Here’s what’s blooming in town this week to make your walks more enjoyable
There is plenty to see all around Saugus as spring kicks in in earnest. Today is Arbor Day, so the focus would naturally be on trees, and all the reasons to appreciate them. Depending on species, many trees are budding, blooming and leafing out around town while others are not quite ready to let go of their winter selves.
The Ironworks parking lot has a couple of trees in bloom. A flowering dogwood is just beginning to open its white bracts. Its scientific name is a matter of debate, as most nursery catalogs still use the old genus name of Cornus florida, while the latest edition of the International Society of Arborists textbook prefers the new genus name Benthamidia florida. This native tree, which is at its peak of bloom in May, and its June-blooming Asian relative Kousa dogwood (Benthamidia kousa) both prove my assertion that unfolding leaves can be as fascinating as flowers, since the showy portions of both these trees are in fact bracts, or specialized leaves that appear around the small yellow flower clusters at bloom time. They may be white or pink, and to the casual observer are often assumed to be petals. The small tree in the corner of the parking lot is a star magnolia, and its large flowers are just past peak now, opening well before the appearance of any leaves.
Nancy Prag, chairman of the Saugus Tree Committee, says her favorite tree in town is the big European beech (Fagus sylvatica) on the upper lawn at Saugus Ironworks. Many people mention this tree as their favorite, as it provides ample shade to concertgoers in summer, sweet beechnuts for the squirrels and other foragers in the fall and winter, nesting spots for birds in spring and resting spots for them year-round and a dramatic silhouette in winter. European beeches have many varieties, with leaves ranging from green to copper to burgundy-purple, and shapes ranging from the usual oval to fern-leaf forms. The Ironworks tree has coppery foliage, and the leaves unfolding this week still show a somewhat accordion shape. Once fully open they will be oval with wavy edges.
Near the picnic tables at the nature trail entrance in the lower part of the Ironworks site just past the blacksmith shop is a Valley Forge elm (Ulmus americana ‘Valley Forge’) planted to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Saugus becoming a town separate from Lynn. It has grown quite a bit in the last eight years, and in addition to its new crop of leaves it also has light green samaras. Like the seeds of maples, the elm seeds have a papery wing which helps them get distributed by wind some distance from the parent tree. While maple samaras’ wings look a bit like a helicopter blade, those of elms are round and flat, surrounding the seed and enabling it to travel somewhat like a frisbee.
City Nature Challenge will be held tomorrow (10-4) at Saugus Ironworks, with park rangers teaching how to use the free iNaturalist app and giving tips on identifying animals and plants at the site. There is a lot going on at this time of year even though it is early in the season and the regular tours are not yet being held. Tomorrow’s special event will be a great opportunity to get acquainted with the nature trail and the abundant wildlife that can be seen along the river.
In addition to the show being put on by so many trees and other plants, many birds and other animals are arriving from warmer winter homes, awakening from winter sleep and seeking new mates and new habitats. The flocks of turkeys continue their wanderings around town, causing motorists to stop or veer around them. At 4 a.m. one recent morning, I went outside to hear a great concert of birds in the surrounding trees, and the dawn chorus has become very melodious in every neighborhood.
Editor’s Note: Laura Eisener is a landscape design consultant who helps homeowners with landscape design, plant selection and placement of trees and shrubs, as well as perennials. She is a member of the Saugus Garden Club and offered to write a series of articles about “what’s blooming in town” shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was inspired after seeing so many people taking up walking.