Winter Flower Buds

magnolia bush with brown branches and white spring buds

One of the first signs of spring is the swelling and maturing of buds on trees and shrubs, but even in February there are several plants with attractive buds. Buds are formed during the growing season and go dormant in winter. The bud that forms at the end of a branch is called a terminal bud, and buds that go along the sides of branches are lateral buds. Every species of tree and shrub has unique buds – they vary in shape, size, texture, and color. Buds can be used to identify trees and shrubs, just like leaves and flowers can.  Some buds are smooth and entire, and others have scales that create a layered appearance. The buds below are some of the more interesting specimens you might see this winter, so go out and take a look!

Magnolia – Dense silvery hairs cover this terminal flower bud that starts swelling in autumn up to 1” long. The bulbous shape, soft texture, and large size of the buds give this tree an attractive appearance from a distance. The leaf buds have a similar pubescence, but are much smaller than the flower buds.


Wayfaringtree Viburnum (Viburnum lantana) – There are several viburnums with attractive flower buds in winter – but wayfaringtree viburnum has always been a favorite in the landscape. The terminal flower buds are clustered into bulbous masses, with a short silvery pubescence. The individual flower buds are very long and skinny, all wrapping from the base into a central point.  Hybrid viburnums that have V. lantana parentage also have these attractive bulbous buds – popular examples include ‘Alleghany’ and ‘Emerald Triumph’. Koreanspice Viburmun (V. carlessii) and hybrids associated with it have a similar flower bud.

Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) – These large, tapered flower buds have attractive bud scales that vary in color from brown to pink. As winter fades to spring the bud expands and becomes more pink and red.



Honorable mention: Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) – soft, silvery catkins cover the slender branches of pussy willow from base to tip. Although similar looking to Magnolia buds, the fuzzy catkins are actually flowers that haven’t opened yet. The flower buds are an attractive, smooth, reddish-brown that break in mid-winter. The pussy willow in the Children’s Garden is a sight to behold in late winter.


Prepared by Lindsey Smith, Collections Curator