The Race is On


While most deciduous trees are slowly waking up from a long winter of dormancy, the first woodland wildflowers have already pushed through the leaves, transforming the forest floor with a rapid cascade of color. Spring walks seem so peaceful to our eyes, but these young plants have a job to do and for them the race is on. They are seizing the moment by grabbing up sunlight, moisture, and nutrients from last fall. They must grow, flower and turn to seed before the trees shade out the sun with their leaves.

But wildflowers are no fragile beauties; they endure the cold nights, heavy rains and wind. Adaptations abound to make their life cycles complete. Bloodroot leaves wrap around the stem like a blanket, and hepatica stems are covered with tiny hairs. Since many woodland wildflowers store energy underground in bulbs, corms, tubers and stems, they can sometimes survive harsh conditions that would kill other plants. These small underground parcels of energy help to jump-start their growth, even when conditions are not quite perfect. Many spring wildflowers also contain chemicals to make them less palatable to hungry herbivores such as deer and rabbits

Woodlands seem to demonstrate a perfect synchronicity in which each part plays a role, contributing to a larger living community. That community is ever changing, and spring wildflowers are fleeting little treasures. My advice is to become a creature of habit and walk the trails as often as you can.

Sanguinaria canadensis, bloodroot, wildflower

Julie Stubbs, Community Outreach Naturalist