Observing tree buds in Winter can he adventure. Each is a miracle of nature. Each has been packed with care – next Spring’s flowers and leaves in miniature meticulously folded and sealed. Each contains just enough oxygen and moisture to keep alive until the miracle of Spring unfolds them.
A mature elm may hold as many as six million buds, yet only a percentage will open. If squirrels eat some, if others freeze or arc damaged, nature has supplied enough to give a tree full foliage. Winter buds are a tree’s diadem. Some are as colorful as precious jewels. They come in many forms and unusual shapes. The architectural pattern of nature is in spirals and ovals.
Look closely and Winter buds become works of art. Some contain only flowers; some hold leaves, still others contain both flowers and leaves.
The flowering dogwood by your door has fat silver-gray shoe-button-like buds at the ends of twigs. These are next Spring’s flowers. Now observe the gray, slender and sharp buds along the twigs, arranged in spiral form. These hold next Spring’s leaves.
Their colors are kaleidoscopic. Buds of a shadbush are rich brown red, fringed with silver hairs. Sweet gum buds are highly polished mahogany red, broad at the base and tapering sharply. Buds of red maples are crimson tridents, and note how all maple buds arc grouped in threes at the end of each twig, with the tallest one in the center.
A willow bud is half an inch long, tapering gradually to a rounded tip. Pussy willow buds are blue-black mottled with red at the top; swamp willows have an orange hue, black willow buds are glossy, wine red.
White oak buds end in blunt ovals and are clustered at the tip of a twig. The horse chestnut boasts a big end bud, too. Cut one open and inside will be arranged overlapping groups of leaves, folded like a pleated dress, curved and pressed together.
All buds are arranged according to the spiral pattern of a tree and sealed with water-proof wax, or covered with fur-like hair. Apple buds seem woolly. Aspen and horse chestnut buds are coated with sticky resin. Those of a Balm of Gilead seem to have just come dripping from a glue pot.
Next Spring this wax will melt and each little leaf and flower petal will come marching out of the bud in geometric design, like a West Point cadet on parade. It’s adventure to get acquainted with these miracles in-the-making in Winter time.