Teetering on the brim of spring

The recent snow and ice has melted revealing a drab field layer of razed and decaying undergrowth.  Despite the same seasonal hardships some neighbouring plants are now teetering on the brim of spring  pushing their new infant green shoots upwards towards the growing hours of daylight.  Indeed, this year looking higher up the vertical vegetation structure into the understorey and shrub layer of our hedgerows and woodlands there is a particular abundance of hazel flowers.  These catkins which formed unnoticed during the autumn and winter are the male flowers and are commonly known as lamb’s tails (see photo attached).  Hazel is wind pollinated and does not rely on insects to do this.  Their pollen will drift in the air until resting on a female flower.  These flowers are minute and easily overlooked and apart from a tiny red vase shaped tuft look just like another small bud along the bare narrow stem (see photo attached).  Large amounts of pollen are produced ensuring the hazel nuts of autumn are formed providing a feast for squirrels and small mammals such as wood mice.  Also, numerous larva of various moths and other insects feed on the foliage making the hazel a most valuable wildlife plant.

Male flowers on hazel at Wrenthorpe Park

Male flowers on hazel at Wrenthorpe Park

Female flowers on hazel at Wrenthorpe Park

Female flowers on hazel at Wrenthorpe Park

Snowdrops and winter aconites have also defied the winter and are now in full flower (see attached photos).  They are a treasured double act, well naturalised and established in our urban greenspaces helping to cheer us up before the top of the bill flowers of spring arrive.

Winter aconites at Alverthorpe

Winter aconites at Alverthorpe

Snowdrops at Wrenthorpe Alverthorpe meadows

Snowdrops at Wrenthorpe Alverthorpe meadows

Signs of spring: Hazel catkins

Hazel catkins are a sure sign that spring is in progress. The yellow catkins are the male flowers, dangling and spreading their pollen into the drifting winds. It is always worth carrying with you a hand lens so that you can take a look at the much smaller, red female flowers which catch the scattered pollen on sticky red tufts

For centuries, hazel has been grown for its wood using coppicing – a traditional method that involves cutting trees to ground level and allowing them to re-grow and produce multiple long, strong stems. The hazel catkin is often called lambs tails due to their looking a lot like a lamb’s tail and they also appear during the lambing season. Traditionally, pollarded hazel shoots were used for lambing pens!

hazel catkins

hazel catkins

hazel catkins

hazel catkins (male and female flowers)

female hazel flowers

female hazel flowers

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