Juvenal’s duskywing on native Geranium maculatum

“The butterfly is a flying flower,
The flower a tethered butterfly.”
― Ponce Denis Écouchard Le Brun

May is a harbinger of things to come and the herald of things that are already here. Each May I look forward to the appearance of certain ephemeral wildflowers and butterflies that are worth the effort often necessary to search for them. For instance, small butterflies often have a limited flight range, and to find them, you need to know when they start to fly, what flowers they visit, and what the host plants are for their caterpillars. Some wildflowers can be hidden by taller plants surrounding them and a surprise when come across.

Eastern pine elfin on a blade of grass

The Eastern pine elfin, Callophrys niphon, is a tiny hairstreak butterfly  that has only one brood and a flight time that may go from mid-April- June, but is more likely to be found in  flying about in mid-May. Small enough to fit on your fingernail, this elfin is often seen nectaring on blueberry, huckleberry and wild strawberry near its caterpillar’s host plant, white pine.

Eastern pine elfin

Henry’s elfin, Callophrys henrici, is another small hairstreak with an early spring flight time. Mid May is a good time to look for males perching on host plants like redbud, huckleberry, blueberry and viburnums during the day. Nectar sources include willows, hawthorn and pussytoes. Where both species are found, you may come across both the eastern pine and Henry’s elfins in the same stand of wild blueberries or huckleberries.

Henry’s elfin

Horace’s duskywing, Erynnis horatiu,s is another small butterfly found in dry fields near oaks, which is the host plant of its caterpillar. Often confused with Juvenal’s duskywing which flies at the same time, Horace’s  has several larger glassy spots on the forewings. They have a rapid, darting flight and feed and perch with wings outstretched.

Horace’s duskywing

One flowered cancer root is an interesting parasitic wildflower that has no chlorophyll and depends upon a host plant for nutrients. An annual, once the seed germinates, a host plant must be found within a day. Hosts include the genus Sedum and members of the families Saxifragaceae and Asteraceae. The plant consists of a 3-10 inch stem with a single purple to white flower which is covered in hairs and looks like sugar crystals have been sprinkled on it. Look for this plant in May in wet fields or meadows among tall grasses with host plants nearby.

One-flowered cancer root

Garlic mustard, while an invasive plant and worthy of being pulled up, is still useful to bees as a pollen and nectar source. While of use to native pollinators, I still yank out any garlic mustard I can and hope native plants like Geranium maculatum will take its place.

Tiny bee on garlic mustard flower

Columbine and Geranium maculatum bloom for a long period of time and are visited by many pollinators, with columbine a favorite of hummingbirds as well. These plants are often found together along country roadsides and ditches, as well as power line right-of-ways. If at the edge of woods, nodding trillium may also be found nearby. This trillium has very large leaves which hide the drooping flower beneath them.

Columbine and Geranium maculatum

Fringed polygala, a diminutive wildflower that is no taller than 6 inches and has tiny pink airplane- like flowers is a personal favorite. Two of the flower petals unite to form a tube, with the third keeled with a pink fringe. They can be found along dappled wood lines in May or under pines.

Fringed polygala

Shrubs and small trees also can have striking flowers, and one is the nannyberry, Viburnum lentago. Tiny white flowers occuring downward curved panicles that can be 5 inches across. Flowers attract many native pollinators and later on the fruits are eaten by many bird species.

Blackhaw or nannyberry viburnum

The native pinxter is another shrub or small tree that makes itself known through its display of showy pink flower clusters that appear before its leaves and linger well after its leaves are fully out. Hummingbirds visit the flowers of this wetland plant.

Pinxterflower near a woodland swamp

This spring has had a good display of both native and ornamental flowering trees, shrubs, bulbs and early perennials. Butterflies are already more abundant than last year, and hopefully that will continue throughout the year. Spring is the forerunner of better things to come, but for right now, spring has enough for those of us who are wildflower and butterfly enthusiasts.

Pamm Cooper

Swallowtails like this spicebush swallowtail are in flight in May

columbine Ruby Fenton May 12.2012

Native columbine

“Do you know why wildflowers are the most beautiful blossoms of all, my son?”

