February Flowers

A party had been thrown for us. 

Yellow confetti covered the branches.  Red streamers decorated a shrub.  Pearls had been placed delicately on the willows.  Copper tissue paper encircled a maple trunk.  Executive Director Ned Friedman knew we were visiting the Arnold Arboretum and had thrown us a welcome party! At least, that is what A, Matthew, and I joked.  Exquisite flowers and emerging buds bejeweled the arboretum on February 20 as if readying themselves for a celebration.

The festive welcome of the plants electrified my soul.

Every February, Ozark, Chinese, and cultivars of witch-hazel begin to bloom. 

I love witch-hazel flowers: they consist of four thin ribbons wrapped tightly like a ball of streamers; these streamers encircle four petal-like shells, only millimeters big, which protect the pollen.  These shells are called sepals.  The streamers are called petals. When its time to bloom, the plant unwraps the ribbon-like petals, which flutter in the wind to catch the attention of the owlet moth, its pollinator.  When an entire shrub is in bloom, it looks like bright yellow confetti bedecks the branches; or in other cases, red confetti bespeckles the branches.   

This Saturday, we saw at least ten specimens flowering!

I had longed for this moment.  As the bright colors interrupted the grey landscape, I knew that the spring thaw had already begun.  In my soul.  In the earth.

At one witch hazel plant, a man halted by the shrub, too.  He began to share about his own spring thaw.  He was adopting an African hunting dog, a basenji, to keep himself company.  His former dog had died.  Today, he was walking in the arboretum scoping out good places to take his future dog.  A heartmelting, for him, was on the way.

I could feel a thaw in my own heart as well. 

As we wandered over to the rose-gold pussy willow, we saw their fuzzy catkins emerging.  Small white ovals decorated the branches. I ran my hand over them; they felt like the softest animal I ever touched.  My breathing slowed as my whole body felt soothed by this soft texture beneath my fingers.  Some ovals, or catkins, revealed a rosy color beneath this white furr that covered them. 

I drank in the beauty of the full-grown catkins and the catkins midway through their growing process.  I noticed cloud-like catkins emerging as the bud scales clung to their tops, like a fingernail on a finger.  The contrast of the pale pink scale with the fuzzy white catkin made the catkins look like they had put on acrylic nails!

As we ambled through the gardens, I noticed small white spheres on the big catkin willow.  It seemed as if pearls decorated the tree.  Upon closer look, we saw that this willow had created pure white catkins shaped in perfect globes. 

The willow had made the pearls herself, as a pre-party for spring.  Thank you, willow!

The trees decorated for the festival, too.

After a week of intense wind, the paperbark maple had long strips of copper-colored tissue paper flying from its trunk.  Did its bark always look that thin? I tried to remember. The bark, blowing in the wind, looked like a tissue paper long coveted by artists.  I could imagine its color designation: perfect metalic copper.

At another turn, Matthew excitedly pointed out emerging skunk cabbages.  Small heads of leaves peaked up from the swamp.

What I love about the arboretum in February is that the springing has already begun. 

We don’t have to wait anymore.  We don’t have to quarantine from flowers and vibrant plant life.  We can touch, smell, see, and hear our plant friends, waking up anew.

Life is here.  Ready to be drunken in.

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