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.

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Large and Small Trees Cut Down By Power Company

I had a very unpleasant opportunity to see “men at work” when I visited Little Buffalo State Park on 30 April 2010. The sound of chainsaws filled the air and I wondered if other trees were forced down by stormy weather.

It seems the power company, or whatever outfit they employ, took the day to cut down trees that were growing in the power line zone that crosses the far end of Mill Race Trail.

Now, I understand the men had a job to do, that of clearing the area to protect the power lines. What I don’t understand is how they went about their business. It was very evident to me that they cut down EVERYTHING whether it posed a potential hazard to the precious power lines or not.

Some of the vegetation they cut down never would have reached a height to bother the extremely high power lines in this area. Why take the time and energy to cut ALL the trees? If someone could have taken a little time to educate these people about the ecosystems and microhabitats they were destroying, perhaps lives could have been saved.

Unfortunately all they were paid for was cut first, ask questions later.

Looking down the power lines at the far end of Mill Race Trail.
Looking down the power lines at the far end of Mill Race Trail.
Lots of vegetation under the power lines.
Lots of vegetation under the power lines.

The images above were taken 18 April 2010 on the Mill Race Trail. Note that there is plenty of vegetation in the foreground and on the left side of the meadow.

Contrast the pre-cut photos with ones taken on 30 April 2010 after the clear cut –

Looking across the meadow at the end of Mill Race Trail.
Looking across the meadow at the end of Mill Race Trail.
Did all these trees really pose a hazard to the power lines above?
Did all these trees really pose a hazard to the power lines above?
Hot meadow.
Hot meadow.

Looking back across the power lines. Very small foreground trees were cut to the ground.

Clear cut hillside.
Clear cut hillside.

Although the before and after shots were not taken from the same exact locations, looking up the hill you can see that everything was clear cut.

So, what habitats were possibly ruined by taking down all the trees in this area? Any plant or living thing that required a cooler environment, as that provided by the trees, may be destined to die or find a new home. Walking from the shade of the trees further up the trail into the bright sunshine of the newly-naked area, there was at least a ten degree increase in air temperature. You could feel the heat coming up from the ground where the sunlight made it to the ground. Any salamanders that lived here will have to move up or down stream, back into wooded areas.

Habitats or microhabitats were disrupted, not only by the loss of shade, but by the debris left to rot where it lay. It’s known that beautifully large hepatica and showy orchis plants live where the saplings of spicebush and others were cut down and left to lay. If the cut wood is left where it is, these beautiful and rare plants won’t return again.

Come on people, let’s work smarter! Perhaps the cutting crews can get together with the land managers – especially in areas like State Parks – and find ways to protect both nature and the power lines. All it would take is one biologist to inform which plants don’t need to be cut (because they’ll never get too tall) and where leftover debris may become a hazard to the life forms that the parks are supposed to protect for all our futures.

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Greater Celandine Has The Craziest Leaf Shape

Greater Celandine has appeared to me before singly. Only one plant at a time did I ever see until I went to Little Buffalo State Park on 30 April 2010.

Greater Celandine, Chelidonium majus, grows to 1-2 feet tall with their yellow flowers at the highest points on flower stems that project from leaf axils. It is an alien plant in the U.S. and native to Europe.

Yellow flowers top the Greater Celandine plants at the edge of the woods.
Yellow flowers top the Celandine plants at the edge of the woods.

The leaves of greater celandine are unique. Perhaps that is why the plant is in its own genus – ther are no other members of Chelidonium. The compound leaves have typically five leaflets in a pattern with rounded teeth that may be so big that the leaflets have lobes.

Shadows aside, it looks like a kid could have dreamed up this leaf!
Shadows aside, it looks like a kid could have dreamed up this leaf!

Isn’t that the craziest leaf you’ve ever seen? There’s not another one like it. For sure you’ll be able to identify greater celandine, even if it’s not flowering, just by looking at the leaves.

Loose clusters of 3/4-inch wide flowers with one to a few blossoms flowering at one time top the celandine plant. Note the bright yellow flowers with bushy stamens and four petals held out flat.