― Micheline Ryckman,  The Maiden Ship 

Why are wildflowers the most beautiful of flowers? Perhaps it is because they are untamed by mankind and often appear when one is not even looking for them. In spring, one of the pleasures of getting out on nature trails or trekking through the woods is coming across some of Connecticut’s spring blooming wildflowers. These colorful and interesting signs that warmer weather has arrived are a welcome distraction to the events around us. Whether found on purpose or by a happy coincidence, these wildflowers are interesting in their own ways.

pinxter flower native 5-22-15 Ruby Fenton

Native pinxter azalea shrub in bloom along the edge of a steam

Canada lousewort Pedicularis canadensis, also called wood betony, is a native plant in the broomrape family that is found in open woods, clearings and thickets. It has small, 2-lipped yellow flowers in a tight spike. Flowers open from the bottom and progress upward. Plants can range from as low as 5 inches in height to 14 inches. Leaves are fernlike and form a basal rosette. It is a hemiparasite that attaches to the roots of other plants while still producing chlorophyll of its own. Look for these wildflowers as early as April- June. Bees will pollinate wood betony.

lousewort 5-23-15

Canada lousewort- Pedicularis canadensis– wood betony

Asarum canadense, wild ginger, is native to eastern North America and can create a slow-growing groundcover in shady deciduous forests and can be found in the rich soils of shady deciduous forests. Flowers are seldom seen unless one knows where to look. Lifting the leaves reveals the bell-shaped flowers at the base of the plant close to the ground. Flowers have three triangular reddish- brown petals that fold back to reveal with an attractive red and white pattern that reminds me of looking into a kaleidoscope.

Wild Ginger (Asarum Canadense) May 20 2018

Flower of wild ginger Asarum canadense

Limber Honeysuckle Lonicera dioica is a native honeysuckle vine that blooms from May-June. Found in bogs or other wet areas, this plant has leaves that clasp the stem much like native boneset. The flowers of this honeysuckle are very attractive to bumblebees.

limber vine honeysuckle Pamm Cooper copyright 2016 - Copy

Limber vine honeysuckle

 

May apple, Podophyllum peltatun, is an interesting native plant that will have two leaves when a flower is produced, but only one leaf if no flower is produced. The large palmately lobed leaves are on the ends of long upright stems and resemble umbrellas. Flowers occur one to a plant, never more, are white with prominent yellow stamens, and are hidden under the leaves at the junction of the two leaf stems.

May apple plants

May apple colony

Violets seem to be everywhere- in lawns waste areas, woodland edges and trails. Over twenty species of violets are found in Connecticut, among them the bird’s foot violet, Viola pedata, distinguished by its finely cut leaf lobes that resemble the foot of a bird.  The petals are flat, with the upper two slightly folded back, and together with the prominent orange stamens it looks to me like it is sticking out its tongue at the observer.

birds foot violet May 2013

Bird’s foot violet Viola pedata

Common Blue Violet Viola sororia

Common blue violet Viola sororia

Trailing Arbutus is a low-growing shrub, usually under three inches tall. As the name implies, it forms a creeping mat, with trailing stems. A good feature for identification of this plant are the stems- six to 16 inches long and covered with bristly, rusty hairs. Leaf edges are toothless, but may also have the same stiff, brown hairs, as do the sepals. The tubular pink to white flowers will appear from April through May here in Connecticut.

trailing arbutus showing hairs on stems and leaf edges April 2020

Trailing arbutus with bristly hairs on leaf edges, sepals and stems

Purple  trillium Trillium erectum

Purple trillium Trillium erectum

Trillium begin blooming in late April or very early May, with different species flowering as late as early June.  The flower of nodding trillium, Trillium cernuum, may be overlooked as it dangles directly below its rather large leaves and is found in damper, shadier woodland areas than the more common purple trillium.

nodding trillium 5-21-16

Flowers of nodding trillium Trillium cernuum are hidden underneath broad leaves

There are so many wildflowers appearing in spring now that it is impossible to include them all in an online journal which is of little importance except to the writer. We all have our favorites, though, and the one I look forward to finding the most is the diminutive fringed polygala. A pink cross between a tiny airplane and Mickey Mouse, it one of nature’s adorable, delightful jewels.

fringed polygala May 13,Pamm Cooper photo

The exotic flower of fringed polygala

 

Pamm Cooper

 

   

tulip tree bloom

Tulip tree in flower

 

“ The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.”

