Thursday, April 18, 2019

Where the Wildflowers Are

Disappointed by how slowly our local wildflowers are coming into bloom this cold spring, I headed about 10 miles south to the Ballston Creek Preserve on a sunny warm day yesterday.  Guess I'll go look for some Great Blue Herons, I thought, instead of flowers. There's a heronry in a swamp along Ballston Creek.  But another disappointment awaited me there.

Where the heck are all the heron nests that used to be here?

Where I used to see more than a dozen heron nests on the snags in this swamp, now I could see only two.  Maybe there's a third in the works on the rightmost tree.  But windstorms over the past few years have blown down many nests, as well as limbs and branches that the birds used to support their giant woody nests.  Ospreys and Great Horned Owls used to occupy some of the spare heron nests as well.  No sign of them this year. But at least I did detect two heron heads poking up from the two nests that remained.

Oh well, it sure was a lovely day for a walk in the woods.  And lucky for us, the trail stewards of the Ballston Creek Preserve have made it much more pleasant to walk here, having laid boards across some of the muddier places in the trail.

As I walked along the trail and cast my eyes about through the woods, it sure didn't look as if any flowers had opened their buds here as yet. But then I spied this one little Carolina Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana) blooming atop a moss-covered rock.

Oh!  There's another one! Such a beautiful little flower, glistening white with pink stripes, and even its anthers are pink!

Two more!

Three more!  And now that I knew what to look for, I began to see more and more Spring Beauties everywhere.  And the bloom has just begun.  During the next week or so, masses more will open up and carpet the forest floor.

I also found many different colors of Round-leaved Hepaticas (Hepatica americana), including this deep-purple cluster. (I note that this native wildflower appears to have returned to the genus Hepatica, after having briefly spent some time in the genus Anemone. Depending upon whose flora you consult!)

As is the case with many Hepatica flowers, each colored sepal is edged with the merest rim of white, which makes them appear to glow as if rimmed with luminous haloes.

Another generous cluster, more of a pinkish color.

This cluster of moonlight-pale Hepatic blooms seemed to glow with a luminous light against the dark forest floor.

What's this? A Hepatica plant with multi-colored blooms?  More likely, a white-flowered plant growing so close to a pinker-flowered one that their blooms intertwine.

When I reached the end of the trail at the edge of the road, I was surprised to find a patch of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) opening its blooms beneath a thicket of shrubs. How could I have missed these when I walked past this patch on my way into the preserve?  I bet the buds were still closed an hour or so before, and the warm sunlight was now beckoning them into bloom.

Directly across the road, another patch of Bloodroot had also opened its flowers, clustered close beneath an ancient tree.

It's hard to imagine a flower that says "Welcome Spring!" any more beautifully than does Bloodroot, with its sunburst of yellow anthers set among sparkling white petals. (Sepals?)

Well, with Bloodroot and Spring Beauties now open,  it occurred to me that I might find more spring wildflowers blooming along Ballston Creek where it runs beneath shale cliffs in Shenantaha Creek Park, a community park that lies just across Eastline Road from the Ballston Creek Preserve. It's the same creek running through both properties, but it acquires its original Iroquois name of Shenantaha (meaning "deer water") when you cross the road!  The park offers wooded trails that follow the creek, which was roaring vigorously after several days of abundant rains.

And sure enough, when I reached a particular spot along the trail where I often find wildflowers blooming early, I found dozens of Early Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) already holding open flowers. With this species of Blue Cohosh, the flowers open wide even before its dark-purple leaves have completely unfurled.

Here too, I found a couple of Trout Lilies (Erithronium americanum) with fully opened flowers.  In the Ballston Creek Preserve just across the road, Trout Lily leaves had barely emerged from the earth, with not even a flower bud to be found.  I'm not sure why this particular spot inspires such early blooming, but I find it to be the case every year.

I had noted Red Trillium (Trillium erectum) with tight buds in other locations, but here in this remarkable spot, the trillium buds were already opening to reveal the crimson flowers held inside.

What a spot!  And the wildflower abundance here is just beginning.  With many more flowers now budding and yet to bloom, I believe a return trip to this very place will soon be in the offing.


Woody Meristem said...

Wow, great photos. Those flowers seem to be awfully early for so far north. so far this spring the only one's I've seen are bloodroot, no hepatica as yet and no spring beauties.

The Furry Gnome said...

Looks like you found several of the earliest spring flowers.