Now that winters here in central North Carolina no longer even try to remain cold for more than a few days at a time, something in my yard blooms every month of the year. Most of the plants currently blooming are not native to my region; they are non-invasive ornamentals I planted years ago, and they do all attract pollinating insects on days warm enough for them to fly. Here are a few photos of what I saw as I walked our five acres this morning. Note that you can click on any photo to see a larger image.
Flowering Apricots (Prunus mume)
Both of my trees are struggling with a fungus that will likely kill them in a few more years. The beauty and fragrance of their flowers is intoxicating on a chilly winter day. The local honeybees always visit when the weather is warm enough for them to fly. I’ve forgotten the name of the pale pink-flowered cultivar, but the deep rose-colored bloomer was sold to me as cultivar Peggy Clarke, although there appears to be some debate about that.
These non-natives are so poisonous that the deer do not even nibble them. Mine are spreading, and I am currently attempting to eliminate them from the landscape, because they migrating into the area where a substantial natural population of bloodroots flourishes.
January Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)
This early bloomer is often mistaken for forsythia, which actually blooms almost a month later in my yard. Despite the name, it has no fragrance, but it is not invasive, pollinators visit the blooms, and the cheery flower color brightens cloudy winter days.
These two are smaller species that bloom before the bigger ones usually seen. The cottontail rabbits always devour them shortly after their buds appear, unless I spray the plants with a deterrent.
Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica)
This non-native tree has spectacular exfoliating bark and golden autumn leaf color that stops all visitors in their tracks. It is in the witch hazel family; its inconspicuous flowers are tiny, but pretty when viewed closely. On warm days, honeybees visit the tiny flowers.
Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)
I planted this non-native dogwood-family member because its bright yellow flowers appear very early, and because its fruits are supposed to be favored by wildlife. Unfortunately, my plants never set fruit. It has been suggested that I need another one that is not genetically related to the two I’ve got. I’m mulling on that. Meanwhile, the small bright yellow flowers undeniably light up the winter landscape.
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
This beloved herb has flourished for years nestled among large boulders in a front garden. Not native, of course, but it seasons many of Wonder Spouse’s culinary masterpieces. It blooms off and on all year, but always produces an initial burst of blue flowers in late winter.
Ozark Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis ‘Amethyst’)
This beauty is technically native to the Ozarks west of here, but for me that’s plenty native enough for here. You cannot argue with its abundant knockout-gorgeous purplish strappy flowers, and its fall leaf color is also quite spectacular. The strong, clean fragrance of the flowers carried by a chilly late winter wind lifts my spirits every time I catch a whiff.
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
Although technically not quite yet in bloom, these swelling flower buds point to an imminent explosion of red flowers within the next few weeks. I believe their arrival is the first true sign that spring approaches. Even before these native trees start, the local elm species (Ulmus spp.) open their inconspicuous flowers to unleash their pollen on winter winds. They started doing that here yesterday. I know, because my allergies went crazy as soon as I stepped out the door yesterday and today. I must now pack tissues for every walk around the yard.
Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Fruiting bodies, not flowers, I know, but these beauties stopped me in my tracks on this morning’s walkabout. My friend with fungus knowledge assures me that these are edible oyster mushrooms, but we’ll likely leave them for local wildlife to enjoy. They are growing at the base of a fungus-killed tulip poplar. Fun fact I learned when I researched this mushroom: it is carnivorous. Its mycelia kill and digest nematodes, likely as a way to obtain nitrogen.
The weather seers are calling for cold rain for most of the next two weeks. Today’s blossoms will likely turn to watery mush. However, more blooms are imminent. Some will be late flowers on the above plants, but many more flowers of other plants will appear before long.
During breaks in the weather, my friend and garden helper, Beth, and I — sometimes with the additional aid of Wonder Spouse — are attempting to clean up overgrown sections of the yard. The task is eternal, especially because it is constantly slowed by unanticipated discoveries — new plants in unexpected places, sleeping frogs, friendly Ruby-crowned Kinglets curious about what we’re doing.
It is those surprises that prevent the work from becoming drudgery, and they help this aging gardener hold on to the child-like sense of wonder that gets me out of bed every morning in time to catch the day’s sunrise.