Monday, April 28, 2014

Spring Wildflowers are Nature's Gems

Dutchman's breeches mingling with wild leeks.

Bluets
HAMDEN, Conn. - Many of the wildflowers blooming at this time are small and unnoticeable. Take bluets, for example. The four light blue petals with a yellow center are beautiful close-up. These tiny flowers can be found in dry lawns or fields and are easily stepped on or even eradicated from lawns in the quest to be weed-free.

"Weeds are a name humans have given a plant they do not want," said Chris Fagen during the spring wildflower hike at Sleeping Giant State Park. Dandelions also fall into this category.

Fagen and Dick Majka, hike leaders from the Sleeping Giant Park Association, partnered up to lead a three hour tour through the trails of the park in search of wildflowers on Sunday.

Many wildflowers appear quickly in spring and disappear within a few weeks. Considered spring ephemerals, the entire life cycle of the plant occurs before the trees leaf out and block the sunlight from reaching the ground. The plants often go dormant during the summer. They are perennials and are an important food source to early emerging insects.

Skunk cabbage surrounding a tree.
While this winter lasted longer than usual, Fagen said springs on average are beginning earlier. "We are two to three weeks advanced because of global warming [than previous years]," he said.

"Winter was so lengthened that the flowers may not be out there yet," said Fagen. "Normally we find 30-40 species. It was just too cold this season."

Two species that were behind schedule included marsh marigold and false hellebore, which grow alongside skunk cabbage at the park.

Pussytoes
White Flowers Rule the Spring
Fagen recommended purchasing a guide that has the photos and description listed together, not in separate sections, to make identification easier. (New England Wildflowers: A Guide to Common Plants is designed this way.)

Besides looking up flower color, Majka recommended to "look at the habitat to help you identify it."

For example, if you find bluets in your lawn, this indicates the soil is a little more acidic. On the hike, bluets were found under the pine trees by the park's entrance. (Pine needles often increase the acidity of the soil.) Accompanying bluets were also pussytoes that were not yet blooming. They both share a fondness for drier soil.
Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman's breeches have little white flowers that resemble pants on a clothing line. They bloom April through May and like moist, rich soil. They were found nearby intermingling with bloodroot (which blooms from March through May) which has small white flowers that don't last long. "They do their thing and then they are gone," said Fagen.

The moist soil was also home to wild leeks, or ramps (which bloom June through July). "The flower spike will come up and the leaves will disappear," said Fagen. The leaves are popular in southern cuisine.

The yellow flower of the trout lily stood out in the sea of white flowers and fallen leaves. "Trout Lily is one of the most beautiful flowers you can see," said Fagen. The speckled leaves are similar to the speckled skin of trout, which is how it got its name (it also is referred to as Dogtooth Violet).

Blue cohosh gets its name not by the flower (which is yellow) but by the blue berries it produces. "It has a weird little flower," said Fagen. "Ten years ago it wasn't here." Now the park has a sizable portion, perhaps due to fallen trees that have allowed more light to reach the ground.

Trout lily
Another white flower that was just beginning to bloom was wood anemone. "Wood anemone comes out in patches," said Fagen. "Usually it is out the same time as trout lily." Saxifrage, which looks similar to pussytoes, is also referred to as "stone splitter" since it grows in dry rocky areas.

Red trillium was the star of the hike, due to its almost maroon flowers. Did you know that trilliums are one of the most stolen plants from the woods? Only purchase from a reputable source. Fagen recommended purchasing wildflowers through White Flower Farm or Natureworks.

Wildflowers make great additions to the garden because they are native plants. Majka recommended minimizing the use of "alien" plants, such as yellow iris which originates from Europe, western Asia and northwest Africa but can be invasive in aquatic settings. "You have to be careful when you choose plants," said Fagen.

The Connecticut Botanical Society has a helpful chart to help in identifying wildflowers here.

Carole Seville Brown also spoke about the importance of native plants during her lecture at the CMGA Symposium in March.

Bloodroot

Blue cohosh

Trillium
Saxifrage

2 comments:

  1. Wow! We saw more than I thought yesterday! Great chronicling of our walk in the woods. Hope to see you on another hike! best ...

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  2. Thanks! I do plan on doing more of them! It was really informative and fun!

    ReplyDelete