On a sunny Sunday that was also the first day of spring, I led a RIWPS group on a walk in the wetlands of the Great Swamp. It had rained the day before and dense fog lingered into the morning.
Every spring I look forward to seeing the whitish patches that start creeping across open grassy areas. No, it’s not the last of the snow, but a tiny, very light blue flower known by a variety of names.
One unexpected delight this September has been discovering the meadow bottle gentian, or gentiana clausa. Its deep violet flowers don’t open, remaining clusters of plump oval buds (I’ve seen as many as 22 on a single stem). Because the flowers stay closed, only “strong bees” can pollinate them.
On June 3, 2009, Fran Under wood and I explored a bog in northern RI. We found Arethusa (Arethusa bulbosa—State endangered) an orchid that blooms in early June.
In our wilder areas, spring bloomers open their petals to the sun, a welcome reminder of the inexorable cycle of nature, at least as long as there are wild places for them.
Spring is an exciting time to be in woodlands because a lot is happening on the forest floor – in plain sight! That’s when the herbaceous layer gets unimpeded, warming sunlight, and when I can’t wait to get into my woods every morning to see “what’s up” – fiddleheads uncurling, spring flowers emerging, mystery plants appearing, planted species surviving, and old-faithfuls spreading.
Goodbye April. In April the rain reigned and the wind blew, sometimes fiercely, while I was indoors wishing for warmer spring-like weather to head out and explore. Despite the rain, our dogs insisted that we walk twice a day. They set the pace, having their own sniffing and discovering to do.
Social distancing has definitely put a crimp in socializing. But hey! we’re wild plant people and we have friends that don’t have two legs or four legs or even any legs at all (except maybe the walking fern).
-by Judy Ireland
Nature’s calendar has no “Stay-at-Home” rules. That’s our saving grace! In mid March, at the outflow of our “pond,” our reliable marsh-marigold caught our eye from our cozy kitchen sitting area. Its yellow flowers are always our first colorful reassurance that Spring has arrived…skunk-cabbage not withstanding!
A few days afterwards, in our native woodland, the first bloodroot was a joy to discover! Then I knew to look for the other places it always appears in developing clumps. What a treasure hunt!
Venturing out from our imposed “isolation” a few days later, our walk was rewarded by finding that our twinleaf had almost appeared overnight and was “in bud!” Many years we miss the bloom completely. It comes and goes in the breath of a spring breeze. We will watch it carefully this year.
Peeking out, beside the twinleaf, and many places through the woodland, are Virginia bluebells. Bluebells are one of my favorites and they are nearing full bloom. I will always remember as a child coming across a large patch in a New York State swamp. The blue is unforgettably vibrant!
We purchased our plants as roots from a mail order source a number of years ago. I will never forget opening the box and finding a “tangle” of ……? Unsure of how to “plant” them, I divided them into small units and planted them in groups in semi-shaded, somewhat damp areas. Today they abound under shrubs and beside the pond. When springtime is cool, they last quite a while, and their stems of pink/blue bells waving in whispering breezes warm my native plant lover’s heart!
— Judy Ireland
Editor’s note: Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), marsh-marigold (Caltha palustris) and shunk-cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) are native to RI; Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are native to the lower 48 states of the USA, but are not considered RI natives. RIWPS has sold Virginia bluebells at its annual meeting for years.
I like being on—and off—the trail with Doug McGrady. Sometimes, he veers off into the brush or through the trees or into the swamps, and you just follow. Or not, it’s up to you. I’ve seen more than one cautious soul turn back as Doug keeps a brisk pace up and down hills, across streams too wide to leap (wear boots, balance on rocks or embrace wet feet), through buggy meadows (insect repellent helps), and along marshes stinking of rotting seaweed at low tide.