Darth Vader’s Heavy Breathing

The bloom of Japanese flowering apricot  (Prunus mume). is a sure herald of warm days to come!


News headlines have been repeating themselves of late, and on about every level the news is bad. It is as if Darth Vader’s musical theme is playing over and over in our sub conscience. ( You know, the one written by John Williams for the Star War movies.)  I will not recount the litany of the worldwide trouble, trauma, and tribulation that is the subject of Darth Vader’s heavy breathing.  Surely we gardeners can talk about something more pleasant. How about the weather? The weather is always a safe subject. I know what some of you are thinking. That is NOT a safe subject. Even the weather is controversial! Is it global warming or (should we say) climate change? Are we at the edge of climate disaster? Do we need to put our lives in the hands of bureaucrats and experts (whom we will never meet)? Will they save us from world wide catastrophe?   No! No! No! That is not the weather I am talking about. I’m simply looking forward to Spring!

It was wonderfully pleasant out today. While our fellow Americans up north are suffering with record breaking winter, we Texans are thinking about spring.  We have spring fever!  Yellow jonquils are blooming just out my doorstep.  They tell me that spring is coming.  There are other horticultural weather forecasters as well. Plants that come into bloom and herald warm days ahead.

There is the Prunus mume, a small tree that is often called the “Japanese flowering apricot.” It is a close relative to our peaches and plums. Prunus mume is not a true apricot in spite of the fact it bears that name. But, by whatever the name, this tree is a true beauty. It will eventually reach twenty feet in height; and, depending on the cultivar, it has blooms that are semi-double and rose red, white, or pink.  There are even “weeping” versions of the “Japanese flowering apricot.” There is a white blooming version that has been in bloom for over a week, now, at the SFA-Mast Arboretum. Spring is coming!

Another herald of spring is the flowering quince. The flowering quince, Chaenomeles speciosa, is a deciduous shrub that blooms just about the time that the Japanese flowering apricot comes into bloom (mid-February). It will reach an average of six feet across and six feet in height. This long-lived, twiggy shrub produces delightful blooms at the end of winter just when you are wanting a little color. Depending on the cultivar, the quince can produce blooms of pink, bright orange, deep red, and salmon. Actually, there are hundreds of cultivars, so you can find a quince in just about every color imaginable.

Right on the heels of the flowering quince’s bloom, the forsythia makes it show; and, depending on the weather, I’ve seen them bloom together.  Forsythia is one of those old fashion, heritage plants. It has been grown in the South for decades and decades. Forsythia produces profuse clouds of bright yellow blooms in the early spring on a deciduous cane-like shrub that can reach, ultimately, six feet across and eight feet high. It is a sure sign of warm days to come when this shrub breaks into bloom.


When Texans weary of winter, it makes me think we are not quite as tough as we are cracked up to be. Oh, we’re supposed to be good fighters, independent, hard working and tough-minded. But how can it be that Texans are tired of winter in February, and come down with sissified spring fever this time of the year?  Folks up North, where they have real winters, don’t even think about spring until April or May.  But when Texans see these horticultural heralds of spring come into bloom, we rightfully succumb to a severe case of spring fever, We turn off the news and think about something pleasant, like the weather.

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