Spring blooms are anticipated and appreciated, with Tulips, Daffodils, Bradford Pears among others being represented well all over the city. The following however is a small list of some spring blooming flora that you can see in Madison Square Park right now that are not as popular, but are interesting and even arresting despite their comparative rarity.
The Chinese Redbud, Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’ is a small tree or more accurately a medium sized shrub that can grow to a height of 10 to 12 feet. One of the most profuse flowering of all Redbuds, The Chinese Redbud sports very showy dark rose-purple flowers that cover the stems of this small, sturdy branched beauty. In the Spring, these blooms pop out directly from the bark in beautiful clusters. The foliage resembles closely the leaves found on the more common Cercis canadensis (Eastern Redbud) in that they are glossy green and cordate, or heart- shaped. The Chinese species, being much smaller than the Eastern, makes a fine specimen plant for a large container easily grown on a New York City balcony or patio.
The Witch- alder…what a great name! This plant is known scientifically as Fothergilla major, and traces its family history into the Hamamelidaceae, or Witch-hazel clan. It is noted for its aromatic spring flowers, quality summer foliage and excellent disease resistance. Terminal, bottlebrush-like spikes (1-3” long) of tiny, fragrant, apetulous, white flowers bloom in spring (April-May) after the foliage emerges. The fall color is especially fine, this being a hallmark trait of the family that includes Witch-hazel, Corylopsis or Winter-hazel and Parrotia persica (Persian Ironwood). This useful plant shows good shade tolerance and is quite at home in the woodland garden or shady city park. In case you are wondering, the genus name honors Dr. John Fothergill, 18th century English physician and early collector of American plants.
The Andromeda or Japanese Pieris, Pieris japonica is in bloom now in the park. It features drooping clusters (racemes up to 6” long) of lily-of-the-valley-like white flowers that look dainty and fine against the evergreen foliage. The Pieris var. yakushimanum cultivar ‘Cavatine’ name is of questionable province, but we planted some anyway because who could resist such a little cutie! Apparently the variety yakushimanum is a designation for any plant that shows dwarf tendencies, which ‘Cavatine’ certainly does.
A mood elevating spring ephemeral, Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica) is one of my favorite native perennials. Growing best in a shaded area where the soil is cool and moist, the flowers are borne in nodding clusters of trumpet shaped, one inch long purple and blue tubes. Though it is a feast for the senses to see these plants en masse; it is not actually a good idea to plant them this way in a perennial border. As the adjective ephemeral indicates, Virginia Bluebells do not stick around after their show. The foliage dies down by early summer, leaving a void in the garden and our hearts. This tragedy is easily averted though if you plant them amongst perennials with spreading summer foliage such as Hosta or Liriope.
Last but certainly not least, the mind-popping and eye-blowing Fritillaria imperialis, or Crown Imperial. See…it is such a wonder that I am mixing up my clichés! This spring bloomer grows from a baseball sized bulb planted in the fall; deeply into a moist, rich soil. Crown Imperial grow to 3 feet tall and 1 foot wide, and sometimes even to 4 feet tall. Lanceolate, 6 inch long leaves spiral the single stem up to a certain point, and then a bare, purple stem continues up to the large bloom. This inflorescence is actually made up of many individual flowers, and is topped by a sheaf of small leaves that form a tuft of green above the flowers. Now that is high fashion hair styling.
Crown Imperial can be left undisturbed for 6 years or more, and then can be easily divided by removing offsets formed around the main bulb. These are planted in front of our popular dog run, so come see these beautiful plants and meet some of our canine friends!
Happily digging in the dirt,