  • Henry Van Dyke, Fisherman’s Luck

 

The first day of spring was in March and I feel like we have been gypped so far in 2019. The expected arrival of warm weather, or just sunny days for that matter, has not come upon us yet. The almost daily rains of April and May so make Seattle look dry by comparison. But enough griping about the weather. May is here and with it come the birds, flowers and butterflies that winter had kept at bay.

red bud flowers May 6 2019

Eastern redbud trees flower in early May

Pinxter Azalea, Rhododendron periclymenoides, is a native rhododendron that has tubular pink and white fragrant flowers that appear just before the leaves expand. It is found in moist soils along stream or pond banks. Pinxters sometimes have a juicy, sweet “apple” gall formed by the fungus  Exobasidium vaccinaii.

pinxter flower native 5-22-15 Ruby Fenton - Copy

Pinxter azalea flowers

pinxter apple (2)

Pinxter apple is really a gall

Native tulip trees, Liriodendron tulipifera,  bloom in May, and when they do, it is apparent how they received their common name. Yellow and orange flowers resemble tulips, standing upright among the flat-tipped leaves. This tree is sometimes called yellow poplar and is one of the largest trees in North America, sometimes reaching a height of over ninety feet.

Some native wildflowers are putting in their appearance now. One of my favorites is the diminutive gaywings or fringed polygala-Polygala paucifolia. Usually no taller than 6 inches, these plants may go unnoticed along woodland edges or peeking up out of needles lying under white pines in open woods. The magenta flowers have three petals, one of which is keeled and ends in a pink fringe.

fringed polygala May 13, 2015 Pamm Cooper photo

Fringed polygala

Solomons’s seal is a native wildflower that is a good choice for use in woodland gardens. Its dangling white flowers along graceful, arching stems produce blue- black berries later in the fall. Hummingbirds will visit the fragrant, sweet smelling flowers. Geranium maculatum is another native wildflower that can be used in shade gardens.

variegated Solomon's seal

Variegated Solomon’s seal

Swallowtail and other butterflies are seen regularly now that temperatures (rising at a glacial pace!) have warmed up and plants have leafed out. Painted ladies and red admirals have arrived from their southern wintering areas, and other butterflies should eclose from their chrysalises as the weather warms up. The gray hairstreak, one of the first hairstreaks besides the spring azure to make its appearance in May, should be out in warmer areas of Connecticut.

first gray hairstreak seen 2018 may

Gray hairstreak butterfly in May

Migrating birds have been a little slow to return, but thrushes, Orioles, tanagers and veerys arrived at their usual time when oaks are in flower. Warblers are pushing through on their way to their northern breeding grounds. Magnolia warblers arrive as crabapples are blooming and may linger around until it warms up. Listen for bird songs of warblers on Cornell’s allaboutbirds.org website, and then see if you can spot them with a pair of trusty binoculars.

Wilsons 5-12-14

Wilson’s warbler passing through on its journey north

Green tree frogs have been trilling during the day and turtles may be seen as they begin to look for mates and afterward for suitable nesting sites. Efts and salamanders may be seen on rainy days, or on sunny days following rains, and box turtles often are seen as they cross roads during or after rainy days. Things always perk up a little for me I see my first eft of the red-spotted newt out and about, usually in mid-May.

eft form of red- spotted newt 2017

Eft form of the red-spotted newt

 

Of course, spring is not always a jolly time for gardeners. Lily leaf beetles, rose slug sawflies, asparagus beetles and gypsy moth caterpillars are here and carrying on with their plant damaging specialties. Check plants regularly to stop some of these pests in their tracks.

lily leaf beetle GHills mid- MAy 2018

The harbinger of doom for true lilies and fritillarias- the lily leaf beetle

T

 

But it is May. And May is not, by nature, a limpid herald of doom, but rather a forerunner of the warm, sunny days to come. Cheer up, little buttercup! The best is yet to come.