Yellow flowers and erect seed pods of celandine.
Yellow flowers and erect seed pods of celandine.

In the image above note the long hairs on the flowers pods and flower stems.

Seedpods forming on celandine
Seedpods forming on celandine

In the image above you can see the green part of the flower that will lengthen into the seed pod. Note that there are long and smooth, slender seed pods present from previously fertilized flowers, and also flower buds that have yet to open on the taller stem.

Greater celandine is found in wooded areas, especially near the edge of paths or roads or other open areas.

Several celandine plants at the edge of the woods.
Several celandine plants at the edge of the woods.

In the image above there are about ten greater celandine plants as noted by their clusters of bright yellow flowers. These celandine were at the edge of the woods as an open field was behind the photographer.

The Peterson Medicinal Plants Guide warns us that the yellow juice obtained by breaking a stem is highly irritating, allergenic and most likely poisonous. At one time the yellow juice was used as a folk remedy for skin problems like warts, eczema and ringworm, but due to its toxicity we can’t recommend using celandine for any remedy. However, modern herbalists might disagree and use greater celandine for a number of ailments.

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Early Saxifrage Blooms on Woodland Hillsides

The Middle Ridge Trail at Little Buffalo State Park is marked with red blazes. It’s a difficult trail because of the steep terrain in some places.

Fewer people travel this path as noted by the width of the trail. Perhaps that’s because the level of difficulty or the fact this area of the park is open to hunting. Maybe it’s location on the north side of the park is too far from the popular Day Use Area. That’s too bad as one wild flower blooms here that many people may not get to see elsewhere in the park – Early Saxifrage, Saxifraga virginiensis.

West end of the Middle Ridge Trail at Little Buffalo State Park.
West end of the Middle Ridge Trail at Little Buffalo State Park in Newport, PA.

Early saxifrage was plentiful on the west end of the Middle Ridge Trail.

Lots of Early Saxifrage on the Middle Ridge Trail.
Lots of Early Saxifrage on the Middle Ridge Trail.

Nearly all the white flowers on the west-facing slope in the image above are Early Saxifrage.

Star-like blossoms of early saxifrage.
Star-like blossoms of early saxifrage.

Clusters of early saxifrage flowers have a star-like appearance.

The upper left cluster in the image above shows the branching of the flower cluster and the woolly flower stem. The flower stalks may reach 10 to 16 inches tall.

Leaves of early saxifrage are mostly basal ones. Very small lance-like stem leaves may or may not be present. The oval basal leaves have scalloped edges. In the image below you can see the flower stalks rising up from the group of basal leaves.

Scalloped basal leaves of early saxifrage.
Scalloped basal leaves of early saxifrage.

Note that the flower stalks are hairy or fuzzy with hairs.

Flowers of early saxifrage occur in clusters at the top of the flower stem. The five-petaled white flowers are small, only a quarter-inch in width. Small yellow-tipped stamens are visible inside the flower heads.

Flowers of early saxifrage on flower stalk.
Flowers of early saxifrage on flower stalk.

Blossoms are at the tip of the flower stalk that rises up from the basal leaves. Note in the image above that there is one stem leaf at the point where a secondary flower stem branches from the main flower stem.

Besides the western end of Middle Ridge Trail at Little Buffalo State Park, we’ve seen Early Saxifrage on wooded hillsides along country roads.

Cohorts included blooming spring beauty, rue anemone, fairy wings, ferns and hepatica (already bloomed).

Spring beauty and early saxifrage blooming together.
Spring beauty and early saxifrage blooming together.

Spring beauty was blooming at the same time and place as Early Saxifrage.

Early saxifrage and rue anemone blooming at the same time.
Early saxifrage and rue anemone blooming at the same time.

Rue anemone was blooming at the same time and place as Early Saxifrage.

Early Saxifrage bloomed at least from the 15th to the 23rd of April in south-central Pennsylvania.

