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Categorized | Outdoors

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Early spring flowers

Many interesting features of spring flowers evade our attention as well as many spring flowers themselves.

The Silver Maples are done flowering by mid-April and we take notice when the male flower parts fall on cars, drives, and yards. The fertilized female ovary must remain for development of the seeds. We will soon notice seeds when the helicopter samaras come spinning down from the trees.

If a child has not yet learned to make a whistle from the flat helicopter blade attached to the seed, I highly recommend you, as an adult, make sure they learn to make the whistle. Place the flat, winged blade between your tongue and roof of your mouth, with the thick ridge toward the back of you mouth. Blow air across the blade and reposition as necessary until a wonderful or possibly irritating sound is created.

As of mid April, the box elders, another maple, is in bloom and the sugar maples are not yet ready to display their cryptic flowers. Many insects pollinate these flowers and are a reason we have birds in our yards that eat them.

Closer to the ground other plants are in bloom or are already withering. Serviceberry, June berry, and Amelanchier are names for the same plant that flowers before most other shrubs. Their beautiful white flower clusters make the trees showy before leaves emerge. The plant stored enough energy last year for early spring reproduction this year. After hosting many insects and in turn birds that eat insects, the flowers will produce tiny little apple-like fruits that gave the plant its name Juneberry. When berries are formed, the plant will host wildlife in your yard that comes to feed on insects. With more native plants you will notice more wildlife. The name serviceberry developed because the flowering time indicated that frost was out of the ground and our dead relatives could be buried. People spent more time noticing natural occurrences than many of us do now.

Nearly all insects go unnoticed by humans but a great many have a close relationship with native plants. Without these dependent relationships, other wildlife populations will suffer greatly. Non-native ornamental plants do not fill nature niches well and are largely sterile deserts for life in our yards. Go native with plants instead. Some people think non-native plants are wonderful because they support fewer insects. People notice only a very small fraction of insects that either bite us or are beautiful garden jewels. Most insects go about their lives without our notice. Plants do notice and need insects. Without them a great many could not reproduce. I host several non-natives in my gardens but most of the yard is reserved for native species.

I have a much richer variety of life at Ody Brook than most of my neighbors to the north and south. After purchasing Ody Brook in 1979, I let more than half of the mowed lawn area be claimed by wild flowers, shrubs, and finally trees. It was lawn between my house and the neighbors but now I have birds, mammals, frogs, and other wildlife present. They are present because insects have found appropriate food, water, shelter, and living space that are not available in lawns. The plants that colonized the yard also are more efficient than lawns at holding water, purifying the air, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, and maintaining soil fertility. It is less expensive to maintain and draws larger desire wildlife to live here.

I do keep some areas in meadow or lawn. The meadow areas are better for supporting butterflies and other interesting insects, amphibians, birds, mammals. Mowed areas around the house are mostly free of biting mosquitoes during sunny hours so we can sit on the porch and enjoy songs of birds and their frequent flights from thicket to thicket. Deer walk daily along forest edge on well-established trails. Rabbits have their own set of highways.

I have not even begun to discuss the spring flowers at the ground level but most will bloom in late April or May. Those out by early April include: Adder’s Tongue, Skunk Cabbage, Spring Cress, Marsh Marigold, Spring Beauty, Golden Saxifrage, Common blue Violet, Long-spurred Violet, and White Violet.

Enjoy wildflowers during the coming weeks and the May column will address many of those flowers. Knowing wildflower names is not nearly as important as the relationship you build by allowing them to repopulate portions of your yard. The benefit for you is becoming a steward for a much greater variety of life in nature niches where you live.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net  Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433. 616-696-1753

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