Elm Buds, Sign of Spring

squirrel eating elm buds
elm twig buffet

The elms buds have been swelling all week, and today they burst. Elm flowers mean spring. The squirrels could not be more thrilled.

Yesterday I posted a hasty pic of the top of my neighbor’s elm, and said:

Find an American elm and look up. Big ol’ fat buds. Any minute, they’ll burst into flower. No petals, but so much pollen. And if you don’t know where the nearest elm is, look down instead, because as soon as the flowers open, spring-hungry squirrels sever the twig tips and let them fall.

“Any minute” turned out to be this morning. At around 10am I noticed a squirrel in the elm chewing, stretching for more twigs, chewing, stretching, etc.  A flock of house finches was up there too, nibbling and tweeting.

Elm buds are spring’s appetizer after a winter of feh.
Fresh greens, at last.

And now, by tea time, twigs are all over the lawn. Sometimes the rust-colored bud scales detach first, and flitter down like confetti.

The severed twigs are little things I never noticed for years, but now are big things I watch for, wait for. Another sign of spring.

elm twigs.jpg
twigs with buds, flowers

Elm flowers are tiny. “Perfect,” is the term, a synonym for hermaphroditic, or possessing both male and female bits. Usually the female bits are active before the male, which means self-fertilization is not common. Pollen is simply surrendered to the wind. If it falls upon receptive female parts, the flower can fruit. Back when our giant elm still stood in the backyard, it proved wind-dispersed pollen worked fine: fallen seeds filled the wheelbarrow four times on the way to the compost pile.

squirrel with elm twigs
reaching for more

Leaves happen after. They’d only get in the way of pollen receptors if they emerged first. When vegetative buds do burst, tiny leaves are ridiculously cute. Edible, too, which squirrels know, and will likely drop a few more twigs for your viewing pleasure.

I ate some flowers to see what the squirrels found so irresistible. I also hoped that if I ingested the pollen, the sneezing might lighten up. Do not expect big flavors from tiny elm flowers. Expect subtle. And the merest after-hint of perfume. Not bad. Especially, I would imagine, if you’ve only eaten acorns, black walnuts, hackberries, and birdseed all winter.