Column: Keep an eye out for woodland wildflowers
I’m sorry to say that I haven’t been to the woods for a few days. But when last I visited, developing flower buds of hepatica, the first woodland wildflower of spring, were just at the soil surface.
Hepaticas are, or soon will be, blooming at several woodland parks around the county. Look for the pink, white and powder-blue little bouquets of hepatica on the north and east side of slopes, but they may occur in other areas.
Good places to look are along the greenbelt trail between Soper’s Mill and Bear Creek; along the trail east of the little pond at Robison Park (south of Nevada and east of S-14); along the George Clark Trail that begins at the west end of the dam at McFarland Park; along the north trail loop at Christiansen Forest Preserve northeast of Huxley and at several spots along the interior trails at Hertz Woods (south of Nevada on 11th Street).
Hepaticas have also been transplanted to several spots along the fully paved and accessible Touch-a-life Trail near the conservation center at McFarland Park.
Hepaticas are but the first of many woodland wildflowers known as spring ephemerals. These delicate beauties are called “ephemeral” because they bloom for only a short time each spring. Some may bloom for only a few days.
Even the leaves of some species last only a few weeks. They must emerge, bloom and set seed before the tree canopy closes in and catches most of the sunlight.
Hit the trails often in the next few weeks in order to see as many of the species as possible. You may want to visit several of the area’s woodland preserves since all the flowers don’t live in every area.
Although a few woodland wildflowers continue to bloom through the summer and into the fall, the big show will mostly be over by mid-to-late May.
Showy white bloodroots soon follow hepaticas in the annual spring parade. Little, pink-lined spring beauties join the show, too. Rue anemone is white, and wood anemone is white to pink. You may be surprised to find that violets come in colors other than blue. Some are pure white. Some are white with purple lines inside. Some are yellow, and some are actually closer to violet red.
Bluebells bloom later and occasionally bloom white. A few sometimes bloom in pink. Blue phlox sometimes blooms white, too. It’s fun to look for unusual genetic variations.
Too many varieties of spring ephemerals bloom in our woodlands to mention all of them here. You may not know the names of all that you see, but a number of useful wildflower field guides are available at bookstores. Although I haven’t used any, I’m guessing that there are wildflower apps that more technologically advanced folks can find on their smartphones, too.
Naming wildflowers is nice but not necessary to enjoy them. Being in the woods on spring days is worth every minute spent there. I like late afternoon and evening light to bring out the best colors. Early morning light is great, too, but some flowers won’t be open for the day if you’re out too early.
Hikers need to be aware that some woods are open to public hunting, and a few turkey hunters may be out during the months of April and May. Ticks become active in spring, too.
Staying on designated trails should reduce encounters with ticks but be sure to check yourself upon returning from a walk if you’ve been off the trail in taller brush or weeds. Repellent containing DEET applied to shoes and pants can help. So can tucking pants into the top of your socks to prevent ticks from getting on your skin. Clothing treated with permethrin will help repel ticks for days, but that product shouldn’t be used on skin.
Spring just isn’t spring for some of us without enjoying the annual parade of woodland wildflowers. I hope to see most of them in the weeks ahead. Perhaps, I’ll see you on a woodland trail somewhere.