8 Iconic Plants and Trees That Herald Spring

Close up of flowering tree branches
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When we say that spring is in the air, we may be referring to higher temperatures or warmer rays of sunshine. But it might also refer to the freshness that arrives when tiny plants break through the frozen ground and bring specks of green, purple and yellow to the gray, post-winter landscape. Then again, it also may mean the literal smell of spring is in the air, from the delicate scent of cherry blossoms to the more fragrant magnolias that dot the Southern U.S.

Each year, we welcome the arrival of these iconic early bloomers that indicate — without a doubt — that spring has arrived.

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Diminutive in size compared to some of the sprawling fields and tall trees on this list, the snow crocus is significant because it's one of the first flowers (the snowdrop is another) to sprout through the cold, snowy ground, insisting that it's time for spring, regardless of the temperature outside.

Crocus chrysanthus, a perennial flowering plant belonging to the iris family, bloom in February or early March, according to the Missouri Botanical Society. Snow crocuses are yellow (sometimes they're called "Goldilocks"), but other varieties are purple or white. And still other varieties (there are 80 known species) don't bloom until the fall. They're native to Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, according to the botanical society, and they smell like honey.

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Cherry blossoms

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Pink and white cherry blossoms burst open in Washington, D.C., Japan and many other places in the Northern Hemisphere in mid-to-late March each year, inspiring festivals in their honor and sending shutterbugs into full photographic overload. Though the blooms on these famous trees, given as a gift to the U.S. from Japan in 1912, are short-lived — they last only a week or two, according to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and by early April, most of the trees are done.

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Texas bluebonnets

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This state flower of Texas usually blooms in early April and can last until early May; however, the 2017 bloom was nearly a month early. Whenever they bloom, these brilliant blue flowers can be found throughout northern Texas, where multiple towns hold festivals in their name and families snap photos in azure fields.

There are five species of bluebonnets, which are part of the legume family, and the Texas Department of Transportation has been using them to beautify roadsides since the early 1930s.

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Known as "the royalty of the garden," and for good reason. "Spectacular flower masses and colors, plant form, and evergreen foliage are among the reasons for the popularity of azaleas," according to the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Azaleas are native to Asia but are now common in the Southern United States. These members of the rhododendron genus range from low-growing ground-cover varieties to shrubs to 20-foot-tall trees that bloom from spring to fall, depending on the type.

These beautiful flowering bushes serve as the backdrop at the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. Nine species of them fill thousands of acres at Great Smoky Mountains National Park with waves of white, purple and pink blossoms.

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Another integral part of the Southern U.S. landscape, magnolias are native to the Americas and Asia, according to the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service. There are about 125 species, ranging from tall shrubs to trees, from deciduous to evergreen, but the iconic Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), which is the state tree of Mississippi, may be the most well-known variety.

The magnolia's white, pink, red or purple flowers tend to be fragrant with diameter of as little as three inches; in the case of the giant Southern Magnolia, the flowers may be up to 12 inches across. "When the magnolia tree's sweet fragrance fills the air, you know you're in the South," Southern Living says.

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One of the most beloved garden bulbs out there, daffodils herald spring with their sunshine-yellow flowers that burst out of the ground any time from early March to the beginning of May. Narcissus pseudonarcissus is popular with gardeners because members of the 25 various species can tolerate a variety of climates and can be grown in almost all zones.

As for their "cup-on-a-saucer" shape: "A daffodil flower consists of two regions: the perianth (petals) and the corona (cup). The corona makes the daffodil unique from many other flowers, and attractive to the eye," according to North Dakota State University.

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Flowering dogwood trees are widely used in landscaping due to their gorgeous and delicate pink or white flowers that appear in April or May. These shrubs or trees can be found from Maine to Florida and as far west as Texas, according to the Illinois State Museum. (The trees pictured are in Chicago.)

The Arbor Day Foundation says dogwoods are so popular that millions of seedlings and budded trees are produced every year for commercial nurseries around the country. After their spring flowers fade away, their foliage turns glorious colors in the fall, making these a multi-season favorite.

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Oklahoma redbud

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Oklahoma redbud trees are deciduous and found throughout the Southern U.S. and West Coast. They can reach 30 to 40 feet in height and 15 to 20 feet across. In spring, deep pink and red flowers appear on all the branches and even the trunk before transitioning to shiny, thick, leathery, dark green leaves in the summer, according to the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Clusters of flat, purple, bean-like pods last into winter and help the tree reproduce.

Cercis reniformis, named the official Oklahoma state tree in 1937, is highly drought-tolerant, which is good for gardeners, but it's susceptible to disease and may bloom for only a few decades of its life.