I spent Friday afternoon at Lake McMurtry in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I had given a seminar in the Department of Plant Biology, Ecology and Evolution the previous day, and this afternoon Mark Fishbein and his dog Amelia and I had a few hours to prowl around in the woods. Post oak (Quercus stellata), blackjack oak (Q. marilandica) and chinkapin oak (Q. muehlenbergii) were in bloom: the first two had flowers about a half inch long, while the latter was already producing silver-dollar sized leaves. The lawn was filled with nondescript leaves of Ophioglossum engelmannii, limestone adder’s-tongue, and flowering Northoscordum bivalve, false garlic. I would undoubtedly know these if I had spent any amount of time botanizing in the southeast. The soil was a red clay, with sandstone outcroppings along the trailside giving rise to a fern I would have taken for Cystopteris, but that Mark informed me later was Woodsia obtusa. We walked through a dry oak forest along the edge of the reservoir. On our walk, there were Sisyrinchium angustifolium, Oxalis violacea, Antennaria, Claytonia virginica, Viola sororia, Houstonia, Lithospermum incisum, Chaerophyllum tainturieri and blooming Sherardia arvensis, along with foliage of Galium circaezans. There were at least four sedges: Carex blanda, what I believe were Carex muehlenbergii ($50 bet on this one, though the inflorescences were immature with closed, silvery spikes) and C. albicans ($30 bet until I can get a look at some decent material in the herbarium), and a C. rosea relative that I didn’t get sufficient material of to put a name on. Tufted titmouse and, I believe, blue-gray gnatcatchers were calling. There was no snow.
I returned Saturday to temperatures in the low 50s. A mass of Geranium maculatum rhizomes have been exposed by water spewing from the sump-pump this spring. Leaves are emerging from the tips of the branches, about the size of squirrels’ ears. Wild ginger leaves are as big around as a quarter, folded in half around each other, their backs felty. Solomon’s seal leaves are opening, and the May-apples are emerging from their bud scales. Dark green Carex gracillima shoots are four inches high, and the C. sprengelii and C. typina are a mass of light green foliage. Along the north side of the house, our cup plants are one to three inches high. Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) has opened up into a rosette about as big around as my hand, and one has produced flower buds. Viola sororia leaves are just starting to flatten out. The Carex eburnea in our front garden is bristling with silver spikes.
The next day in Maple Grove Forest Preserve, I found the slopes bright green with false mermaid (Floerkea proserpinacoides), anthers hiding in the floral buds nestled near the bases of lateral branches, which are tipped with especially narrowly lobed leaves. Jewelweed leaves were as big around as nickels. Maple seedlings are everywhere, straplike cotyledons to 1.5 inches long, one capped with the brown, fibrous remnants of the winged fruit. Phoebes were singing. Leeks had expanded to full size, leaves to 3 finger-widths in breadth and in length extending from the tip of my middle finger to below my watchband. Buds were swelling on the black cherry and burning bush. There were new leaves on the Geum and Ranunculus hispidus and May-apples further emerged from their buds than in our garden, the centers of their leaves whitish against the dark green blades folded umbrellalike beneath them.
This week, the East Woods are well beyond where they were a week ago. Sugar maple seedlings are everywhere. Lonicera leaves are nearly an inch long, gooseberry leaves are penny-sized. The woodland sedges are popping up: Carex hirtifolia shoots are four inches high, the new leaves on C. albursina are about two inches long, and the slender, white-striped dark green shoots of Carex sparganioides can be found along the trail west of P10. Early leaves of Sanicula, Phlox, Alliaria and Arctium, Osmorhiza and bright green Agrimonia can be found throughout the woods, along with leaves of Geranium maculatum to nearly two inches in diameter. Cleavers (Galium aparine) is protruding upright to several inches above the leaf litter, turning lighter green as it grows more quickly. There are floral buds on the white and yellow trout lilies (Erythronium albidum and E. americanum respectively), dogtooth violets (Cardamine concatenata) with flowers splayed open, about a third of the false rue-anemone (Enemion biternatum) in full bloom and, just west of Bur Reed Marsh, a lovely patch of nearly 20 rue-anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) is blooming with perfect white flowers. Further down the trail west of the marsh, there is an archipelago of bloodroot Sanguinaria canadensis in the burned woods, perhaps 15 islands of 6–50 or more blooming plants each, petals erect as I walked by them this morning, leaves enfolding their scapes. Dutchman’s-breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) flowers are mostly still developing, but one plant this morning had two flowers mature and five more on the way, ranging from 2–10 mm in length. Virginia bluebells are almost ready to bloom, flowers opened from the tight little fists they were a week ago to Wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) is in floral bud. Claytonia virginica is still in bloom. A few magnificent patches of Hepatica acutiloba are in bloom, flowers white to lavender, hairs dense on the lower two-thirds of the scape.
From the beginning of my trip to Oklahoma through my walk this morning, John Burroughs’ deliberate and inspired Whitman: A Study has been humming in the background. I picked the book up somewhat on accident, largely because it’s what I had at hand as I was leaving, and I started reading it almost reluctantly as I boarded the plane Thursday morning. Burroughs affects a person very differently than Whitman (though it is no surprise to find they were friends), and I wasn’t quite in the mood for Burroughs. But his account of Whitman as a human, traversing the hospital wards of the Civil War, writing, observing, is haunting. For no good reason other than that I am still thinking about it, and altogether unrelated to phenology of the East Woods, I’ll leave you with two quotes from the book: First, from the section entitled His Self-Reliance: “Emerson reasoned and remonstrated with [Whitman] for hours, walking up and down Boston Common, and after he had finished his argument, says Whitman, which was unanswerable, ‘I felt down in my soul the clear and unmistakable conviction to disobey all, and pursue my own way.’ He told Emerson so, whereupon they went and dined together.” And then, from Burroughs’ introduction to the book: “… my main purpose in writing about Whitman, as in writing about nature, is to tell readers what I have found there, with the hope of inducing them to look for themselves.”
Enjoy the woods, and, if you have the time and inclination, Whitman and Burroughs.