Posted on Leave a comment

Well-Hung Catkins And Sticky Stigmas: The Promise of Spring

If you’re looking for the earliest flowers of spring it’s time to look up at the trees and shrubs. This is the time year when the dangling male catkins swell and the tiny, female flowers expose their sticky stigmas hoping to catch a few grains of windblown pollen.

Alder catkins and pistillate flowers

Hazelnut catkin and pistillate flower
Hazelnut catkin and pistillate flower

Many plants, like apple trees, daisies, and roses, have what are called perfect flowers, meaning that they have male and female parts in the same flower. (The male parts are stamens, each made up of the filament or stalk topped by the anther which contains the pollen. The female part is the pistil, composed of the ovary at the base, and the stalk-like style, topped by the stigma, which is the part that receives the pollen.) Other plants like persimmons and holly trees have male and female flowers on separate trees, and some plants like the birches, alders, hazelnuts, and ironwoods have separate male and female flowers on the same plant. Late winter and early spring is the time to look for the swelling catkins and then challenge yourself to find those diminutive, delicate, pistillate flowers flaunting their finery.
The female flowers of the hazelnuts are a brilliant red!

The female flowers of the hazelnuts are a brilliant red!
The female flowers of the hazelnuts are a brilliant red!

The pollen-bearing catkins can be an important source of protein for the growing honeybee larvae as colonies expand in Spring.

Here you can see a video of an ironwood tree in full flower. When it was abruptly shaken, you can see the huge cloud of pollen coming off the tree, (complete with human and avian exclamations!) I bet there were some satisfied stigmas that day!
Thanks to Todd Elliott for the photos. You can keep up with Todd’s photo work by following him on Twitter:
Instagram: or on his website:

Feel free to check out the products page of my website to take advantage of the

An Evening with Doug Elliott  DVD
Stories, Songs, and Lore Celebrating the Natural World
Elliott performs a lively concert of tales, tunes, traditional lore, wild stories, and fact stranger than fiction–flavored with regional dialects, harmonica riffs, and belly laughs. One moment he is singing about catfish, the next he’s extolling the virtues of dandelions, or bursting forth with crow calls. He also demonstrates basketry, ponders the “nature” in human nature, tells wild snake tales, and jams and jives with his fiddler son, Todd.
Normally $20 — NOW only $10

If you’re in the Western NC area March 19:

Celebrating the Season with Doug Elliott
Kernels of truth, and kernels of wisdom, woodslore, and foolishness. Blossoming blackberries, sexy slithering salamanders, jumping, humping frogs, courting cardinals, and whistling whippoorwills.
The days are getting longer and juices are flowing! Celebrate the season and the bioregion with master naturalist and storyteller Doug Elliott, who will be sharing a special collection of wild tales, lively tunes, traditional lore, and natural history fact stranger than fiction–all flavored with regional dialects, soulful harmonica riffs, and more than a few belly laughs.
Spring Equinox, Saturday, March 19 at 7PM
Bring snacks and drinks to share starting at 6:15pm
@ Earthaven Ecovillage, Black Mountain, North Carolina
Bring your wallets along with your smiles.
* Donations welcome for storytelling. Suggested amt: $10+
* Food and drinks available for purchase.
* CDs, Books, Baskets and more available from Doug.

For other Elliott appearances around the country
check out

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *