Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Pause in Spring's Progress

Well, we did get our hopes up, didn't we?  But that sweet stretch of nice warm weather that paved the woods with wildflowers has come to a halt, with temperatures the last few days hardly budging out of the 40s.  Remember those pretty Bloodroots turning their wide-open faces to the sky?  Today, they had closed their petals to protect their pollen and hunkered down among their enfolding leaves, as if they had drawn a shawl around their shoulders.  (I see a little fly taking shelter there, as well.)

Yesterday, it was not only cold, it was rainy, too, and this Garter Snake was so chilled it never budged when I poked my camera in close.

A cold rain is bad enough, but darn it all, today it actually SNOWED!!!  Just a couple of brief snow showers that scattered a few icy pellets among the mosses at Bog Meadow Nature Trail,  but still . . . .

I had come to Bog Meadow today to see if the masses of Spring Beauty might be blooming there, but of course they were not, having shut their buds tight against the cold.  So what other flowers might I find, I wondered, ones that might be better equipped to brave inclement weather?   Ah, let's look for Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium americanum), a flower that doesn't have any petals to open or close, and which actually likes it cold and wet.  And sure enough, there they were, sprawled across the swampy swales, each bloom displaying a ring of bright-red anthers.

I don't know.  Can we talk about Field Horsetail Reeds (Equisetum arvense) "coming into bloom?"  They're not really flowers, with stamens and pistils, etc., but they do bear spores that they shed to produce new plants.  These fertile stalks do, anyway.  They were just breaking the ground today, but when they mature those honey-comb scales will open to disburse their spores, and then these stalks will wither and disappear.  Other, sterile stalks will continue to grow, opening their chlorophyll-containing "leaves" to sustain them throughout the summer until autumn frost.  None of these green stalks had emerged from the ground as yet.

My next stop today was Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton, where I hoped to find the early-blooming Round-leaved Violet (Viola rotundifolia) starring a mossy bank along the stream.  And behold, there they were! This is a violet that really doesn't seem to mind the cold at all.

What a gorgeous bright lemon-yellow it is, with flowers that emerge even before its leaves open wide.

I haven't seen any other native violets as yet, but I did count on finding some English Violets (Viola odorata) near the Clinton Street entrance to Skidmore College.   I had already found the white variety of this introduced species on the other side of campus, so I wasn't surprised -- although I was definitely delighted! -- to find these deep-purple blooms spreading beneath some stately pines.

For many years, I was stumped as to the species of this beautiful and exquisitely fragrant violet,  but eventually, one of America's foremost violet experts, Harvey Ballard, told me to look for a hooked style, which would be diagnostic for Viola odorata.  So I looked, and there it was!

Since picking violets only encourages the plants to put forth more blooms, I didn't feel bad about making myself a little nosegay to take home.  Tonight, this wee little bouquet is perfuming my entire kitchen.

While there at Skidmore, I decided to take a quick tour of the North Woods, not really expecting to find much new in bloom.  I saw acres and acres of Trout Lily leaves (Erythronium americanum) and had given up hope of finding any in flower, when this pretty duo appeared before my eyes.  Lovely!

A few days ago I had found the little yellow trumpets of Leatherwood flowers (Dirca palustris) just peeking out of their furry buds.  Well, this cold spell sure didn't slow them down!

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) had also ignored the cold, and had put forth their little puffs of yellow-green blooms.

Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) sure has spectacular blooms, and ordinarily we would never see them up high in the canopy, but the path today was littered with these fluffy red "caterpillars," the male flowers ripe and ready to shed their pollen.  I don't know if recent high winds blew them down, or if squirrels have been nipping them off, or if these male flowers typically are shed spontaneously. The female flowers are borne on separate trees, and it is the female flowers that will develop the cottony fluff-covered seeds that will fall like snow across the landscape in early summer.

These are not flowers, but rather the swelling buds of Striped Maple (Acer pensylvaticum).   I think they are among the loveliest growths in the spring woods, with their elegant symmetry and velvety pink leaf buds clasped by ruby-red bud scales, held aloft on deep-red and dark-green twigs that are ringed in gold. They seem to glow with a pearly light in the darkest shadows of the forest.

1 comment:

The Furry Gnome said...

Wonderful things you find in the woods! Another week or so here I think. Currently we're back to frozen and white!