The Lowest Early Spring Natural Flowers

In the earliest days of Spring we have only a few splotches of color starting the blooming eruption.

Flowers of the spring bulbs and garden plants that we planted are much more visible than the native flowers that are blooming this early. The native ones tend to grow low so they’re not quite as able to be seen as the happy daffodils.

Forsythia blossoms are pushing open. They’re not fully open yet, but yesterday you could start to see the bright yellow. Today more yellow is visible.

Daffodils in Yellow and Orange
Daffodils in Yellow and Orange

Crocuses have come and gone — into the belly of some critter — and the daffodils are shouting in all their happy orange and yellow that Spring is here! They look great in the sunshine, don’t they?

Tulip greenery is up and the Star Magnolia blossoms should open up any day now as they are getting pretty big. You can see the petals getting longer as they grow and soon they’ll finally push their buds to bursting.

One plant that might be found blooming much earlier, even before Skunk Cabbage according to a fellow garden enthusiast from New York State, is known as a hellebore, which is native to the Far East so we had to plant it here in Pennsylvania. Hellebores can take the cold and may even be found blooming in the middle of winter.

As far as native plants go,

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Red Berries & Seeds Hang On Through Winter

At the end of Winter we’re likely to have some blustery weather as the seasons change. Spring blows winds seemingly from all directions at times, but that’s not enough to dislodge the fruits that have clung tight for months.

Before the agricultural crops are planted and before vegetable gardens are tilled come Spring, the pickings out in nature must be pretty thin.

Animals and birds have had all winter long to consume the fruits, berries and seeds that plants created in Autumn.

Red Rose Hips on Green Stems
Red Rose Hips on Green Stems

Note the red rose hips on the green stems that grew last year on the branches of this Multiflora Rose.

It seems strange that any of the seeds or fruit would last through the coldest season, when animals must be just as hungry as any other season. Wouldn’t they? Sure, bears and others do hibernate and slow their activities, but don’t most of them have to eat something?

Wandering around the mountain top I could find several red berries that made in through winter. Don’t they taste good?

Oblong Shiny Red Fruits of Japanese Barberry
Oblong Shiny Red Fruits of Japanese Barberry

Note the spikes on the branches with the oblong shiny red fruits on this Japanese Barberry.

(Photos of barberry and wild rose taken 31 Dec 2015. Click on small images to see a larger view.)

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Record Warmth Rushes Spring In PA

Central Pennsylvania experienced record warmth for 3 days this past week. It’s not often we reach into the 70s in March so you know people were outside.

After a long winter the sun’s rays felt really good on my face. I just stood there soaking it in for a couple of moments before getting on with some winter cleanup in the yard. So many sticks to pick up!

Sure, now the tulip greens are pushing up and the daffodils are springing up, too.

Orange and Purple Crocuses in Bloom
Orange and Purple Crocuses in Bloom

A few white crocuses and these neat orange ones with dark purple veins made an appearance this week. I think the orange ones are attractive to squirrels or shrews. I’m not sure who’s been nibbling on them, but last year the orange ones disappeared quickly. Maybe they taste good or maybe they’re just an easy target as they don’t blend in well to their surroundings.

Blooming Maroon Hellebore
Blooming Maroon Hellebore

The hellebore is showing more than just the buds of her maroon flowers.

Maroon Hellebore Bloom Closeup
Maroon Hellebore Bloom Closeup

The downward-pointing blooms need a little lift for us to see their inner workings.

The hellebore has more greenery this year than last, despite the lack of fertilizer other than what Mother Nature could afford.

Besides these planted beauties, I did see a flowering bunch of chickweed over at the courthouse the other day.

Mass of Chickweed Growing at the Courthouse
Mass of Chickweed Growing at the Courthouse

Could have made off with a nice addition to a salad here, but since I don’t know how the lawns are kept in this public spot I decided a photo would suffice.

Chickweed Appears to Have 10 Petals
Chickweed Appears to Have 10 Petals

Common Chickweed, Stellaria media, is a common plant of waste places, roadsides, gardens and yards, and it’s edible.

