day (today, as it happens) all the trees are an even, bright enamel green.  they’ll darken a bit with summer’s heat and drought, like paint.

Only the cyclist can prolong the magic, simply by taking the W&OD southeast and downhill into Arlington, then northwest to Ashburn, Leesburg, and beyond.  The seasonal difference between Arlington County and Sterling is a good week.  When I ride to Shirlington I discover what I can look for in Vienna in a few days, and when I go out to Route 28 I can look for the things that vanished in Vienna a few days ago.  It reminds me of the small but prominent hill visible from our third-story porch in Charlottesville.  The altitude alone allowed us to see Spring creeping up the hill at the rate of 10 or 15 feet a day until the trees at the very top were covered with leaves about a week after those at the bottom.  Talk about your microclimates!   Exactly the same principle allows us to extend the azalea season, just now starting in earnest.

Meanwhile other aspects of local flora are active.  Maple seeds whirl down in droves when spring winds blow.  Jane’s family always called them “helicopters.”  These are not the two-winged versions we knew in new England, but single-winged.  Oak fronds also cascade by the bucket-load.  There are dandelions along the trail just as there are in our yard, but they grow in great abundance in unmown trailside areas.  May Apple plants are up like umbrellas, and the Trail is dotted with folk picking wild greens and shoots, mostly dandelion greens and milkweed shoots, I suspect.

It’s been a rainy April, and the erratic and violent weather fronts have inhibited my riding.  I am certainly glad I’m not sensitive to tree pollen, though.  The pollen count (the number is grains of pollen per cubic meter of air) is hitting four figures on sunny, windy days–mostly oak pollen right now.  On my last two rides my tear ducts have been blocked, not by the usual grit. dust, and mucus, but by pure yellow oak pollen, in moist, finely grainy clumps.  If I were allergic, I’m sure that much would leave me prostrate.  So I’ll be out tomorrow, appreciating the azaleas and undoubtedly some other newly blooming addition to the spring landscape.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

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