By Mary Beth Pottratz
Rain-fresh air carries wisps of a scent too light to identify. The deluge of water from recent storms and rains fills the ponds and bogs and overflows into low areas. Barn swallows dip and play over the water.
In the open, branches have already shaken the rain from newly
opened leaves. A tree frog trills from an oak nearby, and tree swallows dip and cavort overhead. People are strolling everywhere. Like me, they are probably escaping from the springtime form of cabin fever induced by a series of rainy days.
The birds, too, enjoy a rest from rain. An eastern phoebe, American goldfinch, and many red-winged blackbirds call around Green Heron Pond. Delicate new purple pine cones and tufts of soft chartreuse needles sprout from tamarack branches that were rough, bare, dry and knobby just a few short weeks ago. Only the late Kentucky coffeetree has yet to show leaves, but its topmost buds are already swollen.
But in the woodland, rain still drips from plants, runs down pathways, and gurgles through the little stream, emptying into the pond below. Wild geranium, bluebells, phlox, violets, Virginia waterleaf and pink and white large-flowered trilliums glow in pastel rainbows against a sea of green in the diminished light. I wonder at the profusion of color, form, and intricate flower parts.
Nuthatches laugh from overhead branches, and cardinals whistle insistently in the forest. Fern heads coated with peach fuzz unfurl amid blooms of sweet cicely and trilliums. The umbrella-like mayapple protected its waxy white flower from the rain, and dozens of them peek out shyly.
Both the yellow lady’s slipper and its timid cousin, the small yellow
lady’s slipper, are in full bloom. Starry false Solomon’s seal, blue phlox, wild ginger, and Jack-in-the-pulpit also sport flowers. I am amazed to see golden Alexanders blossoming at the woodland edge so early in May.
Small groups of students are scattered throughout the woodland, identifying wildflowers and making notes on clipboards. The students tell me they are in conservation studies at Gustavus Adolphus College. Their instructor, naturalist and author Jim Gilbert, discusses natural history with his very engaged group. How fortunate they are to learn from one of Minnesota’s long-time phenologists!
Marsh marigolds are already done blooming, now hoisting pointy little green pod-balls atop the stems. Gone is any vestige of the ephemeral flowers like trout lilies, Dutchman’s breeches and toothwort I admired only three weeks ago; the forest has leafed out and is now shading the ground.
But spring is still unfurling. Early meadow rue, taller than my knees, is in bud, as are false Solomon’s seal and bedstraw. Showy lady’s slippers have broken ground, and most wetland and prairie plants are still just sprouting.
It’s nature’s promise of still more natural wonder to come!
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer