One spring, I was perplexed by some odd-looking buds on a young sapling in our woods. It looked like a flower bud, but I couldn’t identify it. I visited it each day, and after it opened up, I discovered it was a shagbark hickory bud. Inside the bud, were not flowers, but a tiny cluster of leaves.
Shagbark hickory leaves form in clusters inside one large set of bud scales. The giant bud looks a little like a tulip.
When the scales open, they reveal the leaves clustered inside. To watch one unfold is a tiny beautiful miracle of Creation. Now I make a point of visiting the woods in mid-spring just to see the shagbark hickory buds open up.
I love the way the different trees break forth into leaves. It reminds me of a quote by Patricia St. John in the Tanglewoods’ Secret, “There were the trees doing their work without haste or clamor, Each leaf perfect in its unfolding, each opening bud a miracle; and there was no fret or needless hurry–just the peace of doing something well.”
The way buds open and leaves and flowers emerge is a wonderful source of nature study in spring. It also helps open your eyes to beauty around you that is easy to overlook.
Nature Study in Spring: Tree Buds & Leaves
Here are some questions to answer as you observe the trees around you.
- Which types of trees flower first?
- Which types of trees leaf out first?
- Which trees leaf out the latest?
- If you can observe flowering trees of the same type, do some flower or leaf out before the others? Does location have something to do with this?
- Which side of the trees flower or leaf out first? Is this consistent?
Compare the leaves on a oak tree with that of a maple.
Oak leaves are some of the latest trees to leaf out. Take time to look at them them each day as they open up. Compare them to those of a maple. We miss so much in life by not taking time to observe.
“When the oak leaves first come from the buds in the spring, they are soft and downy and drooping, those of the red and scarlet being reddish, and those of the white, pale green with red tints. Thoreau says of them, ‘They hang loosely, flaccidly down at the mercy of the wind, like a new- born butterfly or dragonfly.’” -Anna Comstock, Handbook of Nature Study
Additional questions from Handbook of Nature Study
Here are some more questions from Anna Comstock’s book to help you be more exact in your observations.
- At what date do the young leaves appear upon your tree? What color are they?
- Look carefully to see how each leaf was folded in the bud. Were all the leaves folded in the same way?
- Are the young leaves thin, downy, and tender?
- Do they stand out straight as did the old leaves last autumn, or do they droop? Why? Will they change position and stand out as they grow stronger?
- Are there in blossoms on your tree in spring? If so, how do they look? Are the blossoms which bear the fruit on different trees from those that bear the pollen, or are these flowers placed seperately on the same tree? Or does the same flower which produces the pollen also produce the seed?
- At what date does your tree stand in full leaf? What color is it now?
- What birds do you find visiting it? What insects? What animals seek its shade? Do any squirrels live in it?
“I so long to grow deeper in astonished wonder.
For too long I raced through life with my eyes straight ahead, not pausing long enough to look down at the flowers or up at the twinkle of stars.
When you see the heavens, do you see the glory of God? Do you experience the wonder at God’s creation? If not, stop racing long enough to turn your gaze up and ask the Father to pour wonder into your heart.
It’s a prayer He loves to answer.” ~Linda Dillow, Satisfy My Thirsty Soul
You may also like: 10+ Spring Nature Study Ideas
For more seasonal nature study ideas check out Wonder-Filled Days in Nature.