bloodroot (2)

Bloodroot

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still…”

Robert Frost

After an extremely dry 2016, spring is already bringing abundant showers here in Connecticut. Vernal pools in most areas have reached their full capacity of rainwater and snow melt. Streams are running strong and ponds that were so low last year are filling up. The warm February weather almost tricked some plants into budding out too early, but the snow and cold that came in early March nipped that process in the bud. Phoebes who had returned in early March were greeted with a foot of snow and freezing temperatures. But they survived. Now we are seeing April return once again, and with it should follow the heralds of warmer weather and longer days.

trout lilies Pamm Cooper photo

Trout lilies in open woods in April

Native willows and maples, such as the red maples, are blooming now and early native bees are availing themselves of the pollen and nectar they provide. Colletes inaequalis– small, handsome ground-nesting bees- are emerging from their winter pupation homes in the soil, where they have lived all their pre-adult lives. They are important pollinators of many early- flowering native plants and often form large colonies in open areas of lawns with sandy soils. They seldom sting, and by the time grass is mowed for the first time, these bees are usually no longer flying in lawn areas. Females dug holes, bring in pollen and nectar they put in a “cellophane “ bag they make, and lay an egg on top. The larva feed on that supply until they pupate, and will emerge as adults the next spring. Queen bumblebees should be out and about any time now as well.

Colletes inaequalis bee covered in pollen- willow 4-3-2017

Native Colletes inaequalis bee foraging on a willow flower

Spring peepers, out in late February for about a day just prior to a snow and freeze, have been giving a nightly chorus now for a couple of weeks. Wood frogs are singing and should be laying eggs any time now, along with spotted salamanders and the American toads.  Check out vernal pools for the floating egg masses of the wood frogs and the rounded masses of the salamander eggs stuck to twigs, stems and leaves under the water surface.

vernal pool reflections in April Pamm Cooper photo copyright 2017

Reflections on a vernal pool- with wood frog and spotted salamander eggs and young spotted salamander larvae swimming on right

Red trillium, Trillium erectum, should bloom around mid- April, if not before.  Tiny bluets, bloodroot and trout lilies also bloom April to May here. Bluets are also an important source of pollen and nectar for many pollinators and spring- flying butterflies such as the spring azure and tiger swallowtail. Dead nettles bloom by late April and receive visits from nay pollinators including honeybees, bumble bees and other native bees, syrphid and other flies and some butterflies.

Red trillium April Pamm Cooper photo

Red trillium

Birds have been singing their morning and evening songs for a while, and the one that sings the most- all day- is the song sparrow. Males sit on the tops of small trees and shrubs, singing to announce their territory and to find a mate. The wood ducks are here now. Look for them in woodland ponds where there is good cover from shrubs and small trees along the water’s edge. These are very shy ducks and often take flight at the tiniest snap of a twig, so stealthy moves and quiet are the way to see them. Check out the trail behind the Meigs Point Nature Center at Hammonasset State Park in late April. You may get to see small flocks of glossy ibis in the salt marsh area as they migrate through on their way north.

song sparrow april 13 2016

Song sparrow with its rusty breast patch

Mourning cloak butterflies may been seen now, especially where trees have sap flows from splits or wounds to the bark. They are seldom seen on flowers, but will obtain nutrients from dung, sap, mud and fermenting fruits. Eggs are laid in rings around twigs of willow, elm and poplars among other woody trees.

Mourning cloak on sap flow from freshly cut tree stump in early April

Mourning cloak butterfly obtaining sap in April from a freshly cut tree stump

bumblebee on purple deadnettle

Bumblebee on dead nettle flower

When you go out, listen for the raucous calls of pileated woodpeckers as they find mates and establish territories. Don’t forget to look down occasionally and you can find all sorts of insects and plants that might be missed otherwise. And check out the flowers of skunk cabbages for the insects that pollinate them. Stop, look and listen whenever and wherever you go, even if it is in your own backyard. Maybe you will agree with Albert Einstein-

“ Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.”

 
Pamm Cooper                                 All photos copyrighted by Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bluets

Bluets- Houstonia caerulea

Well, it appears as though spring is warming up at last and some common early bloomers in the wild landscape are finally starting to show themselves. And I say, better late than never…

I always look for Marsh Marigolds ( Calthus palustris ) to appear in April before most other flowering plants have even broken through with new growth. They are a nice cushiony dark green with golden yellow flowers, and they are often the only green to be found in an otherwise bleak and brown landsc??????????ape. Look for them in open marshy areas, or in stream beds from April- June in Connecticut. They are in the Buttercup  family, ( Ranunculaceae ), and have similar flowers to the field buttercups.

Second on my list of favorite spring wildflowers are the Trout Lilies, or Dogtooth Violets, named for their mottled leaves that mimic brown trout markings, and the edible corms that resemble a dog’s tooth. Found in rich woods, these native low- growing plants have nodding yellow flowers, and sometimes grow in large colonies that may be over one hundred years old. Petals and sepals are bent backwards revealing the six brown stamens. Only mature plants having two leaves will produce a flower.

trout lilyjpg

Another April bloomer is dwarf ginseng, Panax trifolius, which is only 3- 8 inches tall, and can often be found with wood anemones. Look for these in rich, moist woods especially at the base of trees on the edge of woods or along woodland trails and in clearings that are damp. They flower April- June and have a small umbel of tiny white flowers and three sessile leaflets, and its tubers can be eaten raw or boiled, according to the USDA Forest Service.

Bloodroot,Sanguinaria canadensis, is one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom in New England, form March- May. Although small in stature, they are definitely a plant that gets noticed. Flowers are a magnificent white and have a stately form  that can provide a wonderful herald to the arrival of spring. This is a member of the Poppy family of plants. Its two large, distinctive leaves are large and completely enwraps the flower bud at first. Flowers open in the sun and close at night. The Latin name, Sanguinaria, means “ bleeding’, and refers to the red juice that was extracted from the roots by Native Americans and used as a dye for clothing and baskets and also as an insect repellent.

bloodroot 4-15-13

My last inclusion in the spring wildflower list of favorites is purple trillium,Trillium erectum, a member of the Lily family that blooms from  April- June. This is also a native that is found in rich, damp, shady woods, and its name is derived from the plant parts, which are arranged in threes.purple trillium2010 Flowers are commonly a deep red- purple, but sometimes are green, white, or pink. They smell like rotting meat and are pollinated by flies. The fruit is a reddish berry having a threefold symmetry and containing seeds in a reddish , juicy pulp, and continues development into the fall. Seeds are attractive to ants, so if you want to try to start trillium from seed, you have to compete with them for the seeds. Seeds require two winter periods before they will germinate, so patience is required before the reward of new plants.

There are other wildflowers of spring- bird’s foot violet, wood anemones, starflower, wild sarsaparilla, and, of course, violets, but those are for another time.

Pamm Cooper                           All photos copyright  2014 Cooper