There is no summer fulness in the winds, -
Only the dreamy stirring of the dawn, - When sweet, ecstatic spring awakes and finds The winter gone. - C. B. Going.
In earlier April the country is apt to look as if spring had "struck" it in patches. As the suburban resident rides from home to business through field, orchard, and woodland, he sees here a pasture as green as it will be in June, with a group of willows or poplars already burgeoned out into spring decorations; there a patch of the later forest trees, as unawakened as they were in midwinter.
The first evidence of awakening life, given by the woods and copses, is the appearance of the blossoms on the boughs. The tender foliage does not issue from the bud till later. For divers and sufficient reasons it is the habit of most trees to produce their flowers before their leaves, and the expanding buds of earliest spring are almost invariably flower-buds.
The swamp or pussy-willow often blossoms in later March, braving high winds and leaden skies. The red maple and the poplar bloom at about the same time, and the sugar-maple a little later. By later April, in ordinary seasons, the young seeds of the poplar are formed, and dangle from the branches in long, green clusters, so many and so dense that they impart their color to the tree. The elms, too, finish flowering betimes, and cover themselves with young seed-pods, which hang in bunches from the boughs and twigs (Fig. 6). They are thin and flat and of a vivid, tender green, and will be mistaken by nine observers out of ten for expanding leaves. The real leaves meantime are finishing out their winter's nap inside the leaf-buds, which are still very small and show scarcely a tinge of green.
In the country west of the Alleghanies the silver poplar or "abele" (Populus Alba) is one of the most familiar trees and one of the first to respond to the wooing of the south wind and the sun. Its flower-buds are covered with shining brown scales, which split apart, in latter March or early April, and show rifts of gleaming gray.
Fig. 6. - Fruit of the elm.
(From the Vegetable World).
After a few gentle showers and a few days of sunshine, these brown spring parcels open wide enough to show us what Mother Nature has been hiding there. And before one has realized what is happening some of the trees are covered with woolly dangles, soft and gray as goslings which have just chipped the shell. Looking closely at one of these we see that it is a close chain of scales, each clear and brown as a bit of tortoise-shell, and each bordered with a silvery fringe.
Under each scale is a bunch of stamens which, when they first appear, are shrimp-pink, so that the whole dangle, closely examined, is a lovely harmony of soft color. But on the poplars which bear such catkins as these there are no pistils at all, and there will be no seeds later in the year.
On other poplars, meantime, the pistil-bearing flower-buds, which hold the seed that is to be, are opening. Their contents are at first much less attractive to the eye than are the soft dangles of pink and silver which issue from the staminate buds.
Each pistillate bud consists of about six brown scales, which presently separate, and let out into the April weather an humble green catkin about half an inch long, composed of many hairy, green pistils, each partially covered with a scale.
These scales, like those on the far prettier staminate catkin, are fringed with silky hairs, and have been making themselves very useful earlier in the season.
Now they are separated by the lengthening of the catkin, but in the bud they lay so close together as to overlap, and their fringes made a soft, warm fur, which protected the young stamens or pistils from the frost.
The pistillate tassels of the poplar grow in clusters, usually on the tips of the branches and twigs. In this position of vantage each green pistil waits for the breeze to bring it pollen from the catkins of the stamen-bearing trees. As soon as the vitalizing dust is received the pistils begin to grow. In a few days, if the weather is bright and breezy, the insignificance of their earliest youth is a thing of the past.
The tassels lengthen, and become so vividly green that they are noticeable not only on the branches, but in the landscape. In the yet colorless world the trees stand forth clothed all in living green, as if they had burst into luxuriant leaf. But the leaves are still fast asleep, and tucked tightly away in little silvery buds. What appears to be foliage is innumerable seed-pods, hanging from the branches in countless chains. Later these pods will split open, and give to the spring breezes a great number of minute seeds, winged with cottony down. In localities where the white poplars abound, these seeds are sometimes shed in such numbers that they lie in sheltered places, blown into light heaps like the first snow before a November gale.
The blossoms of the elm appear in great profusion in latter March or early April. They grow huddled together in bunches, are of a delicate green, and are often mistaken for unfolding leaves. The buds whence they issue are dark-colored and large, and are scattered closely along the sides of the twigs, but seldom borne on the tips. Every one of these big buds is covered with a few brown scales, which separate in early spring, and let out into the sun ten or twelve slender stalks, each supporting a shallow green cup with a rim of golden-brown. Each cup is a flower, always pretty when one looks at it closely, and sometimes as perfect as the stateliest tulip. For it may contain from four to nine stamens, and in their midst a green, flat, heart-shaped pistil, forking into two feathery prongs. But almost every cluster contains some flowers which have no pistils at all - only stamens. These have no use for their pollen at home, and will send it all out into the world. Sir John Lubbock says it flies on the wings of the wind. Another excellent authority reckons the elm-blossom among honey-bearing flowers, and says its pollen travels on the bodies of early-roving flies and bees.