Forest Flowers Disappear in Summertime

Summertime flowers generally won’t be found in the forests. They just don’t get enough sunlight among the trees.

Trail Wanders Through the Forest
Trail Wanders Through the Forest

It was a cloudy day when I took a walk at one of my favorite haunts and it seemed pretty dark on the parts of the trail that meandered through the forest. Cooler, but dark. Surprisingly dark when looking through the camera lens!

It’s technically the third week of Summer now and the heat and humidity will have you feeling every sticky note of it.

I did find one new plant flowering in several places at Little Buffalo State Park along the Mill Race Trail and around the Day Use Area. It was a tall plant reaching over 6 feet in a couple of spots.

Places where it was seen flowering profusely were areas receiving lots of light from above, not among the trees in the forest. If the canopy was thick, there were no flowers that I could see.

Read moreForest Flowers Disappear in Summertime

Hay-Scented Fern Grows Lush

A few years ago there were only a few ferns on the north side of the house. The ferns are plentiful in the adjacent woods, but there they do not form mats. The forest ferns rise up in a ‘singular’ fashion and the fronds are not all bunched up in a large grouping.

Hay-scented ferns growing singly in the forest.
Hay-scented ferns growing singly in the forest.

Ferns come up in early April as they slowly unroll their long fronds. Each frond starts out rolled up in fiddle head fashion.

Fiddleheads rise up out of the earth.
Fiddleheads rise up out of the earth.
Unrolling fern fronds.
Unrolling fern fronds.

Photo above taken 11 April 2010.

At the back of the garage the ferns numbered a few on the left and the right side was empty. As the years went by the ferns spread out in both directions, further away from the building and further to the right.

Lush ferns growing on the north side of the garage.
Lush ferns growing on the north side of the garage.

Photo above taken 31May2010.

The original patch of fern was a few feet wide and perhaps three feet deep. Seven years later the ferns have taken up the entire width of the garage, about 20 feet wide, and the patch is a good six feet deep.

(I hunted for a pic of the small early patch of ferns, but no luck.)

This patch is now thick with fern fronds. As the ferns came up this Spring the area wasn’t raked of leaves or anything and the ferns sprouted up the thickest we’ve seen them.

Ferns on the north side of garage filling in.
Ferns on the north side of garage filling in.

Photo above taken 2 May 2010. I found it interesting that the ferns that grew the biggest first were the fronds right next to the house and the fronds furthest from the house. This probably signals that the growing ends of the roots are the strongest, and therefore, the first to take advantage of a new growing season.

In the woods these ferns are in more of a singular fashion. Several fern fronds will be in the same area, but they tend not to occur en masse, at least at this location and time. If left alone the Hay-Scented Fern, Dennstaedtia punctilobula, would probably create a near monoculture like what you see behind the garage.

We have a few different kinds of ferns on our land here in South-central PA. The hay-scented fern seems to be the most prolific. We see it in the most places and there are more of them compared to the other ferns.

Hay-scented fern, although it is native to North America, can be invasive. Judging by the thick growth at the back of the house, it’s easy to see that under the right conditions this plant could be a pest. Having said that, I do really like the fact that the ferns are perennial and come up to fill in the length of the garage year after year.

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Hepatica, a Spring Ephemeral in Hardwood Forests

Here’s a spring blooming plant that you won’t see unless you go into the woods during early Spring, called hepatica. Hepatica americana can be found among the leaf litter beneath the trees of oak-hickory-maple forests.

We see the flowers here in Pennsylvania during the last part of March through the first half of April. Hepatica is one of the Spring Ephemeral flowers, only blooming for a short time in early spring before the trees leaf out.

Native to forests of Eastern North America, hepatica is a perennial with some medicinal properties. The Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants indicates that hepatica was highly sought after in the late 1800s for its revered ability to soothe the liver. A liver tonic craze saw tons of hepatica harvested here and abroad. A common nickname for hepatica is liverleaf.

Native Americans made a leaf tea for liver and digestive ailments. Folk tradition used hepatica tea for coughs and fevers, also. We don’t harvest it for anything, we just appreciate it being there!

Taking a walk in the woods, you’ll first be able to spot the dark green, shiny leaves, or the rounded edge of a leaf. Moving a few leaves aside will uncover the thick, waxy clover-shaped leaves.

Round-lobed hepatica getting ready to bloom.
Round-lobed hepatica getting ready to bloom.

When the leaves are new they arise in an erect posture. Once the leaves grow to full size – a couple inches or more across, the flower stem relaxes so that the large rounded leaves lie prostrate to the ground. Most often you’ll see the larger, older leaves that overwinter still hiding among the leaf litter when the flowers are present.

Angular-shaped leaves of hepatica.
Small angular-shaped leaves of hepatica.

The young leaves also have a more angular shape than the mickey mouse ears of the older leaves. Leaves and stems are fuzzy with hairs when young and lose the hairs at some point.

Fuzzy, hairy stalks of young leaves and flowers of hepatica.
Fuzzy, hairy stalks of young leaves and flowers of hepatica.

The pastel flowers sort of jump out at you when you finally see one. The purple, blue, pink or white petals are so perfect, in symmetry with the white stamens. The colorful petals are actually sepals. Green bracts underneath the flower head are rounded or pointed, depending on the kind of hepatica.

Single blue hepatica flower open with round-lobed leaves.
Single blue hepatica flower open with round-lobed leaves.

Hepatica flowers are delicate and easily beaten down by wind and rain. Truly ephemeral. Great hepatica images from the US Forest Service.

Sharp-lobed hepatica, H. acutiloba, has pointed, tri-lobed leaves and bracts. Round-lobed hepatica, H. americana, has rounded lobes on its leaves and bracts. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service classifies these two hepaticas as varieties of one species, Hepatica nobilus, with the sharp-lobed variety as H. nobilus var. acuta, and the round-lobed variety as H. nobilus var obtusa.

In the vicinity or same microhabitat of the hepatica plants pictured here, we find downy rattlesnake plantain, a member of the Orchid family. Its perennial, cross-veined leaves are hiding among the leaf litter, but they can be found all over the north- and west-facing hillsides. At this time of the year you have to know where look for it and move leaves aside to see it. Rattlesnake plantain is easier to spot in the summertime when there is less leaf litter.

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