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Winter 2011

Urban Jungle

The changing natural world at our doorsteps | Illustration and text by Patterson Clark      

Winter Jasmine, Leatherleaf Mahonia, Witch Hazel

SOURCES: Mid-Atlantic Exotic Pest Plant Council; Maryland Native Plant Society;
American Journal of Botany; Biological Invasions

January 11, 2011

January’s golden bouquet

While most of the plant world sleeps,
a few shrubs are blooming.

Even the dead of winter has its uplifting blossoms, and the most prominent ones tend to be yellow.

Witch hazel is a native shrub that is just concluding its flowering season, which began in early autumn. Its sweet-scented flowers bear long, strap-like petals.

Spikes of fragrant leatherleaf mahonia flowers began to appear in late December and will continue blooming through early spring. The ornamental plant's bright blue fruits will ripen in early summer. Birds and mammals eat them and spread the seeds. Deer won't eat mahonia's tough, spiny leaves, which probably contributes to its proliferation as an exotic invasive species.

The first flowers of winter jasmine open in January on sun-drenched bushes backed by south-facing, heat-radiating walls. Winter jasmine is one of the few jasmines offering no scent.

Yellow flowers tend to attract flies and bees, which home in on the ultraviolet light (invisible to us) reflected by the petals.

For witch hazel, cool-weather pollination happens in the fall when the shrub's flowers are one of the few sources of nectar available for pollinators. Even so, only about one percent of the flowers produce seed.

Although it hails from China, leatherleaf mahonia draws enough local ants and winged insects during winter warm spells and early spring weather to accomplish fertilization.

American insects, however, are apparently inadequate for winter jasmine. The bush bears fruit only in its native China.