The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers (Acer negundo) appear along with the tree’s leaves, but a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike red maples which can have both on one tree. Several Native American tribes made sugar from this tree’s sap and the earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.
One day I went walking near mown areas looking for bluets (Houstonia caerulea) but found none. Two days later they were everywhere. I always look for the darkest shade of blue for a photo but the flowers can be almost white to dark blue, and I’ve read that they open white and darken to various shades of blue as they age. No matter what shade of blue they are, they always have a yellow center. They are tiny things; each flower isn’t much bigger than a pea. Another name for the plant is “Quaker ladies” but nobody seems to know exactly why. Other names include innocence, blue-eyed babies, Venus’ pride, Quaker bonnets, and bright eyes. They’re cheery little things and I’m always happy to see them.
I can just imagine the conversation that must have gone on:
Her: Sweetie, there’s a strange man lying on the sidewalk out front, taking pictures of our stone wall.
Him: He’s not taking pictures of the wall; he’s taking pictures of the dandelion growing in it.
Her: But why would he be doing that?
Him: How should I know? He’s obviously some kind of a nut. Just ignore him and maybe he’ll go away.
Sure, we’ve all seen dandelions, but have we ever stopped to really look at one?
We finally had a day sunny enough to coax the bloodroot blossoms (Sanguinaria canadensis) into opening fully, but by the time I remembered to visit them it had clouded over enough to make them want to close up again. I got there in time to see them start wrapping their leaves around themselves, preparing to close.
But one flower remained fully opened and the lighting was perfect to show the veining in its petals. I’ve learned by trial and error that too much sunlight or the use of a flash will make such subtle details disappear, and you’ll be left with flat white petals. That might not seem like a big deal but if someone who wants to publish a wildflower guide looks at your photo it will be a big deal to them and your photo won’t be chosen.
The magnolias have been stunning this year and I wish I could offer up their fragrance as well as a photo. For a very short time each spring magnolia and lilac fragrances overlap and I always think that, if heaven has a fragrance, it will come from the blending of those two flowers.
I like a challenge and there isn’t much that’s more challenging to a nature photographer than a red flower. They are very hard to get a good photo of for reasons I don’t fully understand, so I was surprised when I saw that this one of a red tulip came out good enough to show here. I won’t bother to tell you how many weren’t good enough.
Willows (Salix) are done flowering for the most part, but you can still find a bloom or two if you’re willing to search a bit. Willows are one of those early spring flowers that don’t get a lot of fanfare but I love the promise of spring that they show.
The inner bark and leaves of some willows contain salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Native Americans chewed or made tea from the willow’s leaves and inner bark to relieve fever or toothaches, headaches, or arthritis, and that is why the willow is often called “toothache tree.” It was a very important medicine that no healer would have been without.
Almost immediately after I told Sara in my last flower post that Pennsylvania sedge was the only sedge that bloomed before the leaves came out on the trees I stumbled upon this clump of plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea), growing in an old stone wall. “When will I ever learn?” was the question I asked myself. There is no such thing as always or never when it comes to nature and every time I use one of those words on this blog nature almost immediately shows me how wrong I am. In this case I was happy to be proven wrong though, because I’ve never seen this beautiful sedge.
The prominent midrib, two lateral veins, maroon bases, and puckered look of the leaves are all used as identifying features for plantain leaved sedge. The leaves can be up to a foot long and an inch wide and I can’t think of another sedge that has leaves that look quite like these. The flowers stalks (culms) were about 4 inches tall and had wispy, white female (pistillate) flowers below the terminal male (staminate) flowers. Sedge flowers are actually called spikelets and the stems that bear them are triangular, hence the old saying “sedges have edges.” I can’t speak for the rarity of this plant but this is the only one I’ve ever seen and it isn’t listed in the book Grasses: An Identification Guide, by Lauren Brown. I’ve read that it likes cool shady places where the humidity is relatively high. There is a stream just a few feet from where this one grows.
Vinca (Vinca minor) is one of those invasive plants from Europe that have been here long enough to have erased any memories of them having once crossed the Atlantic on the deck of a wooden ship. Vinca was a plant that was given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies, and I’ve seen all three blooming beautifully near old cellar holes off in the middle of nowhere. But the word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s what the wiry stems do. They grow thickly together and form an impenetrable mat that other plants can’t grow through, and I know of large areas with nothing but vinca growing in them. But all in all it is nowhere near as aggressive as Oriental bittersweet or winged euonymus, so we enjoy it’s beautiful violet purple flowers and coexist.
The trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) have just opened and seeing a forest floor carpeted with them is something you don’t soon forget. I’ve read that some large colonies can be as much as 300 years old. Each plant grows from a single bulb and can take 7-10 years to produce a flower, so if you see a large colony of flowering plants you know it has been there for a while. Young plants have a single leaf and then grow a second when they are ready to bloom, so you see many more leaves than flowers.
Trout lilies are in the lily family and it’s easy to see why; they look just like a miniature Canada lily. The six stamens in the blossom start out bright yellow but quickly turn brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect stigmata will catch any pollen that visiting insects might bring. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and attracts several kinds of bees. The plant will produce a light green, oval, three part seed capsule 6-8 weeks after blooming if pollination has been successful. The seeds of trout lilies are dispersed by ants which eat their rich, fatty appendages and leave the seeds to grow into bulbs.
Trout lily flowers have three petals and three sepals. All are yellow on the inside but the sepals on many flowers are a brown-bronze color on the outside. No matter how you look at it it’s a beautiful little thing, but I think it’s even more so from the back side.
This is a little hint of what will come in the next flower post.
We do not want merely to see beauty… we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. ~C.S. Lewis
Thanks for stopping in.