Spring is beginning here in the Catskills! This post surveys the earliest spring flowers, blooming now or within the next few weeks. The plants producing these flowers are small but the flowers are relatively large and conspicuous, standing out sharply against the browns and grays of the winter garden. The flowers are readily pollinated by hungry bees just waking up from hibernation. As a rule, these flowers are best planted near the doorstep or some other high traffic area where they can be enjoyed despite their small size.
Snowdrops, among the first to welcome the earliest garden visitor, actually have medicinal properties. They produce a protein, a lectin, one of a class of plant chemicals which play a role in how disease-causing bacteria and viruses recognize and lock on to healthy cells, and how in turn, immune systems recognize and attack infectious pathogens. Lectins made by plants are used to identify blood types, and to identify organisms causing infection. Other lectins are so effective in locking onto healthy cells that they have a poisonous effect. One of the most infamous of these lectins is ricin, of recent note for its use as a biochemical weapon. Some people are sensitive to high levels of lectins occurring naturally in many beans. Check out my blog post, Spring Pharmacopeia for more on how snowdrops have been used in traditional folk medicine and on how they are being used to treat Alzheimer’s.
The common Dutch crocus is one of the most popular of the earliest blooming flowers. It will be blooming in a few weeks here in the Catskills, but its cousins, the Snow Crocus, are blooming now! All the different colors of Dutch crocus are selected primarily from two species of Crocus, while the Snow Crocus are in fact many different species of Crocus. Check out my crocus blog posts, An Overview of Crocus and Cool Crocus Sex Fact, to learn more about crocus!
Another plant about to bloom this week is one of my favorites, Dwarf Iris. Check out this blog next week to learn more about these charming flowers.
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NEXT POST: DWARF IRIS!