The Flowering Tree

Cornus florida

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” ~Chinese proverb

It’s April and flowering trees abound at this time of year in California, and most likely where you live, too. They emerge in concert harmony, showcasing one after another. At this particular moment it is the dogwood that is in full display, and last year I highlighted their abundance and beauty here.

However while it may be dogwood that is taking the larger stage, there are many more flowering trees about and I set out to find them. What I least expected to find was a western redbud, as they have largely come and gone, but redbud I did find, and I was delighted! My guess is this late bloomer will be the last of the season. Lucky us for its last minute arrival! For whatever reasons, this tree (and variations) is associated with Judas’s supposed hanging himself and is known in parts of the world as the “Judas Tree.” It has a very interesting property in that its blossoms emerge directly from its branches, contributing to a rather unlikely look as it unfolds. I love their little heart-shaped leaves. It’s rather endearing that carpenter bees cut nickel-size circles from the redbud leaves to use in their nests. (I adore carpenter bees. I think of them as the grand teddy bears of the bee family, kind of lumbering and harmless to humans.)

Cercis occidentalis

Scouting about I find myself drawn to a small tree of which I’d been previously aware, but had not closely examined before. It is a Japanese snowball tree.
Snowball Viburnum
This tree has always puzzled me as my interpretation of it is that it is some sort of hydrangea that has gone rogue and far exceeded its boundaries and expected form! You will see what I mean, here:

See? Most perplexing. But the snowball tree it is and lives happily in this dappled corner, protected by a wall of bamboo. Very lovely setting.

The most dramatic flowering trees I found were these photinia twins living entwined in a small charming county park. They must have been carefully groomed in their early years and I’m imagining are very very old to have reached this height.

Closer to home is a reliable white lilac in full blossom. I love that people walking by always stop to partake of its wonderfully sweet fragrance!

And now a mystery tree, which, ironically, inspired me to want to write this very post.

I must confess that at point of inspiration the plumes on this tree were slightly more lavender and my delay in acting on my muse has placed it slightly past its most beauteous moment. However, it is still quite lovely. It does not have leaves, per se, but rather a lacey kind of needle. Its gnarled trunk suggests its presence in the neighborhood for quite some time. Any ideas?? All guesses appreciated!

Love and springtime blessings!
Kathryn xoox

Footnote: If you want an answer, ask a scientist! Cousin Julie has ID’d the above plant as a tamarix. Poor thing is invasive in some parts, and has the ability to suck up groundwater from the desert floor. Good for the tree. Not so good for the desert.

What is interesting to me about the above post is that three of the trees I’ve chosen apparently have Biblical references. The dogwood, as you may know, has associations with the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’s head before his crucification. As noted above, the redbud is associated with Judas’s hanging. And I have just found these surprising notes in verifying that Julie’s ID was correct:

In spite of Tamarisks drawbacks, its an important desert tree, providing windbreaks and welcome shade and cover for many animals. It is the source of the Manna of the Bible, which is produced by a small sap sucking insect that turns the toxic sap into a sweet honey like substance that drops to the ground. It is still gathered in the Middle East and sold in the markets.

A fascinating unfolding!

18 Responses to “The Flowering Tree”

  1. They are all so lovely! I just planted a new flowering tree this spring and I am looking forward to some blooms next year. Your pictures are inspirational!

  2. wow, Japanese snowball tree!! We have one of those and have wondered what it is for 15 years!!! Thanks for solving the mystery!

    And I donʻt think Iʻve ever seen a white lilac before. Beautiful. Loved all the pics and the great info, thanks for another inspired post,

  3. Hi, Sheila! Now I’m dying to know which flowering tree you planted! Lovely to look forward to its blossoms, though! Glad you liked the pics! Kathryn xoxo

  4. Hi, Pamela! Oh, how fun that you now know what is growing in your Hawaiian garden! Solving tree mysteries IS fun! I’ve just met the man who owns the “mystery tree” above, and he doesn’t know what it is either. BUT, he knows where there is another growing, has given me directions, and I will track down next visit in that direction! LOL! Thanks for the visit, dear. Glad you liked what you saw. Love, Kathryn xoxo

  5. Wonderful pictures, mom! The Japanese snow ball is Awesome!
    Also really Love the bright colours of the first two Beauties! Fun!

