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Seeing Spring wildflowers

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Bloodroot flower by Steve Mueller.

Wildflowers abound in and around our yards. Adder’s tongue, also known at trout lily, has spotted leaves like a trout’s body. Their yellow drooping flowers burst forth with color during the opening of trout season at the end of April. By June, not only will the flowers be gone but the leaves die, decay, and release nutrients back into the soil. Those nutrients will nourish other plants just getting started on their annual cycle. 

Spring beauties carpet the forest floor in late April and early May but will disappear from view by June. Like trout lilies, they complete their annual appearance in weeks. Both species remain alive under the soil surface. They are not like annual plants that thrive during the summer months and die completely except for seeds that carry their species to next year. 

Species have unique mechanisms for passing germ plasm forward. If the environment is adequately stable, the species will not become threatened or endangered. It will thrive for millennia. Our lives are short but we can observe and see the beautiful stream of life continue by providing healthy living conditions in our yards.

Bloodroot flowers have already come and gone. Their stunning white flower petals and yellow stamens persist only a few days. The roots have a red pigment that is used as a dye. Unless the plant is dug up, the root’s pigment remains hidden to our interested eyes. Rarely, do I dig one up. I have seen their bloody beauty. I love the plant and flower so I do not desire to disrupt its life just to see at its inner fluids any more than I desire to cut a friend to see the color of her blood. 

Marsh marigolds have yellow petals coated with shiny wax. They are in the buttercup family with other species that have similar flowers. An identifying character for buttercups is the massive number of male stamens clustered in the middle of the flower. Those that flowered first were in open wet areas with others from more shaded areas flowering later. We clear some areas to maintain best habitat conditions to meet their nature niche needs. Too much clearing along Little Cedar Creek would allow excessive sun radiation on the creek and warm the cold-water habitat brook trout require for survival. Maintaining shrubby vegetation along the south side of the creek is important to aid life giving physical conditions for the fish. 

Small-flowered buttercups and swamp buttercups have yellow flowers resembling marsh marigold flowers but the leaves and growth forms differ. The marsh marigold’s large rounded leaves hug the ground. Common buttercups have deeply dissected leaves on a tall stem. The small-flowered buttercups with tiny flower petals have kidney shaped basal leaves. All have a large number of stamens at the center of the five petalled flowers. The stamens release pollen at a different time from when the pistil is receptive preventing self-pollination.

Spring cress flowers are early bloomers included with the white flowers in field guides. This makes identifying a bit more challenging. When they first flower the petals are pink but soon become white. Unlike buttercups that have five petals, spring cresses are mustards with four petals. Yellow rocket is a non-native exotic mustard that proliferates in disturbed areas. It will carpet a farm field with its yellow blooms each spring. A close look will reveal each flower has four petals. 

Native violets are spring wildflowers with difficult identification challenges. The common blue violet is one of the easier ones to recognize. It has a dark blue flower on a stalk that comes from the ground. Its leaves are stemless also coming directly from the ground. Other blue violets have a small erect stem with leaves and flowers diverging from the stem. Yellow violets are leafy stemmed. Violet petals are fused together. 

What flower details will you see this spring? There are over 300 species of plants at Ody Brook. We have barely begun to consider the diversity and beauty that shares our living space. Your yard can be amazing. Enhance biodiversity conditions for native plants that best serve insect, bird, and mammal ecology. 

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

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