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GARDENING : IT'S TIME FOR ALL LIVING THINGS TO SPRING INTO REBIRTH.

Byline: Joshua Siskin

The commemoration of the exodus from Egypt, to be celebrated on Passover, which begins at sundown Friday, is associated closely with the arrival of spring. The transition from slavery to freedom is no less radical than the transition from winter's dormancy to spring's rejuvenation and rebirth. To leave Egypt is to cast off physical restraints and materialistic shackles for the sole purpose of achieving spiritual freedom and true growth; it is to escape the clutches of false idols in order to grow toward heaven; it is to move beyond past disappointments and failures, and to start planting again.

For months you probably have been looking at deciduous plants that seemed dead. You may have even considered removing them from the garden, their brown twigs a constant, lingering reminder of all your horticultural misdeeds - real or imagined, intentional or accidental. But now, through no fault of your own, these moribund specimens are quickening with life again. Could this be anything other than a sign of forgiveness and divine intervention from above?

Just last week, the buds of the incredible bluebird (Caryopteris) opened a fraction of an inch, revealing leaves that are vital and ready to grow. There is no cooler blue than the one this plant brings - with its plethora of cerulean flower clusters - to the summer garden.

It was only a month ago that I had to convince an apartment manager that his dwarf pomegranate bush was not a dead tumbleweed, after all, but a plant that was resting. The pomegranate, with its distinctive compartmentalized seeds, is a species without parallel in the plant kingdom. It thrives on drought and alkaline soil. It is a plant that will fruit heavily year after year without pruning, fertilization or summer water. Los Angeles, however, is a bit too hot and dry for optimal growth of the fruit, which usually cracks before it is completely ripe. Even under the best conditions, however, fruit of the dwarf pomegranate cultivar is small, dry and inedible.

Perhaps the very last deciduous tree to break out of winter dormancy is the pistachio. Although most pistachio cultivars require a significant winter chill to bear nuts, the cultivar called ``Sfax'' will produce a crop following a colder-than-average Valley winter, such as that we experienced this year.

Many of the trees that flower in winter or early spring produce flowers prior to the appearance of their leaves. One of the most stunning is the coral tree (Erythrina humeana), with brunt orange flowers. Also noteworthy in this category are the flowering cherries, peaches and almonds. Tabebuia chrysostricha, the golden trumpet tree, as well as the jacaranda, also may be found blooming in a leafless condition.

What is the reason that certain plants flower only when they are barren of leaves? One explanation is that resources must be allocated in a way that does not deprive the flowers of the energy they need for development of male (pollen grains) and female (ovules) structures that are required for fertilization. Were leaves to be present, nitrogen and other minerals would be diverted to foliar growth at the expense of the flowers.

But here another question arises. The fruits that form as a result of fertilization could not properly develop without the sugar that comes from photosynthesizing leaves. Wouldn't it be safer for the tree to wait until leaves were in place before it started to flower?

It is as though the ``risk'' undertaken by the flowering, still leafless tree were grounded in a ``faith'' that leaves will be produced. Without leaves, no growth of fruit or seeds could take place, and extinction of the species, ultimately, would result. But the tree still flowers, despite the absence of leaves.

It was this sort of faith that drew the Hebrew people out of the lush Nile River Valley of Egypt and into the barren Sinai Desert more than 3,000 years ago. The flowering of freedom was worth the risk of an uncertain desert existence. The ultimate goal was Mount Sinai, where the Ten Commandments and the Torah - known as the Tree of Life - would provide sustenance for the emerging nation.

Tip of the week: For a high desert encounter with the California poppy, consider taking a trip to Lancaster for the poppy festival April 18-19. There is no way of predicting how significant the poppy bloom will be this year, since the amount of bloom is not related to the amount of winter rain. However, the regular burning of non-native grasses in the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve has resulted in larger crops of flowers. For more festival information, call (805) 723-6077.
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 4, 1998
Words:769
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