11 April 2011
The spring flora is responding to the warm weather and things are beginning to stir in the floodplain forest behind the school. This is a great time of the year to walk the same path several times over a couple of weeks and to witness the changes underfoot. Allow yourself to be surprised!
On a quiet walk today, along the trail near the firepond, I came upon two garter snakes, each a bit more than a foot long.
Two garter snakes on their honeymoon? These snakes are not very agressive and not poisonous. If one keeps still, one has a good chance to observe their graceful movements.
In the forest below the firepond, 3-leaved seedlings were poking here and there out of the ground between trout lily leaves.
The pea-like seedlings between the blotched trout lily leaves belong to a rare annual spring ephemeral, the false mermaid weed (Floerkea proserpinacoides). Craig Holdrege introduced me to this plant on a springflower walk many years ago.
On a gravelbar of the Agawamuck, false mermaid weed grows in dense patches. Seen in such abundance, it is hard to believe that this is a regionally rare plant found exclusively along streams. Other than most spring flowers, who overwinter with bulbs or tubers, this little plant sprouts from seed early in spring. In a few weeks it will present its tiny, 3-parted green flowers, go to seed, and by mid-summer you wont see a trace of it any more...
Along the path towards the swimpond, these finely dissected leaves begin to push up.
This plant is a wild relative of bleeding heart, which you might have seen in gardens. In a few weeks, look for its curiously shaped white flowers that remind people of a pair of pantaloons, hence the name Dutchmans breeches. Dutchmans breeches is another regionally rare plant species that occurs in our valley in a nice big patch, extending from the floodplain forest up a steep rocky slope.
I went off trail and carefully traversed the floodplain forest to see who else might be “up and about”. I was thrilled to find the first bloodroot of the year.
Its flower still closed, the characteristic leaf tightly wrapped around itself, like a cloak, this bloodroot is waiting for one more warm and sunny day to open its short-lived flower. Bloodroot provides early season pollen to many native insects, and, as Martin Holdrege showed in his senior thesis, some of these species appear on the farm fields to pollinate our veggies later in the season.
Near the bloodroot, these pale-looking leaves emerged from bulbs.
Wild leek (Allium tricoccum) is edible, but should not be harvested in great numbers in our floodplain forest. Wild populations are easily decimated by over-harvesting, especially if the bulbs are taken. Break off just a corner of a leaf to get a good whiff and taste of onion.
Speaking of onions: at this time of the year, two other members of the genus Allium (which includes our cultivated chives and onions) here in the floodplain forest.
The dark green leaves, that are round in cross-section, belong to the non-native field garlic (Allium vineale) or garlic grass. It grows not only in the floodplain but in upland forest and on pastures, where it can give the milk a garlicky taste. The lighter green leaves, which are flat in cross-section, belong to the native floodplain forest specialist wild onion (Allium canadense). Come back later in spring to see the difference in flowers!
A prominent element of the floodplain forest at this time of the year are these clusters of unrolling, heart-shaped leaves that belong to a violet.
Wild violets flower in white, yellow, and shades of blue/violet. This is likely a common blue violet. The leaves of all violets are food for the caterpillars of frittilary butterflies.
Finally, the mystery of the common grass that grows so gregariously right along and sometimes even in the Agawamuck.
Reed canary grass is a wetland grass that used to be native in our region. Agricultural varieties have been introduced and now seem to make up most reed canary grass populations, which have a tendency to do a bit too well and to out-compete native plants in unmanaged environments.