Thursday, April 3, 2014

Spring is making an Appearance

With all the snow and low temperatures the Winter of 2013-14 seemed like it would never end.  But looking back at photos from this time last year, native plant growth is only a week or so behind 2013.  I almost did not venture out into the woods for an informal survey, but I'm glad I did.  While only a few native species were in bloom, many have broken ground and are forming flower buds.  Here are some photos of the highlights.

When walking through the woods, it pays to look up once in a while.
Many of the native spring wild flowers most active while the tree canopy is open.  Now they have have enough light to photosynthesize and store up energy.  Once the trees leaf out there is not enough light for these plants to continue to grow so many of them shut down for the summer.  These plants are known as the spring ephemerals.  

The first plants I noticed were the Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica.  These first appear as purplish-gray buds through the leaf litter.  If last year is a guide they should be blooming in about 2 weeks.
As the leaves of these Virginia Bluebells mature they lose the purplish blush.

I was surprised to see the Spring Beauties in bloom.  There are only a few of them now.  Their number should continue to increase into May.  These grow from corms, so technically they are native bulbs.  If I happen to dig up any later this spring I will move them up into the bulb gardens closer to the house.  
These blooms are mostly white, pinkish ones appear later in the season.

The finely divided foliage of Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria, is also making an appearance.  I don't know if this species can be distinguished from Squirrel Corn, D. canadensis, just by the foliage.  I am making the assignment based on only seeing the former species last year.

The new foliage of all 3 eastern Dicentra species is very similar.
Off to the right are some leaves from Spring Beauties.

White Avens, Geum canadense, will bloom until later in the summer, but it is producing fresh foliage now.  It is recognizable by its deeply divided gray-green foliage.

One of the large basal leaves of White Avens  is at the lower right in the photo above.  

I saw a lot of leaves of Toothwort, Cardamine diphylla, and a few with flower buds. I also saw some leaves of cut-leaved Toothwort, C. laciniata.  These have similar coloration, but the leaves are deeply cut into five or more fingers.  These species were formally classified in the genus Dentaria.

You can see a mauve-colored flower stalk just left of center, above.

I purchased a couple of Golden Ragwort, Packera aurea, at a native plant sale last fall.  You can see that they over wintered well and it looks like they have already begun to spread.
Golden Ragwort should produce yellow daisy-like flowers on
long stems through spring and summer.

It's amazing that these little flowers will go on
to produce a couple of hazelnuts

The new growth was not limited to the perennials.  The shrubs are also beginning to bloom.  I got this American Hazelnut, Corylus americana, last fall.  It was bearing several nut clusters which grew to maturity last season.  This spring I only noticed the small red female flowers.  There were no male catkins on the shrub.  I don't know if their absence is due to the cold, or the deer.

I would have missed seeing the buds forming on this Yellowroot, Xanthorhiza simplicissima, if I had not remembered where it was planted.  The tops of the plant had been 'cut' back a bit.  Again, I don't know if this was from frost damage or deer browse.  
The flower buds of Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, are about to burst.  The flowering time of Spicebush is similar to Forsythia, but the color of the Spicebush is much more delicate.  In a week or so this area will be in a yellow haze of Spicebush flowers.  
Close examination of a Spicebush branch shows that the flower buds occur in pairs.
This helps with plant ID.

 All the new activity in the woods was not limited to the plants.  A small red speck racing along a a branch caught my attention.  It measured about 1/4 inch long and is 8 legged, like a spider.  Comparing images on a Google search for 'little red spider' led me to tentatively identify this as a Velvet Mite.  This is a predatory species feeding primarily on Arthropods.

This looks like it could be a Red Velvet Mite.  It moved very quickly for an insect so small.

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