The word is peduncle. This is a botanical term, meaning the stalk of a flower or a fruit.
My brother came across the word back in March, when local news in DC was abuzz with the possibility of an unseasonable freeze harming the spring show of cherry blossoms. Faced with this potential calamity, the media descended on the National Park Service horticulturist tasked with producing the Official National Cherry Blossom Forecast. This nice fella happily explained to reporters that yes, bad weather at the wrong time could impact the bloom. But in fact the process of blossoming has six distinct stages, to wit: green buds, florets visible, extension of florets, peduncle elongation, puffy white, and peak bloom. And as long as we didn’t get a hard freeze during the peduncle elongation phase, all would be well.
I thought it was quite lovely that our nation sees fit to employ a Flower Ranger to keep an eye on the cherry trees. And I was even more charmed when I looked up the word. Turns out that peduncle comes from the Latin pedunculus, a combination of ped (or foot) and the diminutive suffix -unculus: so literally, a little foot. Like many young things, when cherry blossoms start growing their feet get big. But as long as their toesies don’t get too cold we will get our flowers.
My brother’s other springtime offering was a link to a webcam in the National Arboretum that is trained on a nest where a pair of bald eagles are raising their chicks. Some enterprising government employee has climbed 90 feet up into a tulip poplar so the USDA Agricultural Research Service can stream 24-hour live coverage of this family scene to a waiting world.
It has been hands-down the most riveting news coverage of the season. The two chicks squirm and gape as their parents keep them supplied with a seemingly endless supply of dead fish. There’s feeding and preening and sleeping and nest-tidying and careful deployment of new sticks to keep the little ones from toppling out. In bad weather the parents spread their wings and the chicks huddle underneath, and the tree sways back and forth in a long slow arc. Given a choice between the rancid political shriekfest du jour and a pair of eagles cramming regurgitated fish guts into their offspring, I’ll take the fish guts every single time.
What happened? Suddenly it’s late April and I realize I haven’t tackled the word I’ve been sitting on since way back in March. The cherry blossoms have come and gone and the trees are in full leaf. My adolescent lurches around the nest on his elongated peduncles, polishing off ham and granola bars and gallons of milk.
Spring is like that. Blink and you’ll miss it.