The Shad are Blooming!

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 11:15am
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The following was sent to The Block Island Times from the Block Island Conservancy:

May 5, 2020 - The Shad are Blooming!

For many weeks now, we’ve been checking the shad buds every morning to see if they’ve bloomed. Finally, after a warm and sunny day yesterday, many of the buds have opened up leaving the shad trees covered in clouds of white flowers.

The shad is a beautiful plant with silvery-gray bark that is often splotched with lighter gray lichen. Though showiest in the springtime, shad are striking in every season – come summer, they’ll produce dark purple berries that are a favorite for both birds and humans; in the fall, their small leaves will turn a rusty orange; and in the winter, their sculptural branching trunks create beautiful silhouettes.

On Block Island we often refer to our shad as trees, but on the mainland most shad don’t grow to be much bigger than a bush. This is because Block Island doesn’t have the tall canopy of trees that is found on the mainland. With no overstory shading them out, the shad are able to grow to be 20 feet or more in height here, allowing Block Island to claim the prize for the largest shad in the world. The tallest  shad are found in hollows where they are protected from the wind. But because they’re not designed to grow to such heights, they are prone to blowing over or rotting out at the center of their trunk.

The shad goes by many names that are rooted in local history and folktales. The plant’s most commonly used name on the island, “shad”, was given because the flowering of the tree coincides with the shad run, the annual migration of the American shad fish from the ocean up rivers to freshwater ponds to breed. Another is the “serviceberry”, a name stories say comes from the first settlers to New England, who would plan funerals when the plant bloomed because it meant the ground had thawed sufficiently to dig graves.

The shad bloom is a wonderful, greatly-anticipation annual event on Block Island. Let’s hope for some calm days to keep the flowers on the trees for a little while longer!

To read more of the Block Island Conservancy’s stories, sign up by emailing Executive Director Clair Stover-Comings at stover@biconservancy.com, or by going to their website at biconservancy.org and fill out their sign-up form.