March went out both as a lion and as a lamb earlier this week, from snow on Saturday/Sunday and temperatures in the teens to the balmy 70s by midweek. And now back to the mean temperature.
Boxwoods are showing winter injury with leaf scorching and blanching; additional winter and spring injury to woody plants will not be clear for a while. Evergreens still hold court, including the lovely off-white buds contrasting with the compact needles of Korean fir.
Forsythia was not quite out this past Monday in the ChatScape (my yard), but when forced blossoms from indoors were placed on a windshield covered with frozen snow crystals — what a contrast.
winter jasmine (Jasmine nudiflorum) bloomed at Secrest Arboretum in Wooster, with butter-yellow flower petals appearing forsythia-like until further inspection revealed there were six rather than four petals. The two are related, both in the olive family. The Chinese name for winter jasmine is perfect: Yingchun, translated as “the flower that welcomes spring.”
One thing I can assuredly say is that this week’s snow and cold is the last of the season — we shall not see temperatures below freezing until next November.
April Fools’ Day alert, one day late! Speaking of April Fools’ Day plant jokes, the best of all time is the North Carolina TV spoof decades ago about marshmallow mold. Check it out on YouTube at https://tinyurl.com/marshmallowmold. Grower Ben Yoakum and NCSU fruit specialist Willie Kidd shall live forever!
You have heard of this insect under a different common name: the gypsy moth. The Entomological Society of America (ESA) has made it official that “spongy moth” replaces “gypsy moth” for the laudable reason that the term “gypsy” is being retired as it is a “derogatory name for the Romani people.” The often nomadic nature of many Romani people in Europe led to cultural connotations of illegality, and the term “gypsy” became a racial slur.
The Latin name for spongy moth remains lymantria dispar, and of course the use of Latin names are clear to entomologists and scientists, although even there we have a caveat. Two subspecies of L. dispar are L. dispar dispar, for the spongy moth we see here, while L. dispar asiatica is the scientific name for the Asian subspecies (LDA). This is important because we do not have LDA here, it has a wider host range of plant hosts than our North American version, and the LDA female moths fly greater distances and thus spread from place to place more easily. Names — and details — matter.
The attention of entomologists to the importance of standardized common names is of interest: It is not common for plants or fungi. The Entomological Society of America has a protocol, the “ESA’s Common Names of Insects and Related Organisms,” developed to avoid confusion from place to place. This is a good idea because without such a rigorous tradition for plants, there is a dilemma.
For example, as noted in Michael Dirr’s “Manual of Woody Landscape Plants,” there are 245 common names for the European white water lily in the four languages of English, French, German and Dutch alone. Imagine the problems for plant people and the public when one of these 245 names is used.
My entomologist buddy Joe Boggs of the Ohio State University Extension always gets his antennae in a tizzy over this, saying entomologists are ahead of the curve in this compared to botanists and horticulturists. Perhaps, but the problem with plant names is that just too many varied names developed before we could control the dialogue. Further, using Latin names does solve the problem, at least for those who employ them: There is only one plant named Nymphaea alba. That is what provides clarity.
Final Note: Somebody asked me the other day, “Why ‘spongy’ moth?” I mumbled something indecipherable — a common tactic when I do not know something. Now I do: “Spongy” refers to the foamy, spongy egg masses of Lymantria dispar dispar.
Despite the recent cold, wildflowers are blooming in Ohio. A good way to keep up with this is the Instagram account of @ohionaturalareas_scenicrivers or by Googling “Spring Wildflower Bloom Report” of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Natural Areas and Preserves (140 preserves and 15 scenic rivers).
For example, as of St. Patrick’s Day about two weeks ago, snow trillium (Trillium nivale) and hepatica had emerged at Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve near Yellow Springs in Greene County. This preserve, adjacent to John Bryan State Park, is always one of the top wildflower locations in Ohio. And it has lots of hepatica.
The Spring Wildflower Bloom Report is updated every Friday, and for Northeast Ohio it typically gives about a two-week heads-up from southern Ohio observations, where more growing degree days (heat units) have accumulated. Hepatica is going to be just around the corner.
Plant Lovers’ Almanac:Wildflower blooms begin to make their spring debuts
This 2018 novel by Richard Powers is a powerful set of stories about trees and our natural world. I cannot recommend it enough, so listen to these reviewers on the book jacket: “A gigantic fable of genuine truths,” by Barbara Kingsolver; and, of the book, “The best novels change the ways you see,” by Geraldine Page.
The fables are indeed revealing, and the prose, well — listen to a few descriptions of tree twigs in the last chapter, told by a character listening to an audio recording on dendrology:
“… the straight, bronze spears of beech buds… the buds of a red oak, massed on the branch like maces… the taste of a black walnut and the look if its monkey-faced leaf scar… the polite applause of aspens… dams break and memories flood him like the million keyholes of light coming down through the palms of a horse-chestnut.”
My watercolor artist mother, Marcella, always loved the springtime emergence of those pastel colors on the maple tips, beech buds are spear-like, black walnuts (the best nut by a factor of 50 million for homemade brownies) do have the richest smell and taste, and the polite applause of aspens (Populus spp.)channeled especially by the names of quaking aspens and trembling aspens, are due to the right angles of the leaf stalk and leaf blade, resulting in quivering and whispers in the breeze.
In that final chapter, Powers also speaks of “xenia,” the Greek word for deep hospitality. The tale of gods Zeus and Hermes told in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” had the pair come disguised as beggars to a humble home and being given food, wine and rest, even though their hosts, Philemon and Baucis, had little for themselves.
Ultimately, once the hosts learned they were visited by the gods themselves, they asked that when their time came they might die together. Zeus rewarded them at their death by turning them into two intertwined trees—oak and linden—for eternity.
May we all remember these ancient lessons, amid plenty or not, as our world continues to convulse.
Plant Lovers’ Almanac:So much to love and learn about trees
Jim Chatfield is a horticulture educator and professor emeritus at Ohio State University Extension. If you have questions about caring for your garden, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number if you write.