Pamm Cooper

 

wild columbine and geranium maculatum by a roadside

wild columbine and wild geraniums by a country roadside

striped jack-in-the-pulpit for web site

A striped Jack-in-the- pulpit just off a bike trail

“Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own.”

-Charles Dickens

As we move into late spring, especially after the rather gray, wet spring we have had so far, the sunny, warmer days of late bring a little excitement to both gardeners and hikers alike. Plants are starting to provide lush green backdrops for their flowers, while insects, animals and birds are increasing their activities. Gardens centers are providing bountiful selections for everyone, and there are new cultivars every year to provide interest in the landscape. As we move into a more outdoorsy mode of life, we can have encounter pleasant surprises wherever we may go in our travels.

For instance, at this time of year, female turtles of many species are commonly seen as they leave their normal adult habitat and go off searching for egg- laying sites. For the past two years, I have found two different spotted turtles in almost the exact same place, at almost the same date as they travel back from laying eggs. These are different turtles, though, as the spotting patterns are remarkably different.

spotted turtle with constellation of spots May 30 2018

Spotted turtle on the move- May 30 2018

A surprise discovery for me this year was when I noticed a number of tiny, barrel- shaped leaf rolls on a small oak sapling. Some insect had cut the lobes and then rolled them up tightly while still attached by the midrib. After some research, these structures were found to be called a nidus (Latin for nest) formed by the female leaf- rolling, or thief weevil Homoeolobus ssp. An egg is laid within the leaf before the third roll is made.

leaf rolling weevil Homoeolabus analis

Work of the leaf-rolling weevil

Plenty of plant galls can be seen now, especially on oaks. One interesting gall is called the wool sower gall, which is formed on oaks by the larval feeding of the certain wasps. The gall resembles a toasted marshmallow, with white fibrous masses that at first have a yellow- seed like capsules though out the gall.  Each capsule contains a wasp larva.

wool sower wasp gall

Gall formed on an oak by the wool sower gall wasp

In the town where I live, there is an unusual tree growing in a woodland wetland area. I noticed it several years ago only because of the striking white flowers that stood out amidst all the green foliage of native trees and shrubs. It was identified by a tree expert as a Fraser magnolia which is native to the southern Appalachians. He thought it was probably brought here in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s by people who had a homestead on this site, who perhaps came from that area of the country.

Fraser Magnolia

Fraser Magnolia in the wild in Manchester, Ct.

Insects are more noticeable now as more species increase in both numbers and activity, including, unfortunately, the notorious lily leaf beetle. Check Asiatic day lilies for eggs and larvae now. And the giant silkworm moths are emerging from their cocoons now. I had the impressive eyed click beetle land near me the other day, and shortly after that encountered the first gray hairstreak butterfly of the year. Always a positive experience for me to see any butterfly- except maybe the cabbage white…?

eyed click beetle just out late May 2018

eyed click beetle

first gray hairstreak seen 2018 May 15

Gray hairstreak spotted in late May

Deer are looking a bit scraggly as they lose their winter coats, and early June is the time that fawns are born. Raccoons also have their young this time of year, as well. Fox kits should already be accompanying  their parents of hunting forays.

baby raccoons June 2

Baby raccoons- maybe two weeks old

Lady slippers, wild geraniums, columbine, black cherry and other native plants are blooming now. And if that isn’t enough, you can always get some interesting flowers to enjoy at home. An unusual offering from the Tri-county Greenhouse in Mansfield Depot is the bat-faced heather. And a Thunbergia alata cultivar called “Tangerine slice’ is striking if you are looking for a good vining plant.

wild columbine and geranium maculatum by a roadside

Wild columbine and Geranium maculatum by a roadside

bat-faced heather from Tri- Coumty Greenhouse Mansfield Depot

Bat-faced heather

tangerine slice Thunbergia alata

Tangerine slice Thunbergia– Pamm Cooper photo

You never know what things of interest you may see, whether in the great outdoors or a good garden center. Image the unexpected pleasure of seeing a couple of ducks who were enjoying being taken for a walk on an airline trail. That was the best surprise for me on that particular day in the great outdoors!