Chickweeds in general appear to have 10 petals, but on closer inspection you’ll see there are actually 5 petals which are deeply cleft. Some look like hearts, others like bunny ears!

Besides that, common chickweed has paired leaves having long petioles (stems), its sepals are longer than its petals, and it has smooth leaves.

On Saturday, the 12th of March, we saw the first coltsfoot blooms of the season and that’s the earliest in the year I’ve ever seen them flowering. They were at the side of a two-lane country road closing up their heads for the night — as we passed by about dusk — but their bright yellow edges still were eye-catching.

(Photos taken 11 March 2016. Click on small images to see a larger view.)

Beauty and Utility of the Ubiquitous Dandelion

The lowly dandelion. It all depends on your viewpoint whether this ubiquitous flowering plant is pretty or something to be poisoned or ripped out by the roots. Yeah, good luck with that last one!

If you’re “trained” to think that the only lawn is a manicured mono-culture of grass, then you’re stuck to the pages of a slick magazine and not rooted in reality.

Reality says that you’re spending too much time trying to get rid of these things and wasting money on chemicals that really shouldn’t be polluting our world. Why do you do this? Don’t you realize that our groundwater is down there?

Haven’t you read that RoundUp(TM) is killing pets and sickening people where it is sprayed willy-nilly on the grass for the purpose of getting rid of “weeds” like the dandelion? Don’t you want your grandkids to be safe playing in the yard? Of course you do, so read on!

Try looking at the dandelion a little closer. It really is a beautiful flower! The color is an amazingly bright yellow, reflecting the golden rays of the sun.

Sunny Dandelions in the Yard
Sunny Dandelions in the Yard

Did you know that dandelion blooms close up at night? The blooms don’t open very much if at all during a cloudy or rainy day. I don’t know about you, but I just think that is a cool thing. The photo below shows the same bunch of dandelions as in the image above in the early morning before the sunlight totally woke them up.

Closed Dandelions First Thing in the Morning
Closed Dandelions First Thing in the Morning

Not all flowers will open up only when the sun is shining. It’s like the sun is really reflected in the happy faces of the dandelion.

Dandelions Are Edible

Who knew the leaves and blooms are edible?

In Pennsylvania Ham and Dandelion dinners are common events around Easter time in early Spring. I saw one being advertised just the other day. Baked ham is a tradition meal for Easter in many places. So, serve it with a salad!

In early Spring dandelion leaves are collected and eaten as salad greens. Once the flowers appear the leaves become too bitter to eat, but the blossoms are edible, too. I came across a recipe for dandelion fritters and it promises that they’re delicious as either a savory dish or sweet treat.

Health nuts who are into juicing know that dandelion leaves can be a great addition to their liquid meals so dandelion leaves are actually available for purchase in bulk.

Seems so silly to pay for food that could easily be gathered for free. I know we have enough dandelion leaves in our yard to make quite a number of salads. Why not employ your kids to pick the leaves with you? When you get a lot, store them in a refrigerator crisper until needed.

Wouldn’t it be much nicer to use the plant than to pollute the earth seeking to get rid of it?

Wine is even made from the dandelion, so why not use this plant to our advantage?

Lil Standup Fern A Spleenwort

One of the ferns that stays with us through winter is my Lil’ Stand Up Fern. This one I found across the pond down the lane.

Without access to all the characteristics that would definitely identify this little fern, my initial ID is that it’s Ebony Spleenwort, Asplenium platyneuron.

Lil Standup Fern Survives Winter
Lil Standup Fern Survives Winter

Characters gleaned from the photo above include the following:

  • pinnae alternate
  • pinnae auricled
  • pinnae slightly lobed
  • blade less than 2 inches wide
  • indusia elongate
  • blade pinnate
  • blade once-divided

If you’re not familiar with the terms used to describe ferns, a $5 guide book would help immensely. Fern Finder by Ann and Barbara Hallowell is small enough to fit in a hip pocket, so it’s easy to take with you.

The way I came to ID this plant is the exact opposite of how you’re supposed to use a dichotomous key, which is how the Fern Finder and many other field guides are presented.

