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

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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

Male red-winged blackbird

Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush.  Doug Larson

Following a relatively mild winter, this spring has been a bit of a chiller so far. Forsythia in the north a yellow bud and central areas of Connecticut barely have yellow flower buds showing and star magnolias are just starting to show a few blooms. Spring may be slow to start, but at least it isn’t winter.

Spring peepers are singing, and have been for about three weeks. These harbingers of spring provide a cheery chorus for those fortunate enough to live near ponds. They were joined a couple of weeks later by wood frogs, who have a more throaty but equally welcome spring song.

Spring peepers live up to their name

Painted turtles, the first of which I saw in February on a 60 degree day, can be seen on warmer days sunning themselves on partially submerged logs and rocks. Spotted salamanders have already laid their eggs in vernal pools, and wood frogs should be doing the same now. Check out vernal pools for the eggs of these amphibians, plus you may see some immature salamanders swimming around before they develop lungs and venture onto land.

painted turtle stretching

Painted turtle stretching out

 

Spring azure butterflies, Celastrina ladon, have a single brood, and flight may occur any time between late March and early June here in Connecticut. This is one of our first butterflies to emerge from its chrysalis, and can be seen obtaining nectar from early spring flowers such as bluets and violets.

spring azure on bluet May 19 2016

Spring azure butterfly on a native bluet flower

Another early flying butterfly is the Mourning cloak, easily identified by the upper sides of its large, chocolate brown wings that are edged with cream borders and lined inside that with lavender to blue spots. Imported cabbage white butterflies are arriving from their southern living quarters. This butterfly lays its eggs on members of the brassica family, which includes the wild mustards, including the invasive garlic mustard.

Mourning cloak early spring

Mourning cloak basking in early April

Migrating birds are slow to arrive, but the red-winged blackbirds have been back since early March, although some were even here in late February. Males arrive way ahead of females, which gives them plenty of time to select the best nesting sites in advance. Some warblers may fly through just before invasive honeysuckles leaf out. Palm and black and white warblers are some of the earliest to arrive. Palm warblers flick their rusty tail, much as phoebes do, and they move on northward to their breeding grounds. Many black and white warblers remain here to breed in woodlands.

palm warbler on migration in April pamm Cooper photo

Palm warblers sometimes migrate through before most plants have leafed out

Forsythia and star magnolias are just starting to bloom -later than normal this spring in northern Connecticut, but bloodroot and violets should be blooming any time now. These are important flowers for our spring pollinators. Japanese andromeda, Pieris japonica, has been blooming in some places since late March, and this is also visited by early spring flying bees. Along with pussy willows, this is a great plant for Colletes inaequalis, the earliest ground nesting bee which is active around the time  native willows start to bloom.

Japanese Andromeda flowering in early April 2018 Pamm Cooper photo

Japanese andromeda flowers in late March

Check out streams for marsh marigolds and watercress, and dry sunny, woodland areas for native trout lilies that usually start to bloom in late April or early May. Red trillium, Trillium erectum, sometimes has an overlapping bloom time with bloodroot, depending on the weather.

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

Watercress blooming in a woodland brook

 

Raccoons, foxes and many other animals may have their young from early spring through June. Some birds, including great horned owls, may have their young in late winter. Sometimes these owls use the nest that red-tailed or other hawks used the previous year.

baby raccoons June 2

Two week old raccoons in a sunny spot in the woods

 

While the central portions on the United States are having bomb cyclones this week that are bringing heavy snows and severe wind gusts, we should have snow here only in the form of a distant memory. I can live with that.

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

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Queen Anne’s lace or wild carrot (Daucus carota) is native to parts of Europe and Asia and is naturalized in North America and Australia.  It is a biennial in the family Apiaceae.  Domestic carrots are cultivars bred from its subspecies D. carota ssp. sativus.   Being a biennial, it grows a leafy mound of green fern-like foliage the first season and then produces flowers the second year.  Flowers are produced from June through August. The tiny white flowers are borne in flat to slightly rounded clusters called umbels.   Before they’re fully open, the flowers may have a pink to reddish caste.  In some umbels, there is a single dark red flower in the center.  This is said to be a droplet of blood where Queen Anne pricked her finger while making the lace.  The function of the red flower is thought to be an attractant for insects.

The root of the wild carrot is edible when it is young but becomes woody and unpalatable as it matures.  As early as 2000 years ago the crushed seeds were used as a contraceptive.  Research has somewhat supported this; in studies with mice wild carrot was found to disrupt the egg implantation process.  It is not recommended here to use wild carrot for this purpose!

Wild carrot has a poisonous look-alike plant, poison or water hemlock, so it should never be consumed  unless it is absolutely certain that it has been identified correctly.   The leaves of Queen Anne’s lace can cause irritation known as phytophotodermatitis.  When the sap from the leaves gets on the skin and it is then exposed to sunlight, a rash may develop.   This plant is considered a noxious weed by the USDA because of this and because it is a pest in pastures, displacing desirable native plants.

Queen Anne’s lace is also a beneficial plant because it can help attract insect parasites and predators of pest insects to the garden.  Beneficial wasps, ant lions and green lacewings either feed on the nectar or pollen of the flowers or are attracted to aphids on the flowers.

Many animals use the wild carrot plant as a source of food or shelter.  Some that use it as a food source include the eastern black swallowtail butterfly, honeybee, green stinkbug, differential grasshopper, golden northern bumblebee and green lacewing.  Many animals use it for shelter including the eastern black swallowtail, aphids, dog ticks, Chinese mantid, American goldfinch, black and yellow argiope, eastern bluebird, green stinkbug, eastern mole, differential grasshopper, northern mockingbird, common grackle, green lacewing and chiggers.   Other plants commonly found growing with wild carrot include goldenrod, milkweed, pokeweed, smooth crabgrass, red clover, English plantain, devil’s beggar-tick, spotted Joe-pye weed, lamb’s quarters, common ragweed, jimsonweed, black-eyed Susan, Kentucky bluegrass, wild strawberry, and common mullein.

J. Allen