Monday, April 19, 2010

A PARTY IN PINK

"When redbuds are a'bloom," the old man said to me, "that's nature's signal for a feller to go fishin'!"
A good example of angling phenology, as it turned out…for fish do seem to bite extraordinarily well when the redbuds brighten the greening woods with their showy blooms. All these years later, I still never see a redbud in bloom without remembering the connection—and subsequently wishing I could drop whatever it is I'm doing and go fishing.
Most of the year, the redbud goes unnoticed in the woods. Its heart-shaped leaves just another daub of green in a vast green sea. But not so in spring! Long before most trees have even partially leafed out, the redbud takes over the landscape with color. A party in pink! No other tree in the woods can compare—and more than a few folks consider the diminutive redbud to be the prettiest blooming tree around. That's doubtless why it's also so popular with landscapers and gardeners.
Redbuds are indeed as lovely as any tree I know—at least when they're in full and glorious bloom. The bright magenta-pink blossoms set off the green of the few new leaves—a hue that simply glows like a beacon within the darkest shadows. A single redbud a'bloom in a wild meadow is like a warm, rosy light; a hillside thick with redbuds dazzles as if the slope were being consumed by flames.
The redbuds hereabouts have been blooming for nearly three weeks. Right now, they seem to be at their showiest, blushing vigorously, the impact of their color transfixing the eye. It's hard to see anything else when the redbuds are putting on their spring show.
The Eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis, is quite common throughout the eastern U.S. and lower Canada. Size-wise, I suppose you could consider it either a small tree or a very large shrub—depending on age and growing conditions. A big redbud tree would be 30-feet high and 10-inches in diameter. Often part of the forest's understory, redbuds also favor roadbanks and borderlands between woods and fields.
Though I grew up in a foraging family—we gathered and ate everything from various wild greens, to mushrooms, berries, nuts, and such fruit as pawpaws and persimmons—it wasn't until I reached my mid-twenties that I learned redbud blooms are quite tasty in salads, or when made into jelly. I've even sample redbud wine. Nowadays, I never pass a blooming redbud without pulling off a handful of the pinkish blossoms and having a taste to check on sweetness. And I often bring in a bag of blooms to add to salads.
The redbuds in these photos are located just up the road from the cottage—on the far side of the old field where I took most of the spring beauty shots from a couple of posts back. In another week or two, most of them will be fading…and soon they'll lose their magenta blossoms, put on their own green leaves, and simply blend into the crowd for the rest of the spring and summer. I hate to see them disappear.
I also hate that I can't go fishing today. I know they'd be biting…because the redbuds are in bloom!
———————

22 comments:

George McHenry said...

The posting of today, as well as the one on Saturday, were well-written and stunningly beautiful, Grizzled. The shots of the bluebells and redbuds took my breath away.

Thanks for the comment today on "Walking in Hallways." I tried to published it on my site, but it didn't appear. Checking again, my computer said the comment had been moderated. Maybe I hit the wrong button, but I want you to know that I appreciate your comments. Keep the incredible photos and wonderful prose coming our way. You're a great naturalist.

Wanda said...

Along with the Spring Beauties, now I've learned that Redbuds are edible too, both things my mother never mentioned, although she always came here every spring to pick wild greens.

We have many pawpaw trees on the property that bloom, but only once produced small fruit, would you have any idea why? I don't personally like them, but wonder why they don't produce. This year they are heavy with the purplish blooms.

Jayne said...

I'm still playing catch-up with my blog reading. What a joy to see all your photos and stories of spring coming to the cabin! I love seeing the redbuds too, though I have to say I've never heard about the fish biting when they are in bloom. :c)

KGMom said...

You can eat redbuds? Who knew.
I do love them in bloom. For a number of years, my husband went to an annual spring conference in W. Va., and the drive from PA there was always lined with redbuds in bloom.
I am quite proud of the one in our yard which I planted as bare root stock, all 18 inches at the time. It now stands about 8 feet high. But, yikes--it can grow to 30?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

As I said in the post, Mom and Dad were always gathering various wild edibles…but I don't think either of them knew redbud blooms were something to eat. I doubt they have a lot of food value, but they are fairly high in antioxidants. Just strip off a handful while they're still around and try them—some are sweet (sort of like honeysuckle) others more bland. But a handful sprinkled on a salad is lovely.

Re. the pawpaws (which are, BTW, my absolute favorite of all wild "fruits" and wild edibles, including blueberries and blackberries and morel mushrooms…which is saying a lot!) it may be lack of good pollination, too much shade, etc. Or just age. They're tricky plants. Pawpaws from different trees produce different tasting fruit; you have to find good one for the best eating. At a previous home, I used to have about 40 pawpaw trees in my back yard (counting all sizes), but don't have any here yet. They take a while to get going, so for the rest of my life, I'm probably stuck having to find my pawpaws elsewhere. I love them dearly.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

George…

Thank you for your nice comments. And hey, I liked your post…and don't sweat the lost comment. Mine certainly weren't words of priceless wisdom.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

Well, I've enjoyed your island vacation posts—so we're even. I would guess that the phenology of blooming redbuds and the best of spring's early fishing is not the same where you live; but it's certain a connection I've heard made many times by panfishermen throughout the Midwest and Great Lakes states.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

You can eat them. And hey, I didn't know for a long time, either. But redbud blooms are regularly eaten by lots of folks and cultures, mad into jellies, used as a base flovoring for cakes and sweet treats, even made into wine.