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Wild Ginger Blossoms Touch the Earth

It’s mid-Spring now and the assembly of plants in the woodlands have made the scenery quite green compared to a month ago. The trees are leafed in for the most part, although a few oaks still have small leaves. Shade is dappled under the trees that don’t have all their leaves emerged just yet.

Walking in the woods now has a different feeling. Sure, there are still plenty of crunchy leaves to trod upon, but the view is quite different. With all the trees, shrubs, vines and herbs growing up and pushing their leaves out, the woods have a closed-in feeling. It feels like there is less room in there compared to a few weeks ago when you could see all the way through the woods.

Since each season is about three months long, we can say that each season has an early, middle and late period with each period lasting about a month.

During early spring Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense, emerged from the ground with their leaves a bit crinkled. Wild Ginger is a woodland perennial native to the Eastern US. Its leaves rise up from an underground stem, or rhizome, and the plant spreads out from this rhizome each year. It’s blossoms should be visible during mid-Spring.

Colony of wild ginger growing next to a creek.
Colony of wild ginger growing next to a creek.

The rounded, heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger rise up in pairs from the rhizome. Two leaves are connected to each other in a Y-shape.

Wild ginger spreads out and makes a nice ground cover with its leaves reaching a height of only 4 to 10 inches. A patch of wild ginger is eye-catching in a native plant garden.

Flowers of wild ginger must be sought out or you’ll never see them. The leaves hide the flowers out of sight and the flowers are not where you might expect them – at ground level. Sometimes the flowers don’t even push out of the ground all the way and remain partially covered by a layer of soil or old leaves. There is a single blossom that sits in the crotch of each pair of leaves.

A pair of wild ginger leaves and one flower.
A pair of wild ginger leaves and one flower.

The two leaves of wild ginger often hide its single maroon to brown blossom from view.

Wild ginger blooms are cup-shaped with three lobes giving it a triangular appearance. The flower stalk and flower are covered with hairs that make it look quite fuzzy. The flowers are light-colored on the outside with a maroon interior. They must be pollinated by ants or some other ground-wandering insect.

Front view of wild ginger flower.
Front view of wild ginger flower.
Note the soft hairs all over the leaves of wild ginger.
Note the soft hairs all over the leaves of wild ginger.

Looking down on the heart-shaped leaves and maroon flower of wild ginger.

Hairy wild ginger blossom.
Hairy wild ginger blossom.

Wild ginger flowers are coated with long hairs. The leaves and stems are covered with short hairs.

Wild ginger plant growing at the edge of a creek.
Wild ginger plant growing at the edge of a creek.

The flower of wild ginger rises out of the crotch of two leaves.

Wild ginger requires a moist to wetland, woodland habitat. Places like the edges or lowlands of creeks or rivers are good places to look for wild ginger.

Photos were taken 18Apr2010 at Little Buffalo State Park. Wild ginger can be seen in many places in the Day Use Area, near the covered bridge, along the Mill Race Trail, and at the upper west end of Middle Ridge Trail.

A few years ago I bought a wild ginger plant at a Native Plant Sale and planted it on the east side of our house, right next to the house in an area that receives mostly shade. Each year the ginger has come up a little bigger than the year before. This year there are seven pairs of leaves.

If you are lucky enough to find wild ginger for sale try planting it under a tree to mimic its native habitat. It would make a nice ground cover and at the same time it would receive the shade it requires to thrive.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit A Wetland Spring Ephemeral

Spring ephemerals are the hit of the season right now. For the past few weeks they have taken turns blooming in the eastern forests of North America.

One such Spring Ephemeral is Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Arisema bulbosa. A unique and irregular flower, Jack-in-the-Pulpit can be found in moist and wetland areas, such as lowlands, river bottoms, creeks and drainage areas.

Creek at the location of Jack-in-the-Pulpits.
Creek at the location of Jack-in-the-Pulpits.

