Wild hyacinths are in bloom

I am late getting out this morning. The sun has just risen as I arrive at the Arboretum to watch a coyote give me a look, turn on his heels, and disappear before I can unlock the gate. As I ride through the woods, the pewees and indigo buntings are singing. Trout lilies and toothwort are all yellowed, and the fruits on the trout lilies are about an inch long by up to half an inch in girth. Geraniums have taken over the woods.

I lock up at Parking Lot 8. Field sparrows, song sparrows and chipping sparrows are calling, and a solitary wood thrush. As I eat my breakfast, a blue-gray gnatcatcher calls from overhead. I start down the trail. Carex rosea has come into bloom, and C. hirtifolia culms are arched over from the weight of their ripening fruits. Hyacinths (Camassia scilloides) are blooming in the field of Helianthus decapetalus east of P8. Moonseed (Menispermum canadense) is twining over everything. A golden-winged warbler sings in the woods to the south.

Fully open flowers are dangling from the leaf axils on the Solomon’s seal, which has distinctly hairy leaf undersurfaces (is this really Polygonatum pubescens? By description, yes… but I’ll need to look at herbarium material to be certain). Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) is flowering, as is the fernlike and decidedly hairy sweet-cicely (Osmorhiza claytonii). I crush the flowers, which smell of anise. Ovaries are beginning to swell on a female Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) and a knee-high carrion flower (Smilax). Swamp buttercup (Ranunculus hispidus) flowers have, after two weeks in the spotlight, passed their prime.

Joni Mitchell’s “Other People’s Parties” has been running through my mind for the past two days, and these lines intrude on the morning:

Photo beauty gets attention, then her eye-paint’s running down
She has a rose in her teeth and a lampshade crown
One minute she’s so happy then she’s crying on someone’s knee
Saying, “Laughing and crying, you know it’s the same release.”

The Starry Solomon’s plume (Maianthemum stellatum) is flowering. I stand looking at the two plants in front of me, the almost indescribably precise little white flowers, then realize the whole field in front of me is filled with the plant, flowers frozen like snowflakes accumulating on a lawn. A common yellowthroat calls, and I think I hear a chestnut-sided warbler, but I am not sure: no bird fools me as badly as that one. Black currant (Ribes americanum) is in bloom, flowers like bells with tiny sepals turned back, loosely reminiscent of the Polygonatum flowers of a few moments ago.

Monday night I was at Maple Grove with a group of Boy Scouts as the thunderstorm started rolling in. False mermaid (Floerkea proserpinaca) was nearly at its peak, bright green and tall, paired fruits swelling. Today it is all yellowing and giving up, reclining on the ground and giving everything it can to its seeds. While some flowers have produced two full-size seeds of roughly 1-2 mm diameter, the majority are producing one large seed at the expense of the other, which huddles atrophied beside its swollen sibling. In a couple of weeks there will be nothing to show of it, and we’ll have to wait until next year to find the first seedlings huddling beneath the fallen leaves and snow.

There are numerous sedges in bloom or fruit. Carex hitchcockiana, I find, is more common in the East Woods than I had realized. This is one of my favorite sedges, with stiffly hairy leaf sheaths and slender-beaked perigynia, impressed nerves. It is svelte but sturdy, a plant that seems well suited to woodland slopes and trail edges. Carex blanda and C. albursina fruits are pretty well developed. The exotic Carex jamesii is looking great, bright green grassy clumps coddling globose, ripening perigynia. Carex cephaloidea and its cousin C. sparganioides are in bloom and beginning to ripen, while the superficially similar but unrelated C. normalis is just in first flower. Carex tribuloides is forming bright green swards but not yet showing inflorescences.

I’m getting ahead of myself. I have run through the sedges for the whole walk, but in space I’m still on the trail east of Parking Lot 8, just past the false mermaid colony, where I noticed the C. hitchcockiana. The sun is high now, and a white-breasted nuthatch starts calling, then the first great-crested flycatcher of the morning. Thalictrum thalictroides flowers are still hanging on, and I come across the other sweet-cicely, Osmorhiza longistylis, in full bloom. The early meadow-rue (Thalictum dioicum) has gone to fruit, as have the annual bedstraw (Galium aparine) and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica). I follow the trail around to the northeast corner of the big loop around the East Woods, where a great broad river of Mertensia blooms each year. It’s the only time of the year I really like this plant. I pass a nodding trillium (Trillium flexipes) in full flower, the ovary ridged, thickened white stigmas arching backwards, plant bases dark. I listen to the squeaky wheel of what I suspect is a black-and-white warbler, but the bird is high enough that I do not see it. Staminate catkins from the white oaks (i>Quercus alba) have fallen everywhere in this part of the woods.

