Ghost Trees Blooming

Every year I think I’ve missed the shadbush blooming and every year I’m wrong. Driving down State Road I glance repeatedly into the mostly oak woods that haven’t leafed out yet. When the fragile white flowers appear, they seem to hang suspended in the air against a gray and brown backdrop that is anything but fragile.

20150510 shad 1The shadbush got its name because they bloom when the shad are running. When I blogged about them two years ago, a fellow blogger up the road noted that we have no shad on Martha’s Vineyard so they might be more sensibly called “wild pear.”

“Wild pear” is indeed one of the names by which this small tree, Amelanchier, is known, along with shadbush, shadwood or shadblow, serviceberry or sarvisberry, juneberry, saskatoon, sugarplum or wild-plum, and chuckley pear. Shad is a subspecies of herring, which we do have here, but “herring bush” sounds fishy.

2014 shade closeupI call them “ghost trees” for the way they appear ghostly deep in the just-past-winter woods. That’s probably as good a name as any. In any case, once again I thought I’d missed them, then a week ago they appeared, tentatively at first, but by the weekend they were everywhere.

When I mentioned them at writers’ group Sunday night, mystery writer Cynthia Riggs noted that her mother, the late Dionis Coffin Riggs, gave May 10 as the date for the blooming of the shadbush.

At the foot of my outside stairs

At the foot of my outside stairs

Sunday was May 10. Not only that, when I found my photos of the ghost trees from previous years, a full half of them were dated May 10 and the rest were dated between the 6th and the 11th.

When I don’t spot the ghost flowers in the woods by the end of April, I get worried. No wonder: I’ve got the estimated time of arrival wrong. Dionis had it right, from years of observation. My camera has it right because it’s programmed to remember dates. Now that “May 10” is imprinted in my non-digital memory, I’m going to stop expecting the ghost trees at the end of April.

It’s May 13 and they’re still here.

Along the Old Courthouse trail

Along the Old Courthouse trail, 1

2015 shad branch

Along the Old Courthouse trail, 2

20150510 shad 2

Can’t remember where this profusion was — Pine Hill or Halcyon Way?




About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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7 Responses to Ghost Trees Blooming

  1. Joyce says:

    Loved the pictures no matter what they’re called. Thanks for sharing.


  2. My parents used to go shad fishing up at Gay Head, where there is, or was, a shad run. They’d collect the shad roe and we’d have it fried for breakfast, and they’d dry the fish out in the sun. I don’t recall what they did with the dried fish. Bones and skin would go in the garden. So shadbush was properly named at one time. Cynthia




  3. tompostpile says:

    I shall enter my plea for amelanchier/shadbush to be called by its proper, old time Vineyard name, which is “Wild Pear”. We have herring, but no shad here, so for us to call this fine little pear tree a “shad” bush flies in the face of local truth. Mike Athearn always said we should say “wild pear”, and so does his son, Jim.


    • Plea duly (re-)entered. 🙂 I almost titled this post “Wild Pear Blooming” but went with “Ghost Trees” because that’s how I think of them. Must ask Cynthia what Dionis called them . . .


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