"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
Fresh Spring Spirea

Fresh Spring Spirea

From “Spirea” in The Natural History of Wild Shrubs and Vines: Eastern and Central North America by Donald W. Stokes:

“At first glance, the Spireas look more like wildflowers than shrubs. Their thin stems, only two to three feet tall, are topped with clusters of small blossoms…. They grow alongside many of our common wildflowers, such as Milkweed, Queen Anne’s Lace, and Loosestrife, and when winter comes, all remain standing with attractive dried flowerheads. But if you went to collect these plants for an arrangement of ‘winter weeds,’ you would notice one significant difference in Spirea. While the stems of the wildflowers have all died, leaving only live roots to start next year’s growth, the stem of Spirea remains alive, as you can tell by scraping the bark and seeing green beneath….

“One winter, as I examined a few Spirea that were sticking up through the snow, I noticed that although their main stems were alive, the dried flowerheads at their tips were dead. I wondered how the plant would continue its growth next year. Would the flowerheads drop off? Where would new stems grow? The following spring, I returned to the Spirea and got my answer. The living buds just beneath the dead flowerhead were growing into new branches. The weight of these branches was making the original stem bend to a horizontal position, with its old flowerhead still at its tip. On older plants I found that this process repeated for several years, creating a jumble of horizontal stems with dead flowerheads at their tips, and young vertical branches growing from them….

“There are four common native species of Spirea in the East. Three of them — Meadowsweet, Broadleaved Meadowsweet, and Corymbed Spirea — usually have white flowers in either a flat or a cone-shaped cluster. The name Meadowsweet is given to these plants collectively because of the pleasant sweet smell of their blossoms and their habit of growing in moist, sunny places, especially old meadows….

“The fourth species of Spirea, Hardhack or Steeplebush, is quite different in appearance from the others. It has a thin spike of bright magenta flowers shaped like the spire of a church steeple. The name ‘hardhack’ refers to the difficulty early farmers had with cutting them in meadows. The plants were very persistent too, for even after they were cut, they could send up new stems from their spreading roots.”

From “Late March” in A Slender Volume of Poems, Essays and Stories by Sara Margaret and Mitchell Rhodes:

It’s just a little chilly. April’s promise fills the air.
For anyone who’s looking signs of spring are everywhere.

Sunshine brightly glinting on new magnolia leaves.
Irrepressible forsythia bounding forth in golden wreaths.

Pointed spears of green attending yellow daffodils.
Poeticus narcissus preening beside the prim jonquils.

Miniature grape hyacinths growing low in clumps of blue.
Vermillion quince in flower with a mockingbird or two.

On slender branches circlets of white spirea beguiles.
Periwinkle twinkles in shy lavender smiles….


Having photographed this collection of spirea in previous springs (see, for example, Bridal Wreath Spirea from last year), I can see how the growth of these shrubs matches the pattern described in the quotation from The Natural History of Wild Shrubs and Vines above. Where there were just a few spindly stems with sparse blooms last year or the year before, the plant has expanded to split off new branches and create clusters of flowers running their length.

The overall pattern of the plant’s growth reminds me of how spirea variants are often used in vases of flower arrangements to create contrasting lines and colors with other flowers. Yet I can also see that a vase full of long stems of spirea would be quite striking and stand on it’s own — with contrast provided by its dark red woody stems and tiny green leaves. The Photographer imagines snipping some of these stems and smuggling them home under his coat — but, alas, he behaves himself and is content with the photographs instead. Thieving has never been one of his skills, anyway; he would most likely get caught.

Thanks for taking a look!


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