Yesterday I collected scent samples with Elliot Gardner in the oak collection. It’s a slow business, involving plastic bags and twist-ties and glass pipettes and a tightly-coiled paper trap for scent that will be incinerated in analysis, and little vacuums the mass of shotgun shells still full of lead. We had time for two trees, a white oak and a bear oak (Quercus ilicifolia), the latter of which is not native here. The oaks were mostly past their prime: they had gone quickly this year, and we were lucky to find the two we did. We had searched for a chestnut before starting work on these, and failing to find it, I said, “Onward, Christian soldier.” Elliot responded in kind, quoting Martin Luther: “Sin boldly.” Was it Bonhoeffer who scolded us for disregarding the second half of that quote? Weil? I can’t remember… in any case, I can’t imagine a much more life-affirming imperative.

I’ve been daydreaming since the bluebells, but thinking of Luther always reminds me how much work I have to do. I start walking more briskly and making quick notes. Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) is dying back. Enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) is ankle-high, not flowering yet. Uvularia grandiflora has gone to fruit, while white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) has come into bloom. Carrion flowers are in bloom atop the Heritage Trail and stinking. Orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) inflorescences are emerging from the uppermost leaf sheaths. False rue-anemone (Enemion biternatum) is barely holding on, mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) is flowering, and flowers are about to open on the honeysuckle (Lonicera) and wild raspberry (Rubus occidentalis). A red-eyed vireo, a black-throated green warbler, and a towhee call, along with chickadees and buntings. A blue-winged warbler calls from the distance.

I am suddenly in a second field of wild hyacinth, and it seems immense. I am surrounded by spikes of white flowers. They are like a pool around me for a full minute. Pewees call nearby. Red-winged blackbirds and blue jays sing in the distance.

Then the hyacinths have passed. I am almost back to work, and Joni Mitchell is back for one more line: “I feel like I’m sleeping / Can you wake me? / You seem to have a broader sensibility.” We all have these moments when we are startled out of our thoughts by a field of hyacinths and find we have woken up just in time to step back into our lives. “I’m just living on nerves and feelings / With a weak and a lazy mind.” Who could say it more clearly than that? For whatever reason, I arrive to work ready for the day.

Too many flowers and birds to count!

After weeks of cold weather, this past week has seen temperatures of 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit above average almost every day. Tuesday, there were palm warblers and field sparrows, small-flowered buttercup (Ranunculus abortivus) in bloom, and warbler reports a-plenty (if you want a good list from the East Woods, take a look at Jay Sturner’s eBird report from his Saturday tour). Friday I heard American toads calling. Sugar maples have gone from buds about to emerge to leaves fully out, drooping curtainlike, and leaves on their seedlings are overtopping and nearly as long as the cotyledons. Catkins are out on the ironwood (Ostrya virginiana), musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana), birches and many of the oaks. Leaves on the red oak (Quercus rubra) seedlings are about an inch long. Bloody butcher (Trillium recurvatum) is in prominent bloom everywhere, and false mermaid (Floerkea proserpinaca) is calf-high and has gone to fruit. There’s almost too much to keep track of.

In Maple Grove Forest Preserve Sunday morning, tiny Poa annua was blooming along St. Joseph Creek, and reddish poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) leaves were nearly an inch long. Wood nettles (Laportea canadensis) are ankle-high. A wood thrush was singing from the woods beside the road that follows the railroad tracks. Several woodland sedges were in full bloom: Carex blanda and its cousin white-bear sedge (C. albursina), C. radiata, the soft leaves of C. hirtifolia and the dense, grasslike clumps of C. jamesii. Carex woodii is already producing fruits. Almost all of the trout-lily (Erythronium albidum) have gone to fruit and their fruits are swelling up, stigmas attached like tiny adder’s tongues (which is, as you may know, one of its common names). Fruits are turgid on the bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and almost concealed by the leaves, which give the impression that they are still growing. Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), large-flower bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora), and false rue-anemone (Enemion biternatum) were still in full flower (they had been the previous weekend), while spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) flowers had mostly given up, capsules ripening in the bases of the persistent sepals, and a few toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) were producing the slender siliques that remind us they are mustards. Downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens) and blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) had come into full bloom. Large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) were beginning to bloom. The first flowers of wild ginger (Asarum canadense) were resting beneath the foliage on the forest floor, and a few cleavers (Galium aparine) were in flower. I found one Geranium maculatum flower. The first floral buds were evident on the may-apples (Podophyllum peltatum), which in our yard seemed to gain an inch or two over the course of the weekend. Floral buds were evident on great waterleaf (Hydrophyllum appendiculatum) and Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum). Carrion-flower (Smilax) had come up from nowhere to be suddenly calf-high, but I can’t tell you for sure which species. Inflorescences were developing on the choke-cherries (Prunus virginiana). Near the end of my walk, the cloudy morning opened up and the woods were sunny for a minute. A great-crested flycatcher called from above and white-throated sparrows started singing from the woods behind the neighbors’ homes.

