I suppose it must simply be because of this early spring we’ve experienced this winter, all the snow gone by mid-March, but I seem to be getting ahead of myself this year. I was absolutely convinced that by this time last year the slope leading down to the water at the lake house had been carpeted in wildflowers. That I hadn’t yet seen any wildflowers here I attributed to the fact that we were slightly farther north, didn’t have same sort of nice exposed eastern slope, and – yes, I’ll admit it – I still miss the lake house and have a slightly biased view of it having been a better-quality habitat. Or richer in biodiversity, anyway. I hadn’t seen any evergreen hepatica leaves in our forest here, and so I just figured all those lovely spring wildflowers that I seemed to remember popping up at the cusp of April, the hepaticas and spring beauties and Dutchman’s breeches, must not occur around here.
I’m slowly coming to realize that, as much as I loved that spot, and it did perhaps have a slightly higher number of provincially rare species, much of what was found there I can also find here. I went out into the woods yesterday afternoon to see if there were any signs of spring ephemerals yet. Any at all, and I was fully prepared to not find anything, since, after all, I hadn’t spotted any hepatica and it should be visible as soon as the snow’s melted. I was pleased when I came across a patch of Trout Lily in one of the little patches of trees left in the middle of the first meadow. Just the leaves so far, the flowers will be a while to come yet. But it will still be nice to have that splash of colour on the forest floor.
I wandered through another patch of trees without seeing anything, and then ducked into an area that’s effectively just part of the expansive woods that fill the neighbour’s property, distinct only in that a cedar rail fence runs through it, half a dozen meters from the edge of the trees, defining the boundary between the two properties. I found some more Trout Lily, and then, a short distance away, some frilly leaves that I recognized at once. Dutchman’s Breeches! I looked more carefully, and sure enough there was another patch, and then another. One or two even had flower stems with half-formed flower buds on them, promising of good things to come. Oh, how exciting!
I pushed on, looking more carefully now. Probably they hadn’t been present a week ago when I wandered through, or maybe I just wasn’t looking in the right spots then, but now as I looked I discovered there was quite a bit of the wildflower. In one spot, on a fairly steep east-facing slope, there were even a couple of plants with nearly fully-formed flowers. That’ll teach me to doubt!
I found a few other things while searching the forest floor, too. I turned up two trilliums, this one with a flower bud. I don’t think of trilliums as blooming until two or three weeks after this other stuff, so this individual seems quite early to me. It looks like it will be a white flower – perhaps not a great surprise, as that’s the most common colour in our forests.
In a few spots there were these small, tapered leaves, growing in pairs, scattered in patches. I didn’t know what they were and I walked right by them at first. Then one caught my eye: it had flower buds! Looking more closely, it turned out that these were Spring Beauties, not yet opened. Another I hadn’t expected to see here! Neither the Dutchman’s Breeches nor the Spring Beauties grew in the mixed-wood forest where I grew up, and I’d come to regard them as a Carolinian species. I knew that pseudo-Carolinian habitat extended up from the Kingston area along the Frontenac Arch, where we were at the lake house, but figured we were too far north here for them, especially when there weren’t any hepaticas. I know, I know – I hinged quite a lot on the presence or absence of those hepaticas.
And finally, a flowering grass, which I almost passed by before I realized it was blooming. I’m not sure what species this is; I tried looking it up, but without success. There are just so many species, and searches are complicated by all the cultivated varieties available for gardens. So it will have to remain unidentified.
This afternoon I looked up my wildflower post from last year. Sure that it had been in the first week of April, I was surprised to discover I’d posted it on April 17. The photos used in it were taken on April 14. So we really are right on time this year.
Now that the snow has melted out of the forests, and the lake has opened up, there’s the opportunity to take the boat across the water to the park to do a bit of hiking there again. I haven’t been in to the park to hike since last fall, and although much of the park along Kingsford is very similar to much of the non-park along Kingsford, it was still with some anticipation that I pushed the boat into the water. Raven didn’t share my enthusiasm. Although she’s getting more comfortable with splashing in the water, as long as her feet can touch bottom, and she’s come to enjoy car rides, sitting at the window with a big grin on her face, she is still rather apprehensive about the boat. I suppose that’s to be expected; she hasn’t had occasion to be in it since before the snows fell. We’re trying to get her over it by always making sure there’s a good romp at the other side. But in the meantime, she sits huddled by the driver with a worried expression and the occasional whimper.
We had a really nice hike. Just a short one, I didn’t want to be gone too long, although I could easily have spent the whole day out. It was one of those perfect-weather days. Aside from a brisk breeze when you were down at the water, the temperature was just right – warm enough to be comfortable in a t-shirt, but not too warm to cause sweating. We walked across a couple of ridges, ending up at a small vernal pool where frogs were chirping. Unfortunately, Raven discovered it before I did, so by the time I reached it the frogs were no longer chirping. I called her back to me and we sat still together at the shore for a few minutes, hoping the frogs would feel danger had passed and start up again, but they didn’t. Ah well. Can’t really beat last weekend’s encounter anyway.
Over the last week or so I had been checking the forests for wildflowers, watching for the first signs of some of my favourites. The hepatica have started blooming, and in some spots, particularly open south-facing slopes, they are prolific. However, there had been little sign of anything else. I found the odd green shoot here or there, but nothing I could definitively identify. I figured that the wildflowers were still a week or two away, so while I continued to watch, I wasn’t really expecting to see anything.
So it was with a bit of pleasant surprise that I spotted a couple of Spring Beauties blooming beside the trail leading down to our dock. Small flowers, pale with pinkish stripey veins. Although they are widespread throughout the east, I only consciously recall encountering them when I was down on Pelee Island. I’m not sure why I would have missed seeing them around my parents’ old place, since it seems unlikely that they would have been absent. Over in the park, there were areas where they were so abundant they sprinkled the forest floor like garnish on a cake. And as delicious to the eyes as the cake is to the tongue. Speaking of tongue, apparently these flowers grow little tuber-like nodules on their roots which are edible and somewhat tasty when boiled.
I was so focused on the Spring Beauties that I nearly missed these Bloodroot, not two feet away. Bloodroot is one of my favourite forest wildflowers, one of those species that you can see dozens of times and still point it out and say, “Look! Bloodroot!”, each time anew. There were actually a few patches of it blooming on our southeastern-facing slope, but I encountered none in the park, not even furled-up leaves with the promise of becoming broad, snowy blossoms. Bloodroot, of course, takes its name from the orange-red juices that seep from the stem and veins when broken. Native Americans would use this colour as a dye, but more interestingly it can also serve as an effective insect repellent. Provided you don’t mind your face and skin being smeared with orange.
As I carried on down the trail to the dock I started paying more attention to the green stuff that was poking up from the fallen leaves. Up on the slope there was a large wash of it, and using my binoculars to get a closer look, it resolved into Dutchman’s Breeches – blooming! An extensive patch of the stuff, all with short spikes of white-and-yellow flowers. This is another species that I’ve only encountered on Pelee Island. It has a more southerly distribution but is still found through much of the east. It is related to the cultivated bleeding hearts found in many gardens (an Asian species, of course, although we also have native North American ones). The deeper flowers of the Dutchman’s Breeches requires pollinators with long proboscises, and their primary visitors are bumblebees, such as the Tricolored Bumblebee below.
I didn’t see any blooming in the park, either, although I did find a few that were getting close. It will be interesting to revisit the park in a week or so once everything’s opened up and blooming. I have a feeling, from what I saw today, that it will be a veritable blanket of wildflowers covering the forest floor.