Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Tonight is the rising of the Budding Trees Moon and, with that rising, spring has begun in Philadelphia.

Sunny days, pleasant evenings and foggy mornings: that’s what it takes to make all these barren, leafless branches pop with spring.  Like most citybillies, I have an uncanny sense of weather and I predict that, by the end of next week, Philadelphia will be all leafed out.  It’s happening right now.


This is the season of the Angiosperms, the tremendous clade of flowering plants that first took over the world 140-million years ago, just when the feathered dinosaurs were evolving into birds on the banks of the great super-continents.  The Gymnosperms, with their evergreen needles and their naked cones, rule the winter moons but for the rest of the year, it’s all Angiosperms and those lovely modified leaves that we call flowers.

Do I sound happy and bright?  Can’t help it.  
48th Street and Springfield Aven

It’s that Budding Trees Moon fever.  I am under the spell of Wabun the Golden Eagle, Spirit Keeper of the East who, according to the Medicine Wheel, rules over these dawns and moons with enthusiasm and curiosity.  More information about the Budding Trees Moon can be found on the “Medicine Wheel Moons” page on this blog.  For right now though, I’ve got to hurry. 

There is not enough time to catch all the tree activity happening right now in Philadelphia and, as usual, it’s those gorgeous, vain drama queens that are dominating
my attention.  I promise, next early spring, it’ll be all
about the maples and the witch hazels but, this year, I’m going hunting for that old, old Angiosperm, that big bad 
momma we call magnolia.


It's not hard to hunt down magnolias at this time of year but I had the afternoon off and wanted to find a big one.  According to the website PA Big Trees, one of the biggest magnolias in the city is located in West Philadelphia on the grounds of the Woodland Cemetery but I think I found another contender.  

I was actually on my way to the cemetery with big magnolia on my mind, I swear, but I was distracted by two things.  The first distraction was a sexy circle of hippie queens hula-hooping in Clark Park.  The other distraction was a magnificent, blossoming magnolia on the corner of 44th Street and Baltimore Avenue, the very tree I was hunting.

This is not a native species though.  This is the Saucer Magnolia, Magnolia ‘x soulangiana,’ a Chinese species of magnolia that is used widely as an ornamental here in the United States.  For obvious reasons.

It’s all about those big flowers. 

The magnolia is one of the oldest, still living Angiosperms, one of the most primitive examples of an early flowering tree, and it needed those big, bright, aromatic flowers in order to attract prehistoric insects for pollination.  Before flowering trees like the magnolia, trees had only one way to spread their seed: grow a cone, open the cone and let the seed just fall to the ground.  Maybe some wind or rain or some animal will pick it up and drop it off in the next patch of sunlight. 

It took early Angiosperms like the magnolia to use insects for pollination. The biggest obstacle?  Beetles.  Magnolias evolved before there were bees and other small, lightweight, gentle insects.  Its flowers had to be strong enough and big enough to handle all those large, heavy prehistoric beetles.

This magnolia on Baltimore Avenue is a show-stopper, for insects and people.  This was the perfect time to stumble across it, mid-March, before all the other flowering trees could distract my attention.  Every branch at every height was just spangled with big, pink flowers.  When I approached it, there was already somebody else on the street taking photos of the tree.  Even when I was walking away, I could see another group of pedestrians stop and take a look.  It deserves a good, long look.

I snapped enough photos for myself, then headed back to Clark Park.  The cemetery would have to wait.  Instead, I circled, at a gentlemanly distance, the sunlit group of hippie queens playing hula-hoop in the grass.  Hey, it doesn’t matter what you are on this rocky planet.  Spreading seeds is tough all over.

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