What’s blooming on The Greenway this May and how we know!
Written by Darrah Cole, Senior Horticulturist and Designer
How does a bear know when it’s time to hibernate? Why do April showers bring May flowers? Many plants and animals don’t have calendars but take cues from the changing seasons.
Changes such as temperature, precipitation, and length of day signal organisms to enter new phases of their lives. Buds form on plants as temperatures warm in the spring and deciduous trees and shrubs lose their leaves and become dormant as temperatures cool in the fall
Phenology is the study of the timing of biological events in plants and animals such as flowering, leaf unfolding, hibernation, insect emergence, and bird, fish and mammal migration. Phenology is literally “the science of appearance.”
The Greenway Conservancy has a dedicated group of volunteers who walk the park and record these phenological observations each week. Throughout the season, they help find the best, most exciting and interesting plants blooming this week, in real time! Learn more below about what’s blooming on The Greenway in May:
Beginning in April and continuing into June the bright blooms of rhododendron and azalea shrubs bring brilliant color to Chin Park on The Greenway. With more than ten different varieties of azaleas planted in Chin Park, chosen to stretch the bloom time for as long as possible, you can see these throughout the spring. The Azalea ‘Hino Crimson’, one of the first to bloom, is a low growing, mounding evergreen variety that blooms with a rich crimson red flower and is a Kurume hybrid. The smaller, rounded leaves are a deep glossy green in summer, taking on a red hue in the fall and through the winter. Related rhododendrons and many azaleas have their origins in mountain regions of China, Nepal, and the Himalayas, while others come from Europe. The Kurume hybrids were collected from the mountains of Japan’s southernmost island, Kyushu. There are also beautiful species native to North America including the local Rhododendron viscosum and Rhododendron canadense.
Fritillaria meleagris, commonly known as checkered lily or Guinea Hen flower, is a perennial bulb that blooms in spring and dies back by summertime. You can find this small bell-shaped flowering bulb in woodland gardens, and specifically on The Greenway complimenting Mertensia virginica, or Virginia bluebells. Virginia bluebells have flowers with no scent, yet are vibrantly blue and provide early spring nectar for butterflies.
Aquilegia canadensis, commonly known as columbine, is a perennial that is found in forests, shores of rivers, woodlands, and even ledges. This plant starts blooming in April to May, and the vibrant red flower attracts bees, hawk moths, and long-beaked pollinators like hummingbirds. This drooping, bell-like flower is an eye catching start to the summer season.
Magnolias are a signature spring blooming tree, especially familiar in Boston. The Greenway has a growing collection, with exclusively yellow blooming cultivars in the North End. The Conservancy purposely expanded our selection in 2015 when we planted new trees in the boxwood beds, with the addition of 9 Magnolia ‘Lois’. ‘Lois’ has a more cupped flower with rounded petals, and is a lighter buttery yellow shade than ‘Elizabeth’ or ‘Butterflies’. The term precocious describes the habit of these varieties to bloom before the leaves open – and is true of both these varieties, with ‘Lois’ blossoming a week or so later than ‘Elizabeth’.
For those of you who can safely visit The Greenway, we remind you to practice appropriate physical distancing, including wearing a face covering over your mouth and nose when in public and to stay home from 9p to 6a each day. For those further afield, we invite you to explore these blooms digitally, and to look in your own backyard or neighborhood for signs of spring as you #BringTheGreenwayHome. Share what you find online by tagging our social media channels!