Sample an Easter Parade of spring-flowering plants from southern states as a prelude to the season of renewed life.
Every spring leading up to Easter Sunday a succession procession of bulbs, vines, shrubs, and trees put forth a profusion of colorful and sometimes scented blossoms.
Mother Nature’s Easter parade line-up fluctuates yearly depending upon the winter weather but the parade proceeds nevertheless. Residents and travelers to the south are enchanted by the beauty and encouraged by the signs of life.
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Trumpeting spectators to attention are three plants with bright yellow tubular flowers. Daffodils with a yellow trumpet corolla set against a ring of petals may bloom for six weeks or more. The deciduous shrub forsythia bears four-lobed tubular corollas before foliage appears. The hardy native Carolina jessamine vine, Gelsemium sempervirens, cascades from treetops.
Miniature in size but not in color, form, or visual appeal march an array of spring bulbs – snowdrops, crocus, grape hyacinths, hyacinths, starflowers, and tulips. They appear underfoot covering the parade grounds.
At eye level, the wave of color continues with a rhapsody of deciduous spring-flowering shrubs. White button-like blooms line the arching stems of bridal wreath spirea. Delicate clusters of rose-pink powder puff blossoms line the stems of flowering almonds, Prunus glandulosa.
Bright yellow pompoms dance along the green arching stems of Easter rose, Kerria japonica. Wild-looking most of the year, the flowering quince, Chaenomeles speciosa, transforms into a showy spring shrub with clusters of single or double white, pink, rose, and salmon flowers.
When tourists flood south to see the Easter Parade of spring-flowering plants the azalea is the official welcome sign. Azaleas have been called the flaming drama of the south with an abundance of blooms as far as the eye can see.
Augusta National Golf Course, Calloway Gardens, Hodges Gardens, Bellingrath Gardens, Middleton Place Plantation, and private courtyard gardens in Charleston, South Carolina are meccas for travelers seeking to be surrounded in spring.
The most popular azalea planted at well-established public gardens is the Southern Indica azalea, large upright shrubs with big flowers in shades of crimson, white, coral, and purple covering the foliage.
The native eastern redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, splashes a light to dark purple haze of bloom before heart-shaped leaves appear. Redbud is joined by the flowering dogwood as understory trees in forests and home gardens. Both tolerate some shade.
The native flowering dogwood tree, Cornus florida, blooms after redbuds. The inconspicuous flower clusters are in the center of four white (occasionally pink) bracts, which look like petals. The bracts whitewash the landscape creating a fairytale setting lasting weeks.
The vigorous Japanese wisteria, Wisteria floribunda, and Chinese wisteria, Wisteria sinensis are as exquisite as they are invasive. Reaching a height of 25 feet they spread and climb enthusiastically across the landscape unless kept in check with pruning.
Their attraction in spring is the long pendulous lilac or purple racemes. By fall the flowers form along flat fruit resembling a peapod and filled with seeds.
The state flower of South Carolina, the Carolina jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, is one of the most beautiful native vines of the south. The butter-yellow flowers are often found intertwined among purple wisteria blossoms.
The rambling Lady Banks ‘Lutea’ is a vine-like climbing rose and one of the earliest blooming roses. Slender arching canes are covered in glorious clusters of yellow double flowers in spring.
To conclude the Easter parade of spring-flowering plants, churches throughout the south use parade plants in ceremonial ways.
Parishioners bring blossoms from home gardens to place on a large wooden Lenten cross mounted in front of the church. The flowered cross is a symbol of resurrection and life.
In some churches, officials dip branches of flowering dogwood or flaming azaleas in holy water and walk among the aisles anointing congregations.
The Easter Parade of spring-flowering plants is moving northward slowly. Get a camera and sketchpad ready for the show.