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A Year in the Life of Pimmit Run: Spring Awakening

It seems excruciatingly slow and then it takes off like a rocket - the arrival of spring in the natural world, that is. The earth seems still for so long, and then shoots of green begin to appear all over. The anticipation of what is to come is almost overwhelming.

A few blogs ago we discussed the Natural Communities of Pimmit Run Stream Valley Park - the Basic Mesic Hardwood Forest, the Small Stream Floodplain Forest, and the Oak-Beech/Heath Forest. Let's take a walk through these communities and see what we find popping up green in late March, as the forest floor begins to wake up. These are the early days of the spring ephemerals, the species that leaf out very early when they enjoy a brief window of sunshine before the canopy trees leaf out and immerse them in shade. The spring ephemerals are with us for a short time only.


Among the first to appear in the Basic Mesic Hardwood Forest is the Trillium sessile, also known as Toadshade, Wake-Robin, and Toad Trillium. Peeking out among the leaves, they tend to appear in the same locations year after year, sometimes alone, sometimes in small groups. The mottled leaves of the Trillium sessile give little indication of the the stupendous flower they will soon bear.

Another spring harbinger of the Basic Mesic Hardwood Forest is the Sanguinaria canadensis or Bloodroot. Its white flowers, which when developed open in sun and close up at night, emerge from a green leaf wrapper before opening all across the forest floor. Each stem features a single white flower with a golden orange center surrounded by a lobed leaf.

No question, finding Mertensia Virginica, or Virginia Bluebells, is special. There is probably no other ephemeral wildflower that brings such delight. Here it is with gently unfurling leaves. It is frequently found in colonies on the forest and floodplain floor.

Moving down to the Small Stream Floodplain Forest, the delicate leaves of close cousins Osmorhiza longistylis (Aniseroot) and Osmorhiza claytonia (Sweet Cicely) are difficult to distinguish. But like the ephemerals, it leafs out early and has its moment of fame on the forest floor.

Further down and closer to the small stream floodplain is the Erythronium americanum, known as Yellow Trout-lily, American Trout-lily, Eastern Trout-lily, Yellow Dogtooth Violet, and Adder's Tongue. The number of common names must attest to its popularity. Its mottled leaves are a clear giveaway, and portend the unique yellow lily-like flowers that will soon appear.

The leaves of Cardamine concatenata, known as Toothwort or Cut-Leaved Toothwort, can be seen as well on the floodplain floor. Its common name is said to refer to the tooth-like projections on its underground stems, which are edible.

Moving along to the north facing slopes of the Oak-Beech/Heath Forest, one can see fresh leaves of the Chimaphila maculata, also known as Striped Prince's Pine and Spotted Wintergreen, emerging from the leaves. While some leaves ventured out during winter, more are appearing and they are getting ready to bloom.

Soon all of these spring ephemerals and early leafers will bloom and then the real show will take place.

Meanwhile, the amphibians continue to evolve. It's gratifying to see that the frog egg masses are still alive and well - a sign that the ecosystem is playing out as nature intended.

As always, we have a Rogues Gallery - the early ephemeral invasives, a non-native Squill and the notorious Ficaria verna or Lesser Celandine. Both are cute but aggressive and they outcompete native ephemerals. Lesser Celandine is so aggressive it carpets many of our forest floors in early spring and native plants just can't compete with it.. Hikers bring it home to their residential gardens where it takes over.

Next up -- the spring ephemerals in bloom.


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