A few days ago Matt and I had the pleasure of romping through the Arnold Arboretum with our friend Miles, who led us on a tour of the blooms currently gracing the landscape. We have had a very strange and mild winter, and while we may eventually get the snow one expects from a New England February, for the time being the ground is soft and the air smells like an Easter basket. This is throwing plants into confusion, with buds that typically bloom in March baring their pastel colors, hopeful stamens, and hungry stigmas many weeks earlier than usual.
Hamamelis mollis – Chinese Witch Hazel. Many witch hazels bloom in the early spring, as opposed to our native H. virginiana, which flowers in the neighborhood of November. (Another beautiful Hamamelis that is flowering right now is H. vernalis, a shrub native to the central and southern U.S.)
Chimonanthus praecox – Wintersweet. This is a shrub with such a strong preference for warm climates that it only rarely blooms at the Arboretum. The gentle temperatures that we’ve been experiencing are coaxing them out of their buds, releasing a delicious scent laden with citrus.
Prunus mume – Japanese Apricot. You could almost miss this most wonderful of arboretum trees. It’s very tiny – only a bit taller than I – but its spate of precocious blooms sets it apart from the rest of the Prunus collection at the Forest Hills gate. As we were walking to the car I just so happened to see some wisps of white out of the corner of my eye, and started running toward them with a toothy grin and a one-track mind. The wisps, of course, were lovely little fluffs of flower situated all over the tree. This apricot always reminds me of the pear tree that Janie dreams under in “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” It is one of the first trees in the entire arboretum to bloom, and as with Hurston’s famous pear tree, tends to be teeming with bees and wasps and other grateful creatures getting their fill of nectar and pollen from one flower to another and another.