1-7 April 2010
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All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center


Although this year's spring season arrived officially at 1:32 p.m. EDT on 21 March (the vernal equinox), around Hilton Pond Center warm days got sap flowing in trees and shrubs long before then. By early March terminal buds began to swell--but, heck, Red Maples were blooming in late February, and Eastern Redbuds weren't far behind! Regardless of those early flowers or the calendar date, spring for us doesn't truly begin until our Flowering Dogwoods start earning their name. Like many folks, we're delighted by the appearance of dogwood blossoms and our aesthetic appreciation for these harbingers of spring is uncluttered by scientific facts. At times like this it matters not that dogwood's big, showy white structures (above, but sometimes pink, below) are actually bracts--four modified leaves that surround a central cluster of less obvious yellow flowers. In spring, we simply soak up the splendid show dogwood trees provide, not bothering with knowledge it is the little yellow blossoms that will form bright red dogwood berries come autumn--but only if this spring those white bracts attract attention of pollinators at the same time they're pleasing the eyes of us humans. Such details are important of course, but we never tire of simply looking at or photographing Cornus florida, so this week we offer a portfolio of images that--we hope--reveals the spring essence of Flowering Dogwood.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

A row of alternating Pink Dogwoods and Crepe Myrtles (above) makes for a striking display along the shoulder of U.S. 321 just south of York SC.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Individual dogwood trees show great variability in flower density; some bear scarcely any blossoms while others (above) have branches that nearly sag from bracts and blooms.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Pink Dogwoods occur naturally and are the same species as white one--Cornus florida--but thebpinkest ones have been selected and cultivated for exhibiting more red pigment in their bracts.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

In white dogwoods (above), the red pigments--carotenoids and anthocyanins--are limited primarily to spots at the tips of each bract.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Historically, Flowering Dogwood occurred only in eastern North America, from southern Ontario and Maine south to northern Florida, and west to Illinois and eastern Texas. (A disjunct population occurs in Mexico.) Elsewhere, they are ornamentals.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Dogwoods are "gametophytically self-incompatible," meaning a tree can't pollinate itself; thus, animal pollinators such as bees, flies, and small beetles are required. (Honey Bees help, but not much.)

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The 40-plus species of dogwoods (Cornus spp.)--with one Peruvian exception--are all native to the Northern Hemisphere and occur in North America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa. (Another 70 family members are in different genera.)

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

There's a great deal of variability in bract shape among dogwoods, and some individual trees like the one above have bracts that are much more delicate and translucent.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Flowering Dogwoods are up-to-30-foot-tall trees of the understory; slow-growing and long-lived, they thrive in shade beneath canopy vegetation but sometimes do well as specimen plants in full sunlight.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

From below we can see there are no structures beneath the dogwood's white bracts (above); the actual flowers are all on the other side facing the sun.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Just as there are four bracts in dogwoods, so are there four petals (above) and four stamens in each of the tree's tiny yellow flowers.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Dogwood flowers tend to open one or two at a time (above) rather than simultaneously. This lengthens the flowering season and may guarantee better fertilization and seed set.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The origin of the name "dogwood" is murky; some authorities say an astringent agent in the tree's bark was once used to cure dogs of mange.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

A more widely accepted explanation for the name "dogwood" is it derives from "daggerwood"--non-splintering sticks once used to skewer meat for cooking.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Each individual dogwood flower (above) can make one red berry, or drupe, that has a thin layer of pulp surrounding one or two hard yellow seeds. Thus, in a dogwood berry cluster each fruit comes from a different flower.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

A dogwood flower's four curved stamens bear grains of pollen, some of which will be transferred by insects to the single, pale green pistil on another tree's blossom.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The wood of Flowering Dogwood is dense and does not splinter, making it ideal material for products that need to be smooth, e.g., textile shuttles, machinery parts, tool handles, and engravers' blocks.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Dogwood leaves are typically opposite, occurring in pairs along the length of the stems--which also are opposite. Foliage most often appears a week or more AFTER dogwood bracts and blossoms have begun to unfold.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Indeed, Flowering Dogwoods--be they white or pink--may be the most eye-pleasing flora to be found at Hilton Pond Center and across the eastern U.S. In any case, we hope you enjoyed our portfolio of vernal inflorescence on these splendid native trees. Happy Spring!

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Be sure to scroll down for an account of all
birds banded or recaptured during the period,
plus other nature notes of interest.

Thanks to the following fine folks for recent gifts in support of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History and/or Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project. Your tax-deductible contributions allow us to continue writing, photographing, and sharing "This Week at Hilton Pond." (Please see Support if you'd like to make a gift of your own. You can also contribute by ordering an Operation RubyThroat T-shirt.)

  • Rita Heath (an alum of the Gamma Niners 2009 Operation RubyThroat hummingbird expedition to Costa Rica)
  • Donna Hummelman (an alum of the Gamma Niners 2009 Operation RubyThroat hummingbird expedition to Costa Rica)
  • Town & Country Garden Club (Rock Hill SC)

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written & photographed
by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.

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1-7 April 2010

Chipping Sparrow--1
Brown-headed Cowbird--2 *
Northern Cardinal--3
Purple Finch--1
Mourning Dove--1

* = New species for 2010

5 species
8 individuals

13 species (29-yr avg = 66.9)
400 individuals (29-yr avg = 1,864)

(since 28 June 1982, during which time 170 species have been observed on or over the property)
124 species
54,042 individuals

(with original banding date, sex, and current age)

Chipping Sparrow (4)
03/21/08--after 3rd year unknown
01/01/09--after 2nd year male
03/03/09--after 2nd year male
03/23/09--after 2nd year unknown

Northern Cardinal (1)
08/07/09--2nd year male

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Operation RubyThroat has teamed with EarthTrek so citizen scientists--like YOU--can contribute observations about hummingbird migration and nesting behavior. Membership is free for this great new opportunity to help increase scientific understanding of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. On-line data entry forms for 2010 are now live, so please register today at EarthTrek.

NOW is the time to begin reporting your 2010 RTHU spring arrival dates for the U.S. & Canada, and spring departure dates for Mexico & Central America. Please participate.

--On 5 Apr an industrious Carolina Chickadee was gathering nesting material from a "Hummer Helper" wire cage (below) hanging outside the kitchen window of the old farmhouse at Hilton Pond Center.

Unprocessed cotton that comes with the cage makes an ideal nest liner because natural oils keep it from absorbing moisture and chilling or drowning chicks. Although intended for hummingbirds--which often use plant down to line their tiny nests--the fluffy stuff is also used by goldfinches, titmice, and other songbirds. (NOTE: It's better NOT to offer dryer lint as nesting material; it often contains synthetics that ABSORB and hold water. Fur from your pet--or hair from your own head--are good alternatives.)

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this Web site--including all articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.

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