It’s Already Spring

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LAUREL CANYON—When the New Year rolls around I start thinking about home. A year’s end never goes by without someone mentioning how weird the season feels without wind whipping through the trees, or snow on the ground.

Maybe because I come from a four seasons part of the States, living in a climate were winter has gone missing disorients me.  As a kid, spring meant being on crocus watch.  We had planted their bulbs in late fall and by the end of March, beginning of April, up would pop their colorful blooms, sometimes even through the last light blanket of snow.  Here it’s barely February and the Dogwoods are in bloom, dropping their white peddles as if they were snowflakes.  I was just out on Christmas day taking pictures of neighbor’s birch and ash trees which were flaunting their red fall colors.

It’s just twisted.

Once I’ve been put on alert for spring, I start to see the telltale signs.  But new things catch my eye every year.  This year is Manzanitas shrub’s delicate white bloom, clusters of small (¼ inch) hanging glabrous bell-shaped flowers. My pride wants me to believe that I hadn’t overlooked these flowers in past years.  Was I inattentive, or was it that the bloom is short lived?  I noticed the Manzanitas flowers because I was sure, having only seen them in Yosemite, that this plant could not grow in the low altitude of theSanta MonicaMountains.  Happily for us the shrub with amazingly smooth cinnamon colored bark is doing well. The hybrid variation I saw was Arctostaphylos Ian. It grows quickly to 5’ and slowly to a maximum of 6’- touted as a preferred replacement for the more traditional water-needy hedges. I’d love to see more of this schrub.

I noticed a tree with similar flowers, the California Strawberry Madrone, had also come into bloom with what looked like identical flowers.

The Strawberry Madrone has a rough grayish bark.  It’s known to prefer craggy, salty shorelines.  It is also reported to be difficult to transplant.  Nonetheless our hillsides are covered with these trees.  You’ll notice them when they put out their fruit which does indeed look like a rough-coat orange-red strawberry like fruit.

Flowers that are dead ringers for one another; prickly resistance to growing just anywhere; both fruit bearing.  The fruits are both small round berry-like with skins that can be peeled, and have a mealie pulp with seeds in the center.

Could these two trees be related?  The Strawberry Madrone belongs to the blueberry family, while the Manzanitas have one species which grows in theArcticwith the nickname bearberry.

My scientific observations and doggedness prevails.  And indeed the two bushes are cousins from the Ericaceae or Heather family.  Another mystery of Mother Nature happily solved!  There’s a Sherlock Holmes lurking inside all of us.

By Joann Deutch