March 24, 2007

Spring is here

Horsechestnut blossom, eastern Shattuck between Russell and Stuart Spring officially arrived on March 21 (the spring equinox). But I know spring is here because the horsechestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) are blossoming. I am from the East Coast where leafing and blooming horsechestnuts, on the streets and in parks, are signs of spring! Berkeley's blooms might not be a true sign of spring but a premature response to a warm winter. A horse-chestnut in blossom is a candelabra of the gods. The branches swoop up, then down, then up again at the ends. The sticky, shiny buds-among the largest of any tree buds-look ready to burst even in winter. As spring approaches, they virtually explode. In a few short weeks, the terminal buds (those at the branch tips) produce hundreds of upright floral cones, as bright as torches against a massive green background (from Arthur Plotnick, The Urban Tree Book, 2000, 241-242). Note: The Aesculus genus includes the California buckeye (A. californica) and the Ohio buckeye (A. glabra). The American chestnut is Castanea dentata. The California buckeye has white or pink flowers while the horsechestnut and Ohio typically have white flowers. The California buckeye grows as a tree or shrub. It is used as a street tree; for example, it is on the approved tree list for the City of Novata, California. There is an old California buckeye on the UC Berkeley Forest Science Tree Trail (see #21).

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