This morning at the Arboretum was perfectly clear. I started walking from the edge of Meadow Lake about 15 minutes before sunrise. In order, I noted chipping sparrows, a muskrat, red-wing blackbirds, a pileated woodpecker (right overhead!), great-crested flycatchers, blue-grey gnatcatchers (everywhere, hopping like mad, insatiable), towhees, red-bellied woodpeckers, the casual, almost lackluster call of the blue-winged warbler, white-throated sparrows, eastern phoebe. The red oak leaves are short but pendulous. Along the main trail, Loop 2, Dutchman’s-breeches has all gone to fruit. Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) has appeared from out of nowhere and is already in flower, stigmas apparently receptive while the anthers are on the verge of opening. Woodland sunflower (Helianthus strumosus, I believe, though see notes here and here) is above the tops of my boots, and carrion-flower is up here as is in Maple Grove, only with floral buds about to open. Fronds of a fern I take to be Cystopteris are almost fully open at the base of a sugar maple, as is the fern-like foliage of Osmorhiza claytonii. Virginia creeper leaves are up. Early meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioicum) is in full but very subtle flower, and rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) is forming beds of beautiful, full-faced blooms. Nightcaps (Anemone quinquefolia) is in flower throughout the woods. Wild onion or meadow garlic (call it what you will: either way, it’s Allium canadense) is in floral bud, as is starry Solomon’s plume (Maianthemum stellatum). Missouri gooseberry (Ribes missouriense) is in full flower.

I reached the pond by Parking Lot 14 and followed the road that plunges north through Heritage Trail. As I stood beside the pond, the sun illuminated the brush on the west side of the pond, and it was a sudden riot of song sparrows, field sparrows, and goldfinches. An oriole was tearing at the catkins in the top of a red oak and piping at full volume, not obviously claiming territory or looking for a mate, but just eating and singing for all his might. Tree swallows were darting around the field. A yellow-rumped warbler, a yellow warbler, and a common yellowthroat (no joke!) darted around the brush collecting insects. Beside them, at the top of a white oak, a blue-grey gnatcatcher collected insects beside some other warbler with a yellow belly and breast and a bluish back… I’m a novice, and I’ll look this up later (any ideas?). Behind me, a towhee started calling, just eight feet away. I pivoted to watch him, then there was an indigo bunting in the ironwood above me on the other side of the road. It was a kind of pandemonium.

And then it was over. I walked north toward the intersection of the road and the Heritage trail. Two mallards settled into the pond in the field, and a red-tailed hawk called. Phlox divaricata was in bloom. Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) is already going to fruit. Atop the moraine, Geranium maculatum is in bloom. A black-throated green warbler started calling from the south, but otherwise it was quiet. Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans) is ready to bloom, a couple of floral buds tipped with blue. Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) is in full bloom, and woodland bedstraw (Galium circaezans) is about five inches tall. I walked past the visitor station to the intersection of Loop 3 and Loop 4, just north of the spruce plot. A grove of Trillium grandiflorum is in full bloom there. In the spruce plot, wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is putting up inflorescences, and wood fern (Dryopteris carthusiana) fronds are uncoiling. On the walk back to the work, I find that the purple has gone out of the patch of Galium aparine I had my eyes on a week ago, and the shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) buds have opened.

I realize this is a woodland blog, not a prairie blog, but I did end the morning with a drive out to our experimental prairie on the west side, to find a few things in bloom: Jacob’s ladder here is in full bloom, at least a few days ahead of the woods. Vernal sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata), Viola pedatifida, Zizia aurea, and shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) are in bloom. Pretty nice: out of 127 species planted, we have 5 in bloom now in this experiment. Just a reminder that while the prairies are great–I do love them–the woodlands win it hands down when it comes to spring blooms and birds.