Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the April 10, 2005 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA

Maybe my new heightened state of awareness accounts for why the flowering Madrones strike me as so pretty right now. Occasionally their smooth, rusty-red branches arch over my jogging road bearing evergreen, magnolia-like leaves and grapefruit-size clusters of dozens of white, globular flowers 1/4-inch across. Madrones, ARBUTUS MENZIESII, are members of the same family, the Heath Family, as the azaleas blooming so gorgeously back in Mississippi. You can see a flowering Madrone branch at www.dereila.ca/dereilaimages/Arbutus.jpg.

The blossoms' corollas, once the flowers are pollinated, fall onto the ground, and in certain spots along my running road the ground is snowy with them. The corollas leave behind on the branches tiny green flower-pistils that during upcoming months will slowly mature into spherical, 1/2-inch across, warty, red-orange fruits.

The cast-off corollas are worth looking at closely. They are shaped like certain old-time lampshades -- the globular ones with scalloped fringes. Botanists describe them as "urn-shaped," though most of us have forgotten what an urn looks like. The technical name for such flower shapes is "urceolate."