Crowley and Dean out for a walk

Crowley and Dean out for a walk

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pinxterflower Native Azalea blooming in late May in Northern Connecticut

Pinxter flower Native Azalea blooming in late May in Northern Connecticut

“What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade.”
– Gertrude Jekyll, On Gardening

My spirit always gets a jolt of energy and enthusiasm when green again is the prevailing color in the landscape, sprinkled here and there with the hues of native flowers. Along with the color reversal- the drabness of winter transformed to the vitality of new growth- comes the corresponding fauna that completes the composition of the landscape. Together, it is a better symphony than even Mozart could compose. For good or bad, nature has its own comprehensive coordination of flora and fauna, and all play the perfect instrument in the classical themes of nature. Phenology is a reliable system of determining what is happening and where to look for it.

This spring may have been late to start, plant development being 10 to 15 days behind “ normal”. But once plants started to green up, animals, birds and insects appeared on schedule right behind them. Last week, mantids emerged from their egg cases which normally is an event of mid- May rather than late May. But they are on a timetable that is in harmony with a calendar that is unrelated to the one we go by, and as such they can never be ‘ late”.

Chipping sparrows just hatched Late May

Chipping sparrows just hatched Late May

Late May is the time of lady slippers, columbine, tulip tree flowers and the star grasses. June follows with the milkweeds, the first of which is usually the whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), which is found in dry soils often near woodland edges in a little shade. The Pinxter azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides) can flower from early May to early June depending on location here in Connecticut. Named for the European Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), Pinxter has honeysuckle-like flowers that are fragrant and appear in early spring, generally before the leaves appear. Look for these near the upland edges of ponds and streams.

Native Columbine

Native Columbine

This time of year gray tree frogs can be found along the ground and on low shrubs looking for mates. These frogs sing answering choruses during the day from perches in trees and come down during the night to feed on insects and other morsels. They may be endangered by mowing lawns as they are not exactly swift to respond to dangers while in the courting mode. Box turtles often appear in open areas during the day following rains. Many a box turtle leaving its forest home for a day has been spared from death when crossing the roads by alert and kindly motorists.

gray tree frog saved from the mower June 3 2015

Gray tree frog saved from a bad mowing experience on June 3 2015

Leaf feeding beetles are in full force now, including some of the more. Check native viburnum and dogwood for the attractively marked calligrapha beetles that feed exclusively on these trees and shrubs. Not as worrisome as the viburnum leaf beetles and the dogwood sawflies, these beetles usually occur in small numbers and are seldom pests. Potato beetles are laying eggs as we speak, so be on the alert for rows of yellow eggs on potato and related plants.

3-lined potato beetle laying eggs on nightshade June 3, 2015

3-lined potato beetle laying eggs on nightshade June 3, 2015

The colorful lily leaf beetle has already laid eggs, and its larvae are active now. On a good note, assassin bugs and predatory plant bugs are currently on the prowl and also should be laying eggs. Lady beetle larvae are also active now. So with mantids out and with the other predatory insects active in the landscape, aphids and other pests may be taken out to some degree. Pine sawyer adults are also active now and they are sometimes attracted to oil based stains applied to decks and railings.

Viburnum calligrapha beetle

Viburnum calligrapha beetle

Dogwood calligrapha beetle

Dogwood calligrapha beetle

If you have catbirds and cardinals living nearby, you may want to add a birdbath to your landscape. Catbirds especially enjoy a good bath morning and evening. Make sure to put the birdbath where afternoon sun will not cause the water to get too hot. Catbirds in particular take objection to a hot bath and will let you know the water needs changing. My dad had catbirds for years that would mew loudly after testing the water with their feet and found it was too hot for their taste. So he would put fresh water in and, within seconds, the birds were having a cool, afternoon bath.

Busy birdbath

Busy birdbath

Enjoy what remains of this spring. Remember to water any recently planted trees, shrubs and other plants if drought conditions return. And try not to get annoyed if house wrens living nearby break the morning peace with their loud trilling and chirring voices. They probably have young nearby and are celebrating that soon their nestlings will become fledglings, and in due time they will be on their own.

Pamm Cooper                       All photos copyright 2015 by Pamm Cooper