Well, most of the spring wildflowers are finished, but you can still find a few here and there. Especially if you wander around off the beaten path (or paved path, as it were) and momentarily wonder just where the heck you are and where that path went…. I came across a colony of Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) that still had some flowers tucked underneath their leaves.
In the same area I found a few lone Green Dragons (Arisaema dracontium), a relative of Jack-in-the-Pulpit. It’s funny what you run across when you’re not looking for it. And that includes Wood Nettle, the native cousin of Stinging Nettle, which I learned the hard way really does sting when you brush your skin against the hairy stems.
Two other surprises found me at the start of that off-path adventure…Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium) and a few Bluets (Houstonia) in a wet grassy meadow. The meadow gifted me with a tick, too, running up my leg, which I immediately dispatched with a flick of the finger. Okay, it was a tick – a few frantic flicks, ‘cause those little suckers are practically two-dimensional in their flatness and have a study grip!
The False Solomon’s Seals (Smilacina racemosa, a.k.a. Maianthemum racemosum) were both in and out of bloom, though none had quite set seed yet. The Trout Lilies I was hoping to nab some seed off of have already disappeared, dormant for another year. I also must have missed what few Showy Orchis (Galearis spectabilis) plants bloomed this year, as some had brown, crispy petal remnants.
I did see one good-sized clump that seemed to be setting seed, though, so with luck I’ll be back in time to collect a few. My seed collection for the year did start out well with a good crop of Bloodroot, so I’ll get started on prepping them for a winter chill in the ‘fridge. The sap is reddish in the root of the plant, but yellow in the seed pots; if you get enough on you it will stain skin brown for a day or so.
The seeds have an interesting clear, jelly-like protuberance which is attractive to ants – they cart off the seeds to their nest, eat only the bait, and the seed finds itself planted in an ideal environment. Reading up on this online you learn that many forest wildflowers have at least some ant dispersal of their seed.
Fern colonies dot the woods, though I can only guess at some because trying to distinguish between all the different fronds of the native species can quickly leave you cross-eyed. I know Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) since it’s pretty distinctive with simplistic fronds and a dark green, thick substance.
Others I assume are Lady Fern or their relatives (Athyrium); I even saw the clump of Northern Maidenhair (Adiantum pedatum) I found last year.
A few Rattlesnake Ferns (Botrychium virginianum) show up now and then in the more open spaces amongst the understory. They are curious little ferns, with one leafy frond and one fertile one that supposedly resembles a rattlesnake’s rattle because it’s nothing but spore capsules. Reading about their unusual life history in William Cullina’s Native Ferns, Mosses & Grasses gives you extra appreciation for these little troupers – they are fungal parasites, like many orchids, and take years to even send up their first leaf after germinating.
Sadly, I see too many invasive species in the woods around my neighborhood: Elaeagnus, Multiflora Rose, Honeysuckles and the occasional Japanese Barberry and Burning Bush. Japanese Stiltgrass carpets part of the woodland floor; Oriental Bittersweet rambles through shrubs and up into trees; Canada Thistle colonizes a roadside.
Hopefully we can find a way to curtail their spread and restore habitat to our forests. The difference in the diversity of wildlife is so apparent when you visit woodlands where the flora is less disturbed and the plant communities intact. Something may be better than nothing in suburbia, but I still lament the struggling natives and curse the exotic weeds encroaching on the yard.
The one consolation may be the fun of watching one weed smother another and seeing who wins. A mess of shrubbery next to one of our streets is a pile of Honeysuckle growing over Multiflora Rose growing over Bittersweet growing over Elaeagnus. Now that’s comedy.
Click here for part one: The Woods In My Back Yard – Part 1