    Love you,

  6. Hi, Antonia! The Japanese snowball is a happy plant, indeed. Glad you enjoyed the journey! Love, Mom xoxo

  7. Hi Katherine!
    Loved your tour of flowering trees. I planted a snowball bush years ago not really knowing how big it would get! Well, more beauty! It is growing happily with a tall lilac which blooms at the same time. I love how beautifully shaped yours is.
    I do not know the mystery tree, but it seems like something from Australia. It reminds me of Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’. Not convinced on that, I will let you know if I find anything.
    More rain this week! One of the things I have loved about hiking recently are all the natural springs issuing from the hillsides and the sound of rills and creeks.
    Have a great day!

  8. Hi, Philip, I bet that’s the number one lesson for all gardeners–learning “how big it will get”! I’ve done it over and over again with different plants. 🙂 Yes, the one above was well planned for. Lucky tree! Snowball and lilac sounds like a happy affair, however. Googled that acacia. Probably not that one. Someone will know! Enjoy the rain! Kathryn xoxo

  9. I’m guessing it’s a saltcedar tamarix which, unfortunately, is an invasive species in the SW if my ID is correct. See However, there is at least one of them growing in German Village in south Columbus where water is not so much an issue and I always thought it was absolutely beautiful. I have several of the big snowball bushes. I planted then up against the house as they were only supposed to get 6 feet high and they go to the roof and cover the windows so I cut them back almost ground level every few years. It’s a waste of a beautiful plant so I should move some the the shoots to the back fence with the 8-20 foot high lilacs. They would go great! Thanks for the idea.
    Hugs, Julie

  10. Julie! You are brilliant! Yes, that’s precisely what it is! Thank you so much! Just read a bunch about this and am going to make a footnote now. THANK YOU!! Kathryn xoxo

  11. What a delightful post! Each of these trees has its own charm. Japanese snowball tree is amazing!.

  12. Good, Kathryn. I always liked the tamarix and figured there had to be a place where it did fit in. Sort of like multiflora rose which we imported in the 1930s for erosion control and by the 1970s, we were paying people to eradicate it. But in it’s native Asia, it’s lived happily for millions of years. Also, it makes an important cross for great rambling roses. I have one plant, bird seeded, which I grow in spite of the alien curse. I promise I will get rid of the bush honeysuckles this summer and the autumn olives (both planted about 1981 for wildlife food and cover – another idea which has come and gone) but I’m going to keep my multiflora rose.
    Hugs, Julie

  13. Hi, Tatyana! Yes, it’s so true. They are each so radically different from each other and yet all offer their own unique beauties. Such a good metaphor! Kathryn xoxo

  14. Hi, Julie, You underscore such a good point–that PLACE is critical. We could ponder that one for a long time. The thought has such wide reaching implications. Kathryn xoxo

  15. Happy Sunday, Kathryn!
    I hope you (and Conner and Ruby) are having a good morning!
    Beautiful day here. Sitting on the deck with the light breeze from the ocean beyond twin peaks reminds me of being on a ship.
    We are now stripping dried oregano leaves from their stems to a paper sack on the dining table…Isis the Siamese thinks this is great fun!

  16. Hi, Philip! We spent the entire morning working in the garden. Isn’t this Bay Area weather beautiful?? I love oregano. Have you discovered yet it is very prolific and will send baby oregano plants all over your garden? I must have dozens now and can’t bear to pull them up! 🙂 Enjoy! Kathryn xoxo

  17. Hello,

    Just to let you know that your snowball tree is in fact a Viburnum and not a Styrax.


  18. Good morning, Paul and thank you! You have a good eye, and I stand corrected! Kathryn xoox

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