As April gives bow to May, the signs of spring are in full swing. Our part-time bird residents are beginning to return from warmer climes. Robins are busy searching for early meals on the ground. Morels, the harbinger of spring, are showing their delectable fruit. Maple trees are being tapped for their sweet sap. And once-dormant trees are beginning to wake up from the long winter rest.
This is also the time when spring wildflowers are making an appearance in a woodlot near you. Many of the early flowers are known as “spring ephemerals” because they only photosynthesize for a few brief weeks before the forest leaves bring deep shade to the forest floor. After that, their blossoms quickly wither and disappear. Ephemerals, such as trout lily, dutchman’s breeches, and spring beauty, virtually disappear from view by midsummer, so April and May are the best months to know and appreciate them. Depending on the day, a spring hiker might be treated to the fleeting flashes of color from flowers such as bloodroot, toothwort, trout lilies, blue cohosh, skunk cabbage, hepatica, or common violet. Wildflowers of spring have many stories to tell. From how they were named and what they were used for medicinally to their folklore stories, there is much to discover on a walk in the spring woods.