Saturday, April 16, 2016

sunset struck golden

sunset struck golden
buckeye leaves unfolding
upholding green raceme

Every Spring it's a surprise and a delight to find the bare branches of buckeyes along Pilgrim Creek bursting with leaves in all stages of unfolding. The leaf buds look like fat candle flames, red, yellow, green.

Leaf buds appear anywhere on the tree, from branch tips to springing directly from the thick bark of the trunk.

Urged by sun-warmed sap spreading through the tree, the red-tipped scales relax their shielding and part to reveal the leaves packed tightly inside. As the leaf bundle pushes up, the scales curl down like a ruff and eventually drop off. 

The leaves unfold, intricate as origami, twisting, spiraling outward. Amazingly, several leaves are stuffed into each tiny duffel. The process reminds me of a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, spreading its wings to dry.


Finally unfurling into five-fingered leaflets, first drooping like relaxed hands. 

On one leaf I find a wasp wandering around, perhaps attracted to some sticky residue on the new leaves.

As the leaves grow, the leaflets broaden and flatten out.

The colors range from lime gold to lime green, rust to burgundy, with subtle shades of copper.

On one tiny stem I find russet leaves streaked with fuschia.

On another, the leaves are crinkled, contorted, blotched with cyan yellow, lime green, ochre.

On the female trees, some, but not all, of the whorls of leaves embrace a raceme that looks like a green pinecone.

The flower cluster also grows, lengthening, swelling, until the flowers pop out. I am taking this walk during the third week of April. The full flowering will take another couple of weeks. Some of the racemes are green, some pink, probably different variety, of which there are many.

When the blossoms burst forth, around the first week in May, they are as amazing as the leaves, which by this time have turned a rich emerald green. 

And then of course, there are the strange buckeye pods, with their protective bristles. They also undergo a fascinating transformation, but that's not until late summer into autumn.

Prickly nut pods on a tree. In August the leaves are already beginning to turn yellow, getting ready to fall.

In October the thick-skinned pod that has been protecting the nut begins to split, like an eye opening.

Whose eye? The dark brown eye of a buck. The ones that don't get eaten by squirrels will lie on the ground, splitting open in the spring as a sprout emerges to start a new tree. So the story of the buckeye comes full circle.

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