Early April Bloomers at Little Buffalo State Park

Spring has come to South-central PA at last. Flowers will be picking up speed in opening their blooms this week with the forecasted warm weather.

In early April the spicebush is one of our first native plants to bloom.

Spicebushes full of bright lemony-yellow blooms getting ready to burst open. The first few flowers had already blossomed in the sunshine.

Many Spicebush Blooms Ready to Open
Many Spicebush Blooms Ready to Open

Only a handful of different plants were seen to be blooming or nearly so at Little Buffalo State Park on April 5, 2017, including:

Low-growing chickweed and spring beauty both have white flowers with five petals, but they look quite different from one another.

Chickweed and Spring Beauty Bloom Side-by-Side
Chickweed (left) and Spring Beauty (right) Bloom Side-by-Side

Chickweed is smaller with its elongated and deeply cleft petals, which make it appear to have 10 petals.

Spring beauty flower petals are much larger and their pink anthers at the stamen tips really stick out.

Blooming Storksbills at a Civil War Cemetery

Curiosity got the best of me during my first outing this Spring to our nearby Little Buffalo Pennsylvania State Park. I had gone there on a partly cloudy day that promised to have warmer temperatures than what we’ve been used to in search of bloodroot. It’s one of the first woodland flowers to bloom, but alas only a couple of these plants were seen flowering.

Rudolph Cemetery Newport Pennsylvania
Rudolph Cemetery Newport Pennsylvania

On many previous trips to the state park I had seen what looked to be a very old cemetery, so this time I pulled over to investigate it on foot. Passing by in a vehicle you could see the old headstones are very different than what is used these days. They had more character and style, right down to the style of lettering that was etched into the stone.

Monument to Civil War and WWII Fallen at Rudolph Cemetery
Monument to Civil War and WWII Fallen at Rudolph Cemetery

A monument to the old cemetery had an American flag and a GAR sign struck in the ground. The monument reads, “Rudolph Cemetery Dedicated to The Men Who Served” and goes on to list five local men who died during the American Civil War and one who died during World War II – and are buried at this cemetery – some with wives or other family members.

I walked around each grave to read the names and imagine what their lives were like so many years ago. Of course I was looking for the oldest grave there. It turns out that a couple were born in 1780-90 and perished around the time of the Civil War.

Storksbill Blooming at Baby Nellie's Graveside
Storksbill Blooming at Baby Nellie’s Graveside

In taking this somber walk around I was delighted to find a new blooming plant – new to me of course. I’d never seen the pink flowers of this low-growing plant before. Only one or two flowers were blooming on each of several plants growing in the soil on this hillside cemetery.

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Spring Posies Appear At Last

The great Spring awakening is happening, finally. Seems that the last of Winter is now a memory and hopes for sunnier and warmer days have a glimmer of being fulfilled.

Little weeds are some of the first plants to flower in early Spring, like this Pennsylvania Bittercress. It’s been blooming for a while now!

PA Bittercress in the Garden
It’s past time to weed the PA Bittercress from the vegetable garden.

Spring starts on March 1st for the meteorologists of the world, so we’d call that Meteorological Spring. If you’re not a weather person Spring probably starts on March 20th for you.

For me, Spring starts when we see flocks of robins returning from the south to hop around the yards looking for worms. I always chase them out of the garden when I see them there! Other birds return North at the start of spring, like the Mute and Tundra Swans that you can hear at a distance, flying so high. Canada Geese can be louder with all their honking, and I always feel a rush of Wow! Spring is really here! when I see and hear them flying north.

Another way I feel Spring is here at last is when I see the first crocus blooming. Sure, daffodils have bloomed a couple of times in the past month, mostly in town at slightly warmer locales than on our mountain ridge. But, the crocus in our location just bloomed two days ago.

Crocus Blooming in the Garden
Crocus Blooming in the Garden

Those pesky squirrels may have dug up a few bulbs for a snack or the bulbs just petered out trying to live in our rocky-clay soil. Just a couple of crocus blooms this year and I missed the first one as its was hiding behind a garden stake. If I’d just fertilize them, they might last longer!

Other posies popping out include the red maple tree flowers, purple dead nettle, Pennsylvania Bittercress, hellebores, coltsfoot, and of course forsythia bushes.

Cut-leaved Toothwort is just now appearing from under the brown oak leaves on the forest floor. Its blossoms in the bud stage will open into pretty four-petal blooms.

Early Skunk Cabbage Doesn’t Disappoint

Saw a fly buzz around the other day, so I went looking for a patch of stinkin’ Skunk Cabbage. Actually, it was February 28th, after some record-breaking warm weather for a couple of days here in Central Pennsylvania, on Feb 23 and 24. (Photos taken Feb 28, 2017).

It was probably the earliest in a year that I’ve seen their mottled spathes sticking out among the weeds.

Skunk cabbage spathes emerge from the ground among last year’s weed stems, berry canes and brown oak leaves.

