Shoots, Leaves, and Flowers

010The trees are still bare, but that doesn’t mean there’s no greenery in the forest. The weather was finally warm and sunny again this afternoon, so I took off for a walk to see what I could find. These green shoots sprouting in the bog are the beginnings of blue flag iris (Iris versicolor):

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In the slightly higher, drier habitat of the forest floor, the tiny partridgeberry plants (Mitchella repens) have been waiting all winter for the snow to melt and the sun to return:

008And, on the way back from my walk, I got very excited to spot hepatica in bloom. Hepatica flowers are my favorite sign of spring.

012After the long, long winter, spring is finally asserting itself. And I have a big transition of my own coming up – watch for a new post on Saturday with a major announcement.

P.S. Are you – yes, YOU – interested in writing a guest post for Rebecca in the Woods while I’m in the backcountry in a few weeks? If so, get in touch with me using the “Contact Me” link above. See the previous post for more details.

Pickerel Creek Turns Green?

This is a Pickerel Creek phenology post.

Temperature – 61°F
Sunny and breezy
Sunrise at 6:28AM, sunset at 7:34PM – thirteen hours and six minutes of beautiful beautiful daylight

Okay, it’s not that green, because the alders have yet to leaf out. But if you compare this to a couple weeks ago you can see that there is a new blush of green along the banks of the creek where new grass is starting to grow up through last year’s brown. There were Golden-crowned Kinglets and Song Sparrows singing while I stood on the bridge to take the photo, and on my walk down there I kept stopping to admire all the lovely hepatica blossoms along the trail. (Interestingly, ever single hepatica flower I’ve seen here has been white, unlike in Ohio where there were always a smattering of blue-purple ones mixed in.)

Anyway, this blog is going to go silent for the next week or so while I’m traveling for spring break. I’m sure that by the time I return the woods will be drastically greener than they are today!

Freaks of Nature

I love how spring happens in tiny increments.  This week the snakes suddenly woke up and were everywhere; no one had seen a single one until Tuesday, when suddenly every trail group was coming back talking excitedly about garter snakes and water snakes and black rat snakes.  Hooray herps!  Yesterday morning I heard the first towhee song of the season (drink your teeeeeaaaaaaa!).  And of course, the wildflower bonanza is ongoing – the spring beauties and yellow violets are going nuts at the minute, and the jack-in-the-pulpits and wild ginger and white violets and phlox are getting started… I could go on, but I feel like I need to post something other than just lists and photos of the wildflowers blooming here, as much as I love them.

There’s a whole southern part to this property that I really have yet to explore at all, so this afternoon I decided to hike to the covered bridge and back, somewhere I hadn’t been yet.  There were a lot of sessile trilliums (Trillium sessile, a.k.a. toadshade, a wonderful name) along the trail, which don’t have the big white open flower you probably picture when you think of trillium, but they still have that whorl of three leaves.  Here’s a normal sessile trillium.

See?  Three leaves, three sepals, three curled-up reddish brown petals.  That’s where the “tri” in trillium comes from, after all.  But a little farther down the trail I found this bizarre creature:

Four of everything!  Is a four-leaf trillium more or less lucky than a four-leaf clover?

There were also lots of these long-stemmed leaves around.  Can you guess what they are?

They’re hepatica!  Normal hepatica leaves hug the ground pretty closely, but the plant can get infected by a rust that causes them not to flower and instead shoot up these tall, thin leaves.  Then flies land on them and “mix the gametes around,” to borrow some technical terminology (ha ha) from a botanist I know.  Don’t worry, though; as far as I know this rust is a native disease, as normal and natural as the flowers themselves, not something exotic that’s going to wipe out all the hepatica in North America.

Eventually, following my trail map, I arrived at a perfectly normal, modern bridge where a local road crossed the creek.  Not a picturesque old covered bridge.  Had I been tricked somehow?  Eventually I realized that I just had to cross that bridge and pick up the trail on the other side, and the actual covered bridge was just a bit farther down.  It was lovely (despite the graffiti), an old, barn-red structure flanked by enormous gnarled sycamore and osage orange trees.

Anyway, I completed my Red Cross certification in Wilderness and Remote First Aid yesterday and now hypothetically know what to do in the event of a sucking chest wound in the middle of nowhere, which makes me feel very competent and outdoorsy.  Hope everyone else’s weekend was as productive and gorgeous as mine!

Wildflower Wonders

A couple weeks ago I wrote about an unsuccessful attempt to find spring beauty sprouting in my woods… I guess I was just a little too early.  Last weekend I was away in Michigan visiting friends, and this past week I’ve been on kitchen duty rather than on the trails with students, so the past couple days have been my first real chance to get out and renew my search.  Well, wowee!  Not only are the spring beauties up now, but the trout lilies, trilliums, and Dutchman’s breeches are too, and the hepatica are already blooming – I’d forgotten all about hepatica!

I’d love hepatica even if it weren’t for the flowers, because their foliage is pretty striking, too.

Anyway, the flowers aren’t the only sign of spring; the migratory songbirds are trickling back, too, as evidenced by the phoebes I can hear singing outside as I type.  FEE-bee!  FEE-bee!

Hope everyone else’s weekend has been as gorgeous as mine!

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UPDATED TO ADD: The other flower I found in bloom today was this yellow one, which after scouring some photos online I’ve identified as lesser celandine.  Sadly, it turns out this one is an invasive species, native to Europe.