Vanishing Acts: Appreciating Trees as Harbingers of Spring

By Wren Smith



You don’t have to wait for the early wildflowers to carpet the woodlands, or the crocuses and daffodils to bloom in your yard; you only have to watch the tips of some of our native trees to know when spring is well on its way. Red maple, Acer rubrum, provides an early hint, showing red winter buds that swell before opening. As they swell they cast a rusty hue on the landscape that can be seen in the hills of Kentucky and all around Bernheim. Soon these expanding buds will pop open like bouquets of red and pink party favors, a fitting celebration for the return of spring. In fact, the flowers of red maple provide bees with some of the first nectar of the season. On those early warm sunny days, after being hive-bound all winter,the bees seem to do a happy dance when they encounter these harbingers of spring.


Shortly after the red maple trees bloom you can watch for the lovely white blossoms of the serviceberry tree,  Amelanchier sp. By doing so you will join a time honored Appalachian tradition, or dare I say it, “treedition”. According to folklore, serviceberry trees bloom when the ground thaws and the snow melts enough for preachers to ride horseback through the mountain passes to perform weddings and funerals; hence the common name, serviceberry (sometimes pronounced sarvisberry). When anxious for spring, these folks would look to the hills, and look at the service trees, and if they were in bloom, it meant it was time to get the wedding dresses ready and/or the bodies out of the snow bank!

As we approach spring, it feels right to anticipate this season of new beginnings with our upcoming exhibit from the Morton Arboretum, Vanishing Acts: Trees Under Threat. For the next few months, Bernheim will focus on trees under stress, but we will also explore way you can help reverse this trend. Deepening  your connection with the trees in your own backyards and neighborhoods may be a great start.   I hope you’ll join us at Bernheim to learn more about native trees and rare and vanishing trees from around the world. Some trees are harbingers of spring, but all trees are so much more!

Want more Vanishing Acts? Click here to view the archive.


Vanishing Acts: Trees Under Threat was developed and produced by The Morton Arboretum in association with the Global Trees Campaign, a partnership between Fauna and Flora International and Botanic Gardens Conservation International.

Funding for this exhibit comes from The Morton Arboretum and the U.S. Institute for Museum and Library Services, Museums for America Grant Program.

Support locally comes from LG&E and KU. Additional support provided by Shepherdsville/Bullitt County Tourism.

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