Wild Phlox & Bluebell Show at Shenk’s Ferry in Late April

Shenk’s Ferry was spectacular the third week of April. I’m thrilled I made it there this Spring flowering season. It’s a bit of a drive to get there from the mountains, but definitely worth the effort.

I was just as excited to read that the property was transferred from PPL to the Lancaster Conservancy as of 2014. We’re hoping it will remain in its present state for generations to come!

Many Flowers of Wildphlox
Many Flowers of Wildphlox

Getting to Shenk’s Ferry has been a little exciting in years past. If you’ve got a truck or another vehicle with a higher clearance that would be the vehicle to take there. The road leading to the entrance of the Wildflower Preserve was in better shape this time than past years where you worried that the car would bottom out on the deep ruts in the dirt road. You could see where somebody had some fun off-roading creating those ruts!

Shenk’s Ferry Road will lead you to Green Hill Road which leads downhill to the preserve. It’s a dirt road that lies at the bottom of several hills that drain Lancaster County as rain water rushes down into the Susquehanna River.

It appeared that recent work had been done on the road, but just go slow and you’ll be fine. Through the tunnel and bear left and keep going to the entrance. Park along the road.

Stop at the sign at the entrance to check the trail map and see some photos of the flora you might be able to see.

Room Enough for Two
Room Enough for Two

The trail is wide enough in most spots for a couple to walk hand-in-hand. Be watchful for

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Jacob’s Ladder Blooming at Wildwood Park

The first flowers of Jacob’s Ladder sway on the breezes of early Spring. I found a few specimens near the nature center at Wildwood Park in the middle of April and they were just beginning to bloom.

It’s actually a new plant for me. 🙂 I did see one at another park several years ago, but it was past blooming and I just wasn’t sure of the identification back then. I should go back there to take a look around to see if I could find it near that creek.

Blue Bell Flowers of Jacobs Ladder in Clusters
Blue Bell Flowers of Jacobs Ladder in Clusters

Wildwood Park is situated on the northern edge of Harrisburg, PA and offers a convenient place to walk in a nature setting. Many dog walkers and mommies with babes in strollers take advantage of the wide trail that runs all along the edge of Wildwood Lake. The boardwalks are wonderful places to see ducks and other waterfowl and migrant birds.

A spillway in the southern end of the lake controls the water level of Paxton Creek which runs through the city. It’s not too far from the spillway where the Jacob’s Ladder grows — look between the spillway and the Nature Center.

Clusters of light blue flowers nodding in the wind caught my attention. The white anthers at the stamen tips were quite noticeable, although you had to bend down to peer into the flowers.

Each bloom on its own little stalk had five rounded petals that were grouped together into a bell shape by the five-pointed calyx at the base of the flower.

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Running Pines Reproduce in Very Early Spring

I love that name, Running Pines, so it takes me a minute to recall the real name of these forest-dwelling plants. It’s not a misnomer though, they really do look like little pine trees running through the forest.

And when I say little trees, I mean miniature ones.

Running Pines are a type of Club Moss, which are more closely related to ferns than flowering plants. They reach less than a foot tall. Maybe 6 or 8 inches tall.

We can find two kinds of running pines on our mountain ridge. One kind looks like miniature Christmas trees and the other looks like tiny flat cedars. The Christmas tree type is called Tree Clubmoss, Lycopodium obscurum, and the flat cedars are known as Ground Cedars, L. tristachyum.

Tree Clubmoss Growing Near Ground Cedar
Tree Clubmoss Growing Near Ground Cedar

Although both species are included in the above photo (tree clubmoss is on the top right and ground cedars are on the left), it’s more usual to find them in separate colonies.

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Hellebores Can Take The Cold

One plant that might be found blooming very early in Spring, even before Skunk Cabbage according to a fellow garden enthusiast from New York State, is known as Hellebore.

Hellebores are so hardy they may even be found blooming in the middle of winter. Now, I haven’t seen it myself, but others report that hellebores can even bloom when it’s snowing out!

Hellebores, of the genus Helleborus, are native to the Far East. They’re members of the Buttercup Family, Ranunculaceae.

Perennial Hellebore Plant With Evergreen Leaves
Perennial Hellebore Plant With Evergreen Leaves

Low-growing palmate leaves overwinter among the leaf litter in this perennial plant. The large basal leaves sustain the plant through winter and help to give the flowers an early start in Spring.

Maroon Hellebore Flowers in Bud
Maroon Hellebore Flowers in Bud

Its blossoms can be missed for they start out life as flower buds with their heads pointing down.

Large sepals hide the colorful petals until the flower finds conditions ready for it to open.

Hellebore Flowers Rise Up on Stalk
Hellebore Flowers Rise Up on Stalk

As the flowering stems grow in height, the flower blossoms turn upward, but only partially. They always have a dangling look to them and often need a helping hand to be seen.

Maroon Hellebore Bloom Gets a Helping Hand
Maroon Hellebore Bloom Gets a Helping Hand

I liked the idea of extending the flowering season by having some hellebore flowers in the garden during a time when nothing else might be blooming.

Hellebore Flowers Growing Taller
Hellebore Flowers Growing Taller

A couple of years ago I planted this maroon-flowering hellebore in a sunny location near some purple coneflowers in a flower bed. The coneflowers are just starting to develop their leaves and have a long way to grow before they flower.

The hellebore isn’t natural to Central Pennsylvania, but it does lend a smile on a cold day in March. 🙂

Hellebore of the Buttercup Family
Hellebore of the Buttercup Family

(Photos taken March 7 to 26, 2016. Click on any small image to see a larger view.)