Monday, February 8, 2016

What season is it?

Many plants think it’s spring, though it’s only early February.

In downtown Clermont, I spotted a Tabebuia impetiginosa tree all primped up and fancy with a blush of pink blossoms. I remember noticing the same tree last year around a month later in the season. By then, it was in full bloom, a dazzling flush of floral effervescence.

Tabebuia impetiginosa, aka pink trumpet tree, is a colorful sign of the changing seasons

Coming home from Clermont along U.S. Highway. 27, I saw tall yellow flower spikes of mullein reaching for the sky, and under our mulberry trees at home, the prickly leaves of cow thistle have already grown sharp enough to make walking barefoot unpleasant.

Mullein - a tall showy spring wildflower

Along the lakeside, yellowish-green catkins have begun to appear on Carolina willows while in a nearby thicket, a few white blackberry buds have opened their petals, turning expectant faces to the sun as if they couldn’t wait a day longer to absorb its warmth.

White blackberry blossoms on their way to developing into berries

The uppermost branches of our swamp maple trees sport tiny red leaves even though our sycamore trees refuse to let the last of their large, brown leathery leaves fall to the ground.

The sycamore tree is still covered with leaves while the leaves of other deciduous tree have already fallen to the ground

It’s February — but is it autumn, winter or the start of spring? In Central Florida it’s often hard to tell.

Birds have begun to seek out nesting sites. Our bluebird boxes are seeing activity and a red-bellied woodpecker has set up house in a nesting box mounted on a tree. 

Two female bluebirds check out a nesting box

Little Carolina wrens are chattering as they poke around shrubbery and flowerpots in search of just the right spot to raise young. While rowing, I startled a Great Egret with long, lacy plumes on its back, an indication that breeding season has begun.

I like the anticipation, hopefulness and optimism of spring. But as much as I want to believe that the birds and plants know what they’re doing, experience has proved that they may be wrong. Another cold spell could arrive tomorrow. New leaves on the maple tree could die back, ripening fruit on the loquat could spoil, and the birds that nest prematurely might have to wait a little longer to successfully raise young.

Loquat fruit have started to grow but will they make it to maturity or succumb to another winter cold snap?

It’s all about timing. Humans aren’t alone in occasionally misjudging seasonal shifts.

The other day, I watched a newly hatched butterfly — a tan and black striped zebra longwing — sip nectar from a cluster of goldenrod flowers. Leave it to a butterfly to find a source of nourishing sweetness among a field of fluffy beige seedheads. Although many goldenrods grow on our property, only this one plant is blooming. The others are in that autumnal stage of development when the spreading of seeds precedes springtime’s flush of new flowers. The butterfly had latched onto the solitary plant sporting a gold floral crown.

A zebra longwing latches onto a solitary goldenrod flower

The lone goldenrod might have been an early bloomer or very late in following the other plants’ lead. Then again, it might simply have wanted to burst into bloom and did so regardless of what others were doing.

Nature is nothing if not full of surprises. No matter what the reason, no matter what the season, no matter how confusing the weather or irregular the patterns, nature never fails to mystify and amaze.


  1. My azaleas have been blooming since December....tababouia is blooming, too! AND love bugs are out and mating!

  2. February has always been an 'iffy' month when it comes to seasons. This week's cold temps have killed back the top leaves of all our papayas but the cherry tomato plants that suffered some cold damage a couple weeks ago have regrown new leaves. Go figure!