Thursday, April 9, 2009

Brave Beauties of Early Spring

Cold.  Blustery.  Even a little snow.  For days now it seemed like winter was back, so I didn't expect to see much blooming when I walked in Skidmore woods today.  But there they were: Hepatica!  Oh small brave beauties, you grace us when all other blooms still hide from the cold. Not even a trace of bloodroot or trout lily.  But hepatica has shrugged off her furry coat and lifts her lovely face to the sun.  And the show has just begun.  The forest abounds with buds just about to open, and in all the lovely colors hepatica comes in.  Including sparkling white. (Click on this photo to see how the petals sparkle.)

Wait a minute.  There's another flower that blooms this soon: Red Maple.  It's just that it blooms way up in the trees where it's hard for us to see it.  Except when it falls to the ground and lands on the spring-green quilted leaves of unfolding false hellebore.  The false hellebore has splendid leaves, large and curvaceous, of the loveliest color. Its opening leaves are far more impressive than its greenish-yellow flower, which blooms in mid-June, when the plant becomes kind of gangly.

And here's another spring beauty:  the Mourning Cloak butterfly.  An amazing thing about this creature is that it spent the winter, not snug as a larva in a cocoon, but as a fully formed adult butterfly.  Late last fall, it crept in behind the bark of a tree or under the leaves on the ground, folded those lovely wings about its body, and bore the wintry blasts without turning to ice.  It does this by increasing the sugar alcohols in its blood, effectively filling itself with antifreeze.  Spring comes, it's up and about before any other butterflies, feeding on sap from woodpecker holes, and flitting about the forest on sunny days.  I couldn't believe my luck that this one sat still for the picture-taking.  I believe it was soaking up the warmth of the sun with its velvety dark wings, a perfect solar collector.

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