My friend Sue has volunteered to lead a wildflower walk in the woods at Skidmore College this week, so I joined her on a scouting mission Monday afternoon, hoping to find lots of pretty spring wildflowers to show our friends when they walk this woods on Thursday. Well, we can promise they will find LOTS of flowers, but unless this midweek warmth summons other species to bloom, those flowers will all be Hepatica -- both Sharp-lobed and Round-lobed species, but all Hepaticas. But that doesn't mean the flowers will all look alike. One of the wonderful qualities of this earliest-blooming native wildflower, is that it comes in so many different colors. Here's just a sampling of those we found Monday, as well as a few examples of other color variations, found at Skidmore and other places nearby.
The first flowers we found were hidden within fur-covered buds just a few days ago, but now they had opened wide into lavender gorgeousness, their lovely color amplified by how they sparkled in the sunlight.
Here were more of a similar color, but these presented more of a bi-color look, as their lavender sepals faded to sparkling white at the center. What look like petals are actually colorful sepals, for Hepaticas do not have petals. And these sepals can number more than the six you see here.
Here, for example, was a row of pale pink blooms, displaying seven to nine sepals. This linear arrangement of posy-topped stems brought to my mind the "pretty maids all in a row" of "Mary, Mary, quite contrary's" garden. The tachinid fly, a pollen-eating species, was probably attracted more by the pollen than the beauty. But maybe both! They do have big eyes to see with.
How to describe this glowing color? Is it purplish or pinkish? Or shades of both? Whatever hue we call it by, the colors seemed incandescent on the shady forest floor.
Here was a blooming cluster of purest white, the flowers startling in their brilliance against the dark moss-covered boulder.
More pinky-purple blooms, but these with their color beautifully arrayed against the Morocco red of the sharp-lobed leaves. The leaves we see on Hepatica plants this time of year all were formed last year, and they have retained their beautiful colors throughout the winter, under the snow. These leaves will fade as the flowers go to seed and this year's new leaves arise.
A portion of the trail we followed led us below a steep forested hillside. Abundant Hepatica plants were tucked in among the rocks on the hill, and because of the slope, the afternoon sunlight shone through their translucent leaves, rendering them as ruby a red as that of stained glass.
All the Hepaticas Sue and I found on our walk were adorned with flowers of a rather muted color. But over the years, both here at Skidmore and in other woods nearby, I have found this native wildflower in more vibrant colors. This richly deep-purple one was blooming in the Skidmore woods just a year ago. Maybe we will discover it again this week.
This deep magenta one I found on the shore of Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park a couple of years ago. Such an intensely vivid color! I have returned to the same location each year since to search it out, but have never found it again. I wonder, do the same plants produce flowers of the same color every year? Or do their flowers vary in color from year to year?
Here's another remarkably vivid beauty, sky-blue fading to cloud-white, looking quite luminous, as if the flowers were lit from within. These were growing on the edge of a wooded swamp south of Ballston Spa.
This flower was as misty-pale as those last three were deeply vibrant. And the flower was small, even smaller than its fur-covered bud scales. It seemed to me such a tender, infant-like flower, I wanted to give it a little kiss. We can see, though, by its developing pistils and stamens, that it's getting ready to do very grown-up things!
And here is the Raving Beauty of them all! Snowy-white sepals, each one edged with a vivid rosy purple. Wow! A few years back, these remarkable blooms called to me from a forested plot along the Zim Smith Bike Trail south of Ballston Spa, and I could hardly believe my eyes. A fence with a "No Trespassing" sign tried to prevent me from taking a closer look but, as this photo attests, it didn't! I'm awfully glad that I risked arrest in order to photograph this beauty, though. I've peered through that fence many times since then, but this particular plant with its unique color pattern has never appeared again. Except in my photo files.
We wildflower enthusiasts are extremely grateful to Hepaticas, for delivering such beautiful blooms to our flower-starved gaze so early each spring. But even after the blooms have faded, Hepaticas keep on delivering one kind of beauty after another. Just as its colorful sepals fade and its flowers are forming seeds, new glossy-green leaves spring from the ground, creating graceful leafy mounds among the brown woodland duff.
And those chartreuse spiky seedpods, nestled within a ruff of spring-green bracts, are as lovely in their own way as their floral forebears were in theirs. This particular seedpod happened to get caught in a notch of a newly formed leaf, an accidental placement that amplifies the beauty of each.
And those lovely leaves just keep being lovely, all winter long, some growing even lovelier as their color changes to shades of red. I took this photo of Sharp-lobed Hepatica leaves in late October, and I can tell how cold it was that day by how shriveled were the leaves of the Atrichum undulatum moss the leaves are resting on. This is an evergreen moss, but it does shrivel up when the weather turns dry and cold. The Hepatica leaves do not, though.
And finally, as Winter ends and Spring approaches, Hepatica can hardly wait to re-awaken. Snow may still lie in the forest's shady hollows and temperatures may still fall below freezing each night, but the flower buds start pushing up from the barely unfrozen ground, well before any other signs of new life can be found. Both the gracefully arching stems and the tightly closed bud scales are covered with fine down, a woolly bunting worn to protect the baby flowers within. And when those furry bud scales begin to open, even the still-closed flowers have a beauty all their own.