I love early spring. I savor the filmy delicate look of the trees as they begin to leaf out. I watch for the many different shades of green on our streets. This year I made a resolution not to miss a bit of it. Covid-19 has given me the time to walk the streets and to visit Rock Creek Park and the Broad Branch Stream restoration every few days.
This is the time for our early wildflowers. They are called “ephemerals” because most last only a few weeks. They bloom early, before the trees leaf out and shade them, their seeds ripen quickly, and the plants disappear. Ants and insects pollinate them – most bees don’t come out until it is at least 50 degrees.
Last week my search took me up a trail in Rock Creek Park that runs along a little creek from Oregon Avenue to the parkway. I expected to find spring beauties and crowsfoot, and the bloodroot was a nice surprise.
Spring beauties make pink patches at the woods edge everywhere in the park. Bloodroot is less common. Take a good look at its brilliant white blossom. Then notice the stamens with their heavy load of yellow pollen. That pollen is what attracts early pollinators, because this flower does not provide nectar, like most flowers. Bumblebees and a few other insects want that load of pollen, but many insects pass it by.
Named for the shape of its toothed leaf, crowsfoot (dentaria) is a sturdy white wildflower common in the woods of Rock Creek Park. This one is on the Melvin Hazen trail.
I keep an eye on the wild garden behind the Nature Center all through the year. Last week, as I had hoped, the bluebells were blooming their magical shade of blue. They are a perennial, coming up every year in damp spots. Violette’s Lock on the C&O Canal has a wonderful show right now.
Under the birdbath behind the Nature Center, I found the tightly-wound fronds of this Ostrich fern, ready to uncurl into two-foot leaves. The fuzzy green circles remind me of contemporary sculpture. If you have ferns in your yard, you will find the same kind of fronds – my Christmas ferns are at that stage.
These elegant tassels are the male flowers of the box elder tree. Like birches and hickories, this tree is wind pollinated. It has male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another. (Most trees have both sexes on the same tree.)
Each catkin has hundreds of grains of pollen. They will be picked up and blown hither and yon by the wind. Hopefully one will land on a tiny female flower and pollinate it.
The stunning yellow flowers underneath the tree are fig buttercup.
It is a bad, BAD invasive that overwhelms and kills our native plants. Don’t encourage them in your yard or garden – dig them up and throw them in the trash. But be careful not to confuse them with the native marsh marigold.
To find trout lily, you need to take a trail along Rock Creek, because this lily likes it damp. This graceful yellow flower is most spectacular when it blooms among the blue bells at Boundary Bridge in Rock Creek Park. That long throat indicates it is attracting bees and insects with long tongues that are able to reach its nectar.
There are patches of this shiny green umbrella throughout our local woods. I found them on the Melvin Hazen Trail. A two-inch white flower will bloom under the umbrella. Early in May the plant will produce its seed, a lemon-shaped berry about one inch long, known as a may apple. My flower book says the berry is edible, but the rest of the plant is not, so I do not recommend testing it.
Listen and Look
Cardinals are singing all over Forest Hills, and they will start nest-building soon. Woodpeckers are peck peck pecking – making nest holes in old trees. Listen too for American toads, trilling on warm days. They are sitting in goldfish ponds or little backyard puddles, and calling for a mate. Listen for a long musical trill lasting 6 to 20 seconds.
And watch for a queen bumblebee. They are just out of hibernation, looking for a nest spot to start a colony. She flies close to the ground back and forth, erratically, looking for a crack in a wall, an old mouse nest or a hole under a log. She will start a colony from scratch.
Enjoy – it’s a fascinating time of the year!