Buds: Springs Yet to Come

By Anita Sanchez

Buds, to use strict botan­ic ter­mi­nol­o­gy, are those lit­tle bumps on the ends of twigs that no one ever notices. That is, until one fine day when those lit­tle bumps burst open and reveal the spring leaves and blos­soms for which we’ve all been yearn­ing. It’s as mirac­u­lous as a chick hatch­ing out of its shell.

It’s been a long hard win­ter, and every­one will be delight­ed to see the new green leaves burst­ing forth on the branch­es — the leaves of this spring, 2015. But when did the buds start incu­bat­ing those baby leaves? Last spring, a full year ago. At the base of each and every leaf on each and every tree, a tiny speck formed. Those specks, begin­ning their growth in 2014, even­tu­al­ly become the leaves of 2015.

Buds are pro­tec­tive cas­ings for the embry­on­ic leaves. Most buds have two or more over­lap­ping scales, which are actu­al­ly mod­i­fied leaves. The bud scales often have a waxy coat­ing which helps to keep mois­ture inside the bud so that the young leaves won’t get dehy­drat­ed. The bud scales are hard, like an eggshell, to pro­tect the frag­ile new life inside.

Buds come in a wild array of col­ors, shapes, and sizes. In win­ter, when the leaves are long gone, it can be tough to iden­ti­fy trees. You can use the bark for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, sure, but on most trees bark just looks like, well, bark — brown, crag­gy and non­de­script, so it’s easy to end up (for­give me) bark­ing up the wrong tree. But buds are dis­tinc­tive — you can’t miss, for exam­ple, the point­ed inch-long spear­heads that are the buds of beech trees. Box elder buds are short, squat and whitish, almost wool­ly. Oak buds clus­ter at the tips of twigs. The ter­mi­nal, or end-of-twig, buds of flow­er­ing dog­woods look just like lit­tle onions. And the buds of the sug­ar maple are the col­or of maple syrup.

In sum­mer, buds hide at the base of the leaves. Month by month, they grow imper­cep­ti­bly big­ger. When win­ter arrives and the leaves fall off, the buds con­tain the already formed incip­i­ent leaves, curled snug­ly inside a weath­er­proof lay­er of scales. Scratch one of these win­ter buds with a fin­ger­nail in the deep­est depths of win­ter, and you’ll see a hint of green, a pre­view of the sum­mer that lies with­in.

Final­ly, final­ly, spring gets around to arriv­ing. Longer days, with extra sun­light and warmer tem­per­a­tures sig­nal the trees to get busy. Sap flows, roots length­en, buds pop open. Trees, blos­som­ing and leaf­ing with all their might, are actu­al­ly doing dou­ble duty, plan­ning ahead, so to speak. At the base of each new leaf on each tree, a speck is form­ing: the leaves of next spring, still infin­i­tes­i­mal­ly tiny. But they’re wait­ing, bid­ing their time until they unfurl to greet us a year lat­er, a guar­an­tee of springs yet to come.

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Spring 2015

Volume 33 , Number 2

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