she who keeps this diary

15 April 2005 - 4:00 PM

Let us now praise obscure trees

Those of us in the Washington area have had by now a chance to get our fill of cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin. The annual festival celebrating the flowering of the Yoshino cherry trees closed last weekend and was by all accounts a rousing success.

(Henry Mitchell once wrote that the Tidal Basin was a perfect place for a large planting of Yoshino cherries. He gave several reasons, not all of which I remember offhand, though the fact that the water reflected the blossoms and added to the display was one, as was the fact that after the bloom, the trees might conveniently be ignored the rest of the year).

Ketzel Levine, of NPR, gave an essay this morning on the voice of the dogwood, which will soon grace suburban plots and wooded areas alike.

Cherry blossoms are undoubtedly spectactular. So are dogwoods, though Ms Levine rightly notes the distinction between a dogwood's kind of spectacular and, say, a Kwanzan cherry's.

I don't want to talk about cherries or dogwoods. I want to talk instead about the glory of the shadblow (Amelanchier canadensis, also called the shadbush, serviceberry, or Juneberry). The shadblow is a small tree native to the eastern woodlands. It's less common than either the dogwood or the redbud, and you'd likely be hard pressed to find it in many nurseries. It is named from the fact that it blooms about the time that the shad (fish of the herring family, Alosa sapidissima) are migrating up the streams to spawn.

The migration of the shad and the bloom of the trees usually happen mid to late March. This year, the shad were on time (shad roe cooked in a little bacon grease is the best of breakfasts) but the little shadblow in my back yard was late. Late by about two weeks, in fact. I was starting to worry about it.

There was no need to worry. It burst into bloom last week.

The shadblow is not a 'wow' tree. It is not going to compete with the cherry for pure extravagance of bloom. Most people are not going to think it competes with the dogwood either. The blossoms are small and white, with five long strap-like petals. There's no fragrance worth speaking of, at least not that I've observed.

But for delicacy for form and effect, for pure 'ooh' quality, the shadblow is tough to beat. The blossoms, though small, are impeccably white, and they cover the branches without obscuring the lines of the tree. The effect is of exquisitely made bobbin lace. It is a quietly splendid sight.

verso - recto

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