The Forest Awakens
For a short time in spring the forest fails to show much life. Until the forest understory greens up and the leaves begin to form, it appears to often be lifeless. Nothing is further from the truth. There is much going on beneath that carpet of last autumns leaves. Insects, fungus, earthworms and countless micoorganisms are working hard to convert those dead and decaying leaves back into forest soil.
One by one plants and flowers will push up through that dying carpet of leaves, reaching for the sunlight. Each plant, each flower has its own timing and its own unique life cycle. Some plants begin growing in the spring and continue growing through the entire growing season. Other plants, called ephemerals, grow quickly in spring, bloom before the trees leaf out and shade them, then the above ground growth dies back. Their entire above ground life lasts but a short time. Between emerging from the decaying leaves and the time the trees leaf out, these plants must gather as much energy as possible from what sunlight they see, to grow, develop a flower, generate seeds AND nourish the roots sufficiently to survive for another ten to twelve months. That’s quite an accomplishment!
I set out to find some of our spring wildflowers recently and the one I most wanted to see is called Hepatica. Hepatica is not a true ephemeral as their leaves do not die back. From spring to fall, the leaves of the Hepatica will give away their location. They are one of our earliest blooming flowers and the sight of them is a sign that the other flowers won’t be far behind. In my area, I’ll find Hepatica in early to mid-April. The earliest one will be found on a south facing protected hillside while the later ones will be found in a cooler location of the forest. The color of the blooms varies considerably. Some might be white, others pink, while still others are deep blue or purple. When the flower dies back the seeds are released and distributed to new locations by ants. I am continually amazed at how nature works!
I was not disappointed in the Hepatica and found many. I was disappointed however in the number of Garlic Mustard I saw coming up in the woodland I hiked. What the long term effect of that remains to be seen. Perhaps the early blooming period of the Hepatica will allow them to survive as their blooming will be complete before the Garlic Mustard matures. That’s another one of those questions I ponder. That’s the thrill and excitement of exploring nature. It usually provides more questions than answers. Trying to answer those questions through research and personal observation is what keeps us learning.