Skunk Cabbage Spathes Hiding
Skunk cabbage hiding among the leaves and weeds near a stream.

They’re easy to miss in the woods as they hide under the brown oak leaves. You may have to get right up on them to discover them, so watch where you place your feet!

Cryptic Skunk Cabbage in the Woods
Cryptic Skunk Cabbage in the Woods

Move aside a few leaves and you’ll see the spathes have fully developed flowers on the spherical spadix inside.

Skunk Cabbage Revealed Under Leaf Litter
Moving a few leaves to the side reveals Skunk Cabbage plants
In this pair of skunk cabbages the leaves are just pointing up out of the ground.

Skunk cabbages likes to grow near water so much you can find it them in the middle of a creek. It’s a mountain stream where I spotted several of those yellow-green and maroon protective flower hoods growing right in the flow of water. Plenty others were in the flat areas adjacent to the stream.

At least six other skunk cabbages are hiding adjacent to this stream. Can you find them all? (Click on any image to see a larger view.)

Streamside Skunk Cabbage
Half a dozen or more skunk cabbage plants are in this stream or next to it.

Here, the mountain stream winds into a culvert that passes under the country road.

Mountain Stream Winds Down to the Country Road
A mountain stream winds into a culvert that passes under the country road.

The mottled spathes protect the flowers from rain and snow and extremely low temperatures while keeping them hidden from casual passersby.

Flowers grow in colonial fashion upon a sphere inside the spathe, which is called a spadix. The spadix and flowers are pastel, creamy white to yellow.

Skunk Cabbage Flowers on Spherical Spadix
Close up view of several flowers inside the protective hood of a skunk cabbage plant.

Flies are known to pollinate Skunk Cabbage, and I did see a single fly on this day. Refer to Peterson’s field guide, Wildflowers: Northeastern and North-central North America, for more details on this interesting earliest of Spring flowers. Or should I say, Winter Flowers?!

If you’re out and about scouting out your own patch of Skunk Cabbage, take caution. It’s known that black bears like to eat the stuff. They won’t appear for a little while since it’s so cold, but once the leaves appear keep your eyes and ears tuned. If you’re lucky enough to see a bear, make some noise to let them know you’re there. Whatever you do, don’t run!

Check out my other posts about Skunk Cabbage for some great pics!

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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Bloodroot Blooms Pretty in Early Spring

Bloodroot is one of the prettiest flowers you’ll find in the woodlands come Spring. Some may think it’s too simple or plain having only eight or so petals of white, but inspect it a little closer and you may come to think differently.

Bloodroot Patch Flowering in the Sunlight
Bloodroot Patch Flowering in the Sunlight

In this photo I liked how the sunlight shined through the petals. Note water reflecting the sun’s ray on the upper right. This bloodroot patch grows adjacent to Little Buffalo Creek.

In the month of May Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, may be hard to find blooming as it usually flowers by the middle of April, at least in Central Pennsylvania. Areas to our south will see it bloom in very early Spring.

Flower photos taken 17 April 2016. (Click on any small image to see a larger view.)

Side View of Bloodroot Flowers Opening in the Sunshine
Side View of Bloodroot Flowers Opening in the Sunshine

In side view the small bloodroot flowers look like little tulips before they fully open their petals to the sunshine.

Paddle-Shaped Yellow Stamens of Bloodroot
Paddle-Shaped Yellow Stamens of Bloodroot

When the flowers open their blossoms to the sun the many paddle-like yellow stamens can be seen. Note the filament of spider silk attached to the flower bud covering.

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Cut-Leaf Toothwort Making Seeds

An early Spring-blooming plant is well into its seed-making time. Most trees are still growing out their leaves now in the middle of May, but the canopy is filling in fast.

The Spring Ephemeral we’re talking about is Cut-Leaved Toothwort, or Cutleaf Toothwort, Cardamine concatenata, which Peterson’s Wildflower Guide calls Dentaria laciniata – it’s an older name than the Cardamine moniker.

Note: DNA testing has revealed what scientists believe is the true lineage of plants, so older field guides may specify names for plants that may no longer apply. A great place to learn of multiple names for the same plant is the USDA Plants site. Just look under the synonyms tab for your particular flower. In this instance we see four names for our toothwort friend, excluding varieties that is.

(Photos start 24 March 2016 from Central Pennsylvania. Click on any small image to see a larger view.)

Cut-Leaved Toothwort First Flower
Cut-Leaved Toothwort First Flower

First flower of cut-leaved toothwort appeared on March 24. Note the plant on the right – you can see a single thick stem rising up from under the brown oak leaves, a layer of “cut leaves” and a topping of a dangling cluster of flowers. The plant on the left has no flowers and just one set of leaves.

Cutleaf toothwort is identified by a whorl of three leaves each with three narrow segments having distinct teeth. At 8-15 inches tall it’s found growing in rich woods and bottom lands.

As the days went on more plants arose from the leaf litter for a total of six plants, four of them flowering. The flower buds first show a light pink color before opening into a white four-parted blossom.

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