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Skunk Cabbage First Flowers of Spring

The First Flower of Spring Award goes to… Skunk Cabbage!

Looking back on my old posts here at wildeherb, it seems I’m so excited for Spring to arrive that every year I just have to get out and see the skunk cabbage.

Yellow Mottled Maroon Spathes of Eastern Skunk Cabbage
Yellow Mottled Maroon Spathes of Eastern Skunk Cabbage

That may be because it’s our first flower of spring, but also it’s an oddity. I favor the ends of the diversity rainbow and the skunk cabbage is a special one.

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the Eastern or Western Skunk Cabbage, they are both strange and beautiful at the same time.

Their growth habit isn’t like a typical flower you might think of where some green leaves develop first and a bit later flowers with pretty petals appear near the top of the plant or the tips of the branches. Skunk cabbage forms the flowering structure first, then the leaves appear.

Skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, is in the Arum Family, Araceae. Other family members are odd in their growth habit too, like the Jack-in-the-Pulpit that we find in similar habitats as the skunk cabbage.

The general form of the skunk cabbage flowering structure has two parts known as the spadix and spathe. To save a thousand words, here’s a close-up picture of the plant shown above with a few leaves cleared away.

Skunk Cabbage Flowers Hidden in Its Spathe
Skunk Cabbage Flowers Hidden in Its Spathe

The spadix is the flowering structure that holds the actual flowers. The spathe is a hood-like structure that at least partially envelopes the spadix. Here, the spathe is maroon flecked with yellow.

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What Ferns Stay Green Through Winter

Ferns have a way of holding onto bits of their color during even the coldest months. Not that the plants are actively growing then, but a lot of their aerial parts don’t totally die back in the winter.

In the Northeastern United States we experience four seasons and right now it’s still officially Winter. Yeah, it looks kind of bleak out there in nature, at least when you’re looking at the big picture.

A lot of the grass, and weeds!, in lawns and near roadways appeared light green to tan or brown before the big snow arrived. The green parts will reappear when the weather gets sunnier and warmer and that’s actually not too far away now that it’s March, which came in like a lamb here in Central PA.

Greens polka-dot the landscape where the pine trees and hemlocks and other evergreen trees grow, but zoom in a little bit and you can find more splotches of color.

Big Frond Fern In The Oak Forest
Big Frond Fern In The Oak Forest

Taking a walk in the woods you can find ferns holding on to their leaves from the past growing season.

At least three kinds of ferns share our piece of land with us. At this point I can only call them as I see them:

  1. Large fern found singly. Long arching leaves with rounded leaflets.
  2. Small upright fern. Few leaves in vertical arrangement. Leaflets twist up the stems.
  3. Medium size light green fern often found in mass groupings. Erect leaves with etched leaflets.

So, how do we tell what fern it is?

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Don’t Miss Shenk’s Ferry This Spring

As cabin fever hits we’re mapping out the places we’d like to go and see this Spring.

Blizzard Dropped 17 Inches of Snow
Blizzard Dropped 17 Inches of Snow

At the top of the list is Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. This is one awesome place that’s just so beautiful with many spring bloomers.

During April this forested glen becomes alive with color. The hillsides turn a bright green with new vegetation and flowers in bloom everywhere you look.

It can’t be overemphasized how beautiful Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve is! You just have to see it for yourself.

Download my copy of the Shenk’s Ferry Wildflowers Brochure — which is no longer available from PPL online as far as I can tell.

The Shenk’s Ferry Brochure shows directions to the site and names of the wildflowers that live there.

There is no parking area — people just park along the road near the entrance. Be prepared for some rough road as the gravel/muddy roadway isn’t maintained very well by PPL. Just go slow!

Trailhead Sign at Shenk's Ferry
Trailhead Sign at Shenk’s Ferry

Two years ago near the end of April we saw a group of students from a nearby college on the path. Their instructor was sharing her knowledge of the different flowering plants.

Walking on the path and drinking in the abundance of spring-blooming flowers is truly worth the trip to Shenk’s Ferry. If you go, let us know what your experience was like!