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

 

   

“ The world’s favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May.”

-Edwin Way Teale

crabapples along driveway route 85 May 7 2017

Crabapples along a fence highlight a driveway on Route 85 – May 2017

 

May is usually the time of warmer weather and sunny days that brighten the landscape again with flushes of green leaves and splashes of color from flowers. We look forward to another season of gardening and other outdoor activities, and the encounters with nature that are unavoidable as one ventures outside.

This May has been colder than I would prefer, but at least it has seen more rainfall than last spring. The reason this is especially good news is that the gypsy moth caterpillars have recently hatched, and the rains bring hope that the fungal pathogen, Entomophaga maimaiga, will help diminish populations of this pest. Last year they went unchecked for most of their caterpillar stage as drought conditions kept fungal spores from germinating.

wilsons warbler May 12, 2014

A Wilson’s warbler stopped by on its way north

Ferns are opening up now and their graceful forms are a welcome decoration wherever they appear. My personal favorites are the scented fern, cinnamon fern and the diminutive polypody which are often found growing together on rocks with mosses. Polypody work well in dish gardens coupled with moss and partridgeberry, and can be brought indoors for the winter, or left outside if that works better.

sensitive ferns

Sensitive ferns in a wetland area

 

Most trees have leafed out by now, with the pokey sycamores and hickories lagging behind, as usual. With the flush of leaves come the migrating warblers. Caterpillars are now found eating leaves in the tree canopies, and this is where many of the warblers find some protein for their return to northern breeding grounds. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, orioles, and thrushes are all back and they have transformed the woodlands to a symphony of birdsong. Also, barred and great horned owls born in late winter and early spring have left their nests, and parents can often be heard calling to their young. Many robins have already hatched their first brood as of two weeks ago, so it must be true that the early bird gets the worm…

mother and two baby great horned owls Pamm Cooper photo 2017

These young great horned owls left the nest days after this picture was taken.

 

Dogwoods have had spectacular blooms this year, and crabapples and viburnums as well. Yellow water lilies, Nuphar lutea, are beginning to bloom. This plant closes its flower late in the day, trapping beetles or flies overnight who will pollinate it as they try to escape.

Yellow pond lilies Nuphar luteum Airline 5-14-16

Limber honeysuckle, Lonicera dioica, a native vine-like shrub that is infrequently encountered, is also starting to bloom. The tubular red flowers have distinctive yellow stamens and attract hummingbirds and native bumblebees. Fringed polygala, a small, pink native wildflower with flowers that make me think of Mickey Mouse with an airplane propeller, are just beginning to bloom and are often found together with stands of the native Canada Mayflower. Native columbine are also blooming now and native Pinxter azalea should be following shortly.

limber honeysuckle May 7 2017

limber honeysuckle

fringed polygala May 13, 2015 Pamm Cooper photo

Fringed polygala

Interesting galls are forming on the young leaves on wild cherry. Spindle galls, caused by the mite Eriophyes emarginatae, are red spindle-like structures of leaf materialcaused by the mites feeding within. These tiny mites begin feeding as soon as cherry leaves expand in the spring. Although they can occur in large numbers, the galls will not stop leaves from photosynthesizing, and the trees will put out new leaves after mites are inactive.

spindle galls on cherry

Spindle galls on a small black cherry

Giant silkworm moths such as Cecropia, Polyphemus and Luna have been overwintering in cocoons and should be eclosing any time from mid- May to June. These spectacular moths usually fly during the night, but are often attracted to lights. Since they cannot feed, if you find any lingering about in the daytime, don’t worry about what to feed them- just enjoy their company!

cecropia female 9p.m. same day as emrged from cocoon 5-31-13

Female Cecropia moth

Swallowtail, Painted Lady, American coppers, Juvenal’s duskywing and many other butterflies are out and about. Wherever you see them, check out larval host plants for caterpillars. Sometimes they are as close as your own backyard.

striped jack-in-the-pulpit for web site

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Here’s hoping for timely rains during the summer, warmer days to get our blood moving and an abundance of fruits, flowers and birds that to follow May’s fore-running to summer.

 

Pamm Cooper