Flower of a Fremont Cottonwood (female), Mayberry Park, Mar 29, 2015.

Things That You See When You’re Looking Up

In Spring by KelseyFitzgerald0 Comments

I took a break from the blog last week, because I’ve been working on a paper. The paper is about Truckee River Guide — what I’ve learned so far, and where I hope to go from here. It’s the final paper that I have to write for the journalism master’s program; I present and defend this project in about two weeks.

Toward the end of last week, feeling the need to get outside and reunite with the living world, I stepped away from my laptop and went for a walk down by the river. Heading into Idlewild Park, I stopped and looked down a steep bank at the channel. I rolled my shoulders, and stretched out my computer-strained neck muscles. I rolled my head all the way back, and looked up into the treetops.

Above, the sky was brilliant Nevada blue, and all of the trees were flowering and busy with birds.  Some of our native tree flowers are easy to miss, because they are green and look similar to leaves from a distance — like the flowers on this red willow (Salix laevigata), for example:

Red willow (Salix laevigata) flowering in downtown Reno. Mar 26, 2015. Tiny yellow flowers on a red willow (Salix laevigata) in downtown Reno. Mar 26, 2015.

I walked along, checking out the birds and the flowers in the treetops, then stumbled off the path into the bushes (a hazard of looking up). One of the first trees that I noticed was a Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila). Elm aren’t native to the Truckee River region, but they are common along the river and are one of the earliest trees to flower and turn green in the spring. By now, elm are done flowering and their leaves are just beginning to emerge. Their branches are green because they’re covered in seeds, which are little bright green discs arranged in tight clumps on the branches. They remind me of the tissue paper carnations that we used to make in elementary school:

Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila) in Idlewild Park, Mar 26, 2105. Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila) in Idlewild Park, Mar 26, 2105.

The next flowering tree that I saw was a Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii). Fremont cottonwoods are dioecious, which means that each tree is either a male or female, and produces male or female flowers. Their long, drooping flowers are called catkins, and are either bright red (male, shown below) or green (female – shown at the very top of this page). For the tree to reproduce, pollen is carried from the red male flower to the green female flower by the wind.

A male Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii) flower. Idlewild Park, Reno. Mar 26, 2015 Flowers on a male Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii) are bright red. Idlewild Park, Reno. Mar 26, 2015

Thinleaf alder (Alnus incana ssp. tenuifolia) are also flowering right now. Unlike cottonwoods and willows, alder are monoecious: this means that male and female flowers are present on the same plant. On an alder, the male flowers are long, soft and droopy. The female flowers look like tiny brown pine-cones:

Flowering Thinleaf Alder (Alnus incana ssp. tenuifolia) in Idlewild Park. Mar 26, 2015. Flowering thinleaf alder (Alnus incana ssp. tenuifolia) in Idlewild Park. Mar 26, 2015.

What (or who) else do you see when you’re looking up?

Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans), Idlewild Park, Reno. Mar 26, 2015. Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans), Idlewild Park, Reno. Mar 26, 2015.

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