Northwestern’s grounds are home to a diverse collection of plants, each of which adds its own flair to spring.
Going on a nature walk is a great way to enjoy the unique characteristics of each plant group. A growing body of research suggests that spending time in natural spaces can also reduce stress and promote physical, psychological and emotional healing.
Magnolias were cultivated in China as early as the 7th century, though there are now over 240 species grown worldwide. These magnificent flowers are considered some of the oldest flowering plants, dating back even before bees and other flying insects. Their large size and pale color are classic characteristics that indicate beetle pollination.
Lily magnolia trees have goblet shaped blossoms and grow leaves earlier in the season than the yulan magnolia. Like the yulan magnolia, their flowers are fragrant and have medicinal properties, including relieving pain, aiding gastro-intestinal health and decreasing nasal congestion.
Brunnera tend to thrive best in shady areas with moist soil. One of their common names is false forget-me-not after the flowers' similar appearances. Unlike forget-me-nots, brunnera are perennials, and they tend to grow back year after year. Brunnera are also commonly known as Siberian bugloss, the Greek word for ox tongue, in reference to the leaves’ shape and roughness.
Eastern redbud trees are both beautiful and versatile. Their flowers, buds and pods can be eaten (raw or pickled). The tree’s roots and bark have medicinal properties and have been used to relieve various ailments such as chest congestion, fever and dysentery.
Eastern redbud trees are also cauliflorous, a relatively rare phenomenon in which flowers bud directly from its bark. Cauliflorous trees are usually pollinated by animals that climb on their trunks and most are found in tropical rainforests. As Eastern redbuds are generally pollinated by bees and found in temperate climates, it isn’t clear why they exhibit cauliflory.
There are over a thousand distinguishable cultivated varieties of Japanese maple trees around the world. Like all maples, the seeds are contained in seed pods colloquially known in some areas as “helicopters.” All maple seeds are edible (although some varieties taste better than others). Both the leaves and sap can are edible as well.
In Minoh City, Japan, a popular treat is momiji tempura –– Japanese maple leaves preserved in salt barrels for over a year and then fried in a sweet batter.
There are more than 150 species of tulips and over 3,000 varieties. Tulips were first cultivated in Istanbul as early as the 11th century. Today, these cheery flowers are often associated with Holland –– the world’s top tulip exporter.
Daffodils are a harbinger of spring, as they’re some of the first flowers to bloom. According to the American Daffodil Society, there are anywhere between 40 and 200 different species or varieties of daffodils and over 32,000 registered cultivated varieties (depending on who you ask).
Daffodils, especially the paperwhite variety, are one of the flowers associated with the Chinese New Year and symbolize kindness and prosperity. As early-bloomers, daffodils are often considered lucky.
However, they are occasionally associated with negative connotations as well.
Daffodils are poisonous to both animals and humans and feature in the tragic Greek legend of Narcissus (who they share their scientific name, Narcissus, with). In some versions of the myth, Narcissus, obsessed with his own beauty, stared into his own reflection in a spring until he wasted away and reincarnated into the first daffodil. In others, he fell into the spring and became associated with the drooping daffodils growing in abundance on the bank.
There are over 100 species of roses and thousands of cultivated varieties. Roses’ fruits, also known as rose hips, are often edible and used in a variety of foods and products, such as jelly, syrup, pastries, soups and soaps. Rose hips are also a great source of Vitamin C.
*A previous version of this article incorrectly identified brunnera as forget-me-nots. NBN regrets the error.