Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #4 Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

Despite my best efforts to find blooming wildflowers, the only flowers that I can find so far are those of Skunk Cabbage and a few wind-pollinated trees.  Many of the places where I would normally search for Spring wildflowers look like this:

Many other species of flowers that I would expect to find by now have been delayed by the long Winter.  Some are just poking up out of the soil and others have not begun emerging at all.  Yesterday, I had hoped to reach one of my favorite wildflower areas, an old natural elevated river levee in the Chippewa River floodplain.  This old levee is one of the banks that was left behind when the river shifted its course.  Unfortunately, there was no way that I could get there without a pair of waders - the water level was well over the top of my boots.

I did manage to find one thing in bloom.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #4 Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

A small grove of Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) was flowering.

A grove of Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
This tree does not rely on animals to aid it in pollination.  Instead it released very large amounts of pollen and relies on the wind to carry that pollen from one flower to another.  Like many trees that are wind pollinated, Quaking Aspen flowers bloom before the tree is leafed out.

Flowers of the Quaking Aspen

Individual flowers of the Quaking Aspen are small but they hang in cylinder shaped clusters called catkins.  While some species of trees contain both male and female flowers, Quaking Aspen trees are either male or female so all the flowers on an individual tree will be either male or female.  Although I am not positive, I think that all of the flowers in these photos are male. 

Quaking Aspen flowers are 1-2 inch long catkins

Because the Quaking Aspen can spread by cloning, not just from seeds, large groves are often composed of trees that are technically one organism sprouting from a shared root system. It would make sense for all of the flowers on these trees to be the same, it is likely that all of these trees are one large organism.

The dangling catkins rely on wind for pollination

Quaking Aspen blooms early in the Spring before the leaves emerge

Male catkins of Quaking Aspen - note the red pollen-covered anthers

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