Spring Wildflowers

The woodlands of Massachusetts have begun to wake after their long winter slumber. The trees are beginning to leaf out, ready to cast their shadows over the forest again. However, there is a fleeting window during the spring before the tree crowns open completely, blocking sunlight to the soil, when the forest floor becomes active.

During the winter, open ground such as farm fields and lawns can freeze to a depth of two or more feet. Woodland soil, however, is insulated by leaf litter and vegetation and only freezes a few inches deep. As the forest soil is warmed by the sunshine and rising temperatures, wildflowers push their leaves through the surface. Snow melt and spring rains provide ample water and the large amount of ready plant food stores in their bulbs, roots or rootstalks, make growth rapid.

Many wildflowers produce leaves, bloom and seed days and even weeks before the other larger leafy plants and trees come into full foliage and shade the ground. They squeeze an entire year's work into a few short weeks in the spring.

There is a succession of wildflower blooms. Skunk cabbage is often one of the first of the wildflowers in March and can be found in wetlands and near streams. Spring beauty also can be found starting in March. The hepatica, with blue lavender or pink flowers blooms about the same time. The bloodroot, the dog-tooth violet, trillium, the Dutchman's breeches, and Jack-in-the-pulpit then appear, roughly in that order. They are followed by the violets and Jacob's ladder. The late spring wildflowers of the woods include the blue phlox and the mandrake, or May Apple.

Wildflowers are a heartening sight for the winter weary soul. They are the fulfilled promise of nature's renewal each spring. In addition, wildflowers are also indicators of good soil health as populations of wildflowers are often found in areas with low soil disturbance. Keep that in mind when planning your next harvest!

So, get out in the woods and enjoy one of the rites of spring! Looking for wildflowers is a great activity that the whole family can enjoy. Check with your local conservation organization to find out if they are hosting any wildflower hikes. If you go wildflower hunting on someone else's property, be sure to look but don't touch so others too can enjoy these woodlands beauties. Also, be careful not to compact the soil in these areas to allow nearby plants to bloom later.

Recommended Resource:

New England Wildflower Society