Actually, some reference say a big, mature redbud can exceed 35 feet…though I've never seen one that big. They're fast growing to a point, and short lived (average 50 years) and I wouldn't worry too much about your redbud taking over the yard. I have a dozen sycamores here in my side yard alone that are upwards of 100 feet tall; and one that's probably (judging by its diameter) close to 500 years old. Now those are serious trees.

Rowan said...

How lovely the redbuds are, Spring is such a wonderful time of year with all the blossom on the trees and the wild flowers coming thick and fast. We don't have redbuds in the UK, I suppose our equivalent at the moment woukld be the blackthorn which is covered with white blossom at the moment. I love the bluebells in your previous post, it shows the value of latin names though as the flowers I know as bluebells are quite different, our woodland bluebell is Hyacinthoides non-scripta but if you were in Scotland and someone was talking about bluebells they'd mean what I call a harebell - Campanula rotundifolia. They are all beautiful though whatever you call them:)

Tramp said...

Now that's how to organise our lives, nature has such beautiful ways of guiding us. Hope you can get out "fishin'" soon ... Tramp

Elisabeth said...

I'd call red buds blossoms. For me the blossoms mark the beginning of spring in Australia.

These buds are so beautiful and what a joy they mark the arrival of the fish. A pity you can't join them.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Tramp…

Actually, given that the river provides a very nice pool literally within a dozen feet of my doorway, I get out fishing almost every day…at least long enough to make a few casts and catch a fish or two. But—and this is, I'm sure, a fanatic's way of splitting hairs and justifying further actions—catching fish on your doorstep is not the same as truly going fishing. And those blooming redbuds are calling me to "go fishing."

One must listen to nature…

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

(Oops! Got your comment reply out of sequence. Sorry.)

I confess I'm not much of a fan of spouting Latin names of things, as it always seems so pretentious. But it is the only way to easily keep things straight and avoid confusion—especially given that so many different plants have the same name. Latin names are useful tools. They often have a bit of interesting history behind them, too, which I sometimes like. On the other hand, they're rarely beautiful or poetic or mysterious—or even regionally quaint. That's where common and colloquial names comes in which, as a storyteller, I adore.

But beauty never needs a name—just someone to notice and appreciate it. I am surprised you don't have redbuds in the U.K.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Elizabeth…

Don't feel too sorry for me. (See reply to Tramp's comment above.)

Nope, redbuds are neither red nor are they buds…but as you point out, blossoms. But really pretty, nonetheless.

giggles said...

Beautiful... I imagine a little haven where I can rest in my backyard...it will have redbud trees...

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

It DOES have redbud trees…and constantly in bloom.

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ

well, I never knew of a pawpaw tree and I didn't know redbuds (didn't even know their proper name), were edible. I learn so much here from you about nature. :-) And I love that the vibrant bloom of the redbud is the natural sign of fishing season. My Dad always said "when the May-flies come in April the fishing is the best"!!

Love Gail
peace......

p.s. beautiful pictures -

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

I don't think you have pawpaw trees up your way—or it would, at least, be near the very northeastern limits of their range. Their fruit is the largest of any wild fruits in North America. (They're actually not a fruit, but, as I recall, "drupe" which is simply a case of botanical hairsplitting.) They're more southern tree. A big pawpaw is fist-sized or slightly larger; smooth skinned, green turning to yellow with brownish streaks; the flesh creamy becoming yellow then orange, as they age. They have huge dark seeds, bigger than a kidney bean and about that shape. They taste sorta like a banana, though more tropical. And they are, really, a tropical plant, with huge, long leaves. I absolute love them, love the taste. If it hadn't been for pawpaws, Lewis and Clark would have starved to death.

Up north, Michigan trout fishermen say when the leaf on the popple is the size of a squirrel's ear, that's when the mayflies begin to hatch and the trout in streams such as the Au Sable start to rise. A great bit of piscatorial phenology. Your Dad was right, too.

Gail said...

HI Grizz

thank you so much for telling me all about the pawpaw fruit - wow. and that tidbit about the May-flies - fascinating, just like you.

love you
Gail
peace.....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

I'm a pawpaw zealot and crusader, and will happily—and at length!—preach their virtues to anyone who'll listen.

Thank you for pulling my string!

The Weaver of Grass said...

I don't know this plant at all Scribe - but it is so pretty. Does anyone need an excuse to go fishing?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

Certainly not I! I'll go fishing at the drop of a riffle…or pool. I never met a stream I didn't like.

You'd love our redbuds. I wonder why they've never made it your way?