Creek side habitat where Jack-in-the-Pulpit can be found. Cohorts included Miterwort, Wild Ginger and Spring Beauty.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

The flower is actually a colonial one with an odd construction. the flowers are covered from view inside the spathe, which is the outer cup-shape that has a striped hood. Many small yellow flowers cover the bat-shaped spadix that sits in the spathe. The spathe protects the group of flowers on the spadix.

The spathe is streaked with brown to maroon lines, the top of which forms a hood over the club-like spadix. In the image above you can see two of three leaflets of the compound basal leaf.

Young Jack-in-the-Pulpit.
Young Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

The spathe in the image above is marked with light green lines. The plants without brown or maroon markings appear to be smaller, perhaps younger ones.

Spadix inside the brown spathe.
Spadix inside the brown spathe.

A closer look at Jack, the club-like spadix.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit is so named because the spadix (Jack) appears to stand inside the spathe (pulpit) in just a way that preacher might stand in a pulpit.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit emerges from the ground with fully formed leaves. The leaves emerge rolled up and folded. A single, basal compound leaf is usually present that gets to be about a foot tall. Three leaflets are oval in shape and come to a point. One leaflet points up and the other two point down so the leaf appears to be triangular. Small basal leaves, a few inches tall, may also be present. The flower stem arises separately from the leaf stalk.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit leaves and flowers emerging from the ground.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit leaves and flowers emerging from the ground.

Note the wrapped up look to the leaves of Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

When you see new plants from different angles it helps to illustrate the true structure and dimensions of what you’re inspecting.

The top of Jack-in-the-Pulpit.
The top of Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

Looking down on a Jack-in-the-Pulpit plant you can see three basal leaves in threes and one spathe in the center of the three compound leaves. Other plants growing in the same habitat include ferns and other allies that need moist conditions.

Looking at Jack-in-the-Pulpit from the side.
Looking at Jack-in-the-Pulpit from the side.

In this sideview of Jack-in-the-Pulpit, photo taken 30Apr2010, you can see that Jack’s head doesn’t touch the hood of the spathe. Note that the round or heart-shaped leaf on the left is wild ginger.

These photographs of Jack-in-the-Pulpit were taken at Little Buffalo State Park, Newport, Pennsylvania. All other photos taken 18Apr2010.

Spring Beauty Claytonia Blooming in Open Woodlands

Spring beauty, Claytonia virginica, is one of the first Spring Ephemeral flowers that I learned to recognize. It is a dainty little flower with five petals and stamens. The anthers at the tips of the stamens are pink, which seems to add to its delicate nature.

Loose clusters of Spring Beauty flowers.
Loose clusters of Spring Beauty flowers.

The loose clusters of spring beauty flowers may have one or more open blossoms and several other blossoms hanging down that are either spent or have yet to bloom.

Blooms of spring beauty. Note the pair of linear leaves on each plant.
Blooms of spring beauty. Note the pair of linear leaves on each plant.

Blossoms have five white rounded petals, many that have gray to pinkish lines, like the flowers in the image above. The whole flower may have a tinge of pink in addition to the pink anthers at the top of the five stamens.

Locally plentiful!

Colony of flowering spring beauty.
Colony of flowering spring beauty.

Spring beauty can be found blooming en masse from middle to late April in central Pennsylvania. The dandelion was included in the image above for scale.

Group of spring beauties blooming at the base of a big tree.
Group of spring beauties blooming at the base of a big tree.

(Click on any of the images to see a larger view.)

Spring beauty flowers opening up for the day.
Spring beauty flowers opening up for the day.

Spring beauty gets about as tall as the grass and its linear leaves help to hide it among the grass. The flowers in the image above seemed to be coming out of hiding as they started to bloom for the day. Their blossoms weren’t all the way open, yet. Note the pink anthers and lines on the petals in these loose clusters of spring beauties.

Photos of this common spring ephemeral flower above were taken 18Apr2010 at Little Buffalo State Park near the covered bridge.

Beautiful grouping of Spring Beauty blooming in the grass.
Beautiful grouping of Spring Beauty blooming in the grass.

