By Mary Beth Pottratz
The cool morning air is clean and smells fresh from yesterday’s rains. Bright sunshine stripes the woodland floor with naked tree shadows. Branch tips are swelling with barely open buds. Clumps of low green leaves dot the forest floor, standing out against the snow-bleached leaf litter. Ferns, Virginia waterleaf, bluebells, trout lilies, bellwort and anemones are leafing out.
Just three short weeks ago, tiny snow trilliums were in full bloom! Now there is no sign of the ephemeral flower, but its cousin, the large-flowered trillium, is just forming buds.
Three people bend carefully over a small clump of green and purplish-brown mottled leaves. The dwarf trout lilies are in full bloom! Kim and Linda, under close supervision by endangered plant curator David Remucal, are flagging and counting this endangered plant. Cameras and temperatures gauges automatically record weather and disturbance data. It is hoped that this research can save the dwarf trout lily from impending extinction.
A white trout lily – not of the endangered dwarf species – blooms nearby. There are many trout lily leaves up, and soon the carpet of mottled green and brown leaves will be dotted with many white and yellow drooping lilies. Purple and pink hepaticas glow against the carpet of leaves. Bluebells have bright cherry buds, promising their little blue trumpet-shaped flowers in short order.
Siberian squill have just started blossoming. Although a lovely, tiny blue flower, the plant has spread throughout the woodland. It is not native to the U.S., and has no natural predators here. Sadly, I find squill amid the dwarf trout lilies, where it will be very difficult to remove. Squill resprouts easily, so each plant must be removed in its entirety.
Chickadees are calling and flitting about. Silently, a flash of yellow darts behind a tree trunk. I follow the quick movements. Sure enough, my first yellow-rumped warbler of the season! These birds are migrating through to their nesting grounds in Canada.
Bird melody floats through the trees. Red-winged blackbirds are claiming their territories. Song sparrows warble sweetly, chickadees whistle long, slow “feeee-beeeees” and robins call their familiar “pip, pip, cheerio!” Haunting pileated woodpecker calls echo through the trees. Chorus frogs provide a sweet rhythm, and drumming woodpeckers mark the beat.
Some bloodroot plants are still in flower, but most have unfurled leaves and some are already in fruit. Cutleaf toothwort is tipped with buds. A few are in flower, and one sports a beetle at its top. Mayapple stems are already five inches tall; some grow in pairs where a flower will soon form.
As I slowly pick my way – stepping on a plant can curtail its life cycle – I see sign of deer that were not so careful. They even munched the tops of leaves. I only hope they leave some for next year!
Mary Beth Pottratz is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer. More information about the Master Naturalist Volunteer program is available at www.minnesoamasternaturalist.org.