I was a little surprised to see it still flowering a couple weeks later. The above photo was taken 30Apr2010 in the same area. That makes the little spring beauty one of the longest lasting spring ephemeral flowers that I’ve ever seen.

Claytonia, what a delight!

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Fairy Wings Gaywings Blooming in the Forest with Wintergreen

A true Spring Ephemeral can be found now flowering in the woodlands. The trees are leafing in fast now, with only a few oak trees lagging behind the maples and many others that seem to be already in full leaf. Perhaps the leaves will still get bigger, but for the most part anyone would look at the woods and say that the leaves have emerged.

Take a walk under the oak trees and look around the leaf litter for blooming spring flowers. If you are lucky you might see the hot pink fairy wings, flowers of Fringed Polygala, Polygala paucifolia. Fairy wings are unique little flowers also known as Gaywings or Flowering Wintergreen.

Fairy wings arise from the ground on stems that support both leaves and flowers. The flowers start out as pink buds.

The pink flower buds of early fairy wings, also called gaywings.
The pink flower buds of early fairy wings, also called gaywings.

In the photo above, taken 13Apr2010, the central group of the four largest leaves is a wintergreen plant.

Fairy wings occur in the same habitat as Wintergreen, or Teaberry, Gaultheria procumbens. If only the leaves are present, there may be some confusion as to which plant is which. The bigger leaf with the round end is wintergreen. Its leaves alternate along a stem that is almost flat or prone to the ground. Fairy wings have upright stems and smaller, lighter green leaves that come to a point at the end.

Wintergreen often holds on to its red berry, even through winter, and usually has 3-4 oval, leathery, evergreen leaves that may be spotted or mottled with maroon.

Wintergreen leaves and red berries, also called Teaberry.
Wintergreen leaves and red berries, also called Teaberry.
Red berries and leaves of wintergreen or teaberry.
Red berries and leaves of wintergreen or teaberry.

(Photos taken 13Apr2010.)

Red berries of wintergreen made it through winter on several plants here. I guess the birds had enough to eat and saved these berries for last. Or maybe they don’t prefer the spicy-minty taste of the teaberry. Note that some of the wintergreen leaves are dark green and others are light green with maroon spots.

Fairy wings have a more upright stem with leaves smaller than wintergreen and that occur in a whorl around the stem. The leaves of these two woodland plants may confuse the casual onlooker as to their true identity, but the flowers are unmistakable.

A fairy wing flower looks like a tiny little pink airplane with a fringed propeller. Two side petals are like the wings of a plane, sticking straight out to either side of the blossom. The center petals are fused into a tubular shape, which makes the fuselage of an imaginary airplane.

Fairy wings just opening up their pink petals.
Fairy wings just opening up their pink petals.

Fairy wings in the image above, taken 18Apr2010, were at the far end of the Mill Race Trail at Little Buffalo State Park, Newport, Pennsylvania. The pink petals are still slightly curled at the edges as if the blossoms just then opened.

In the woods on our mountain ridge the fairy wings were blooming full on 23 April 2010. Dozens of fairy wing flowers captured our attention with their bright pink petals. The flowers get to show off at the tip of a short vertical stem.

The flowering stalks of fairy wings rise up vertically with fringed pink flowers at the tip.
The flowering stalks of fairy wings rise up vertically with fringed pink flowers at the tip.

The leaves and flowers share the same 3 to 5 inch stem. (Photo taken 23Apr2010.)

Three or four small oval leaves sit in a whorl right under the flowers. They point upward at the tips so it looks as if they’re meant to cup and protect the fairy wing blossoms.

Looking down on a group of fringed polygala blossoms.
Looking down on a group of fringed polygala blossoms.
Closeup of flowers and leaves of fairy wings.
Closeup of flowers and leaves of fairy wings.

You have to be in the woods to get the full impact of these little beauties. Sometimes you’ll see a couple here and there and then a great patch with dozens of flowers blooming in a couple of square feet.

Patch of fairy wings flowering in the woods in April.
Patch of fairy wings flowering in the woods in April.

Fairy wings look stunning among the brown oak leaves on the forest floor.

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