Monday, April 26, 2010

Down in the Woods

The happy little subjects of Kingdom Plantae have been comporting themselves beautifully for the past month. Here's what's blooming now.

Down in the wet lower part of the woods near the creek are hundreds of ravishingly handsome Jack-in-the-pulpit plants (Arisaema triphyllum). The cup-and-lid part is called the spathe, and the "Jack" is the spadix. They're all the same species, but there are two subspecies: some are dark green with a purplish-brown spadix and stripes on the spathe (subsp. stewardsonii), and others are light green with yellow (subsp. pusillus). In the fall, fruiting bodies lower on the spathe turn into a cluster of vermilion berries full of nice and poisonous calcium oxalate (CaC2O4).
This one looks so debonair.
The banks of the creek are covered with oxymoronic Blue Violets (Viola sororia sororia) which are about done blooming, now. It's surprisingly difficult to photograph them without their exquisite color getting washed out. This one is faded on its own account, which made it a bit easier; the color ranges from this to a deeper violet.

Sweet White Violets (Viola blanda) are also in bloom. They're much tinier than the blue violets but tend to have longer stems and a sweeter scent. Like all other violets, their seedpods disperse mechanically, meaning they burst open and fling the seeds every which way.
Also growing with the violets are Bluets (Houstonia caerulia), which are such a pale and delicate blue that photographing them is even more difficult than violets.
Throughout the woods grow five different species of fern; two are of current interest. The first is the Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), which produce the characteristic fuzzy fiddlehead or crosier as its new fronds unfold. That's right, folks- ferns are curled up before they're born, just like humans. Could this mean that they are our nearest living relatives? It is a solemn thought.
The second is the Southern Lady Fern (Athyrium aspleniodes). It unbunches itself from damp little sprouts in the earth- unlike the Christmas fern, it dies back completely every fall. Its fronds are dainty and lacy.
On one part of the upper slopes of the woods is a colony of Perfoliate Bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata). Each is a single slender stem with a six-petaled, drooping yellow flower on the end that smells sweetly of lemon. The leaves are perfoliate, which means that the stem passes through them, making it look like they have been strung on. These are such happy little flowers. This picture is from two springs ago, since it came out better than the one I took this year.
Smooth Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) gets its name from the fact that apparently when the right angle of its root is broken as it grows every year, the scar resembles the seal of Solomon. While this may seem an odd extrapolation of the imagination, one must admit it has a nicer ring to it than Drooping Greenish-White Bell-Shaped Flower.
Another common lawn-flower is Thyme-leaved Speedwell (Veronica serpyllifolia). The clover leaf in the picture should give a good idea of the scale. It's amazing that things this tiny have such particular names.
The tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera)are blooming, now. Liriodendron is such a lovely word... I don't think I'm going to call them anything else inside my head, now. Their peppery flowers grow a hundred feet up in the air, so here's a picture of a fallen one, with the bark of the trunk in the background.
The wild black cherry trees (Prunus serotina var. serotina)are also blooming. This picture's from last spring. The little hole in the leaf was probably chewed by tent caterpillars, which primarily target this tree for their devastation.
The blackberries are blooming already! The genus is Rubus, but there are so many species in the south that I'm not altogether certain which this is. I know there were swamp dewberries at one point- they have clouded, luscious navy blue berries and taste much sweeter than blackberries; I don't know whatever became of them, though. These'll ripen mid-June.
Now here's a curious specimen- I had no idea of its existence in the woods until today. I knew there were a lot of blacksnakeroots in the woods, but assumed they were all of the same species merely because I hadn't noticed this particular one in bloom. It puzzled me greatly for about an hour, after which amount of time I was finally able to identify it (by means of actually looking up pictures of every single Sanicula in a list of species until I found it). Without further ado, I give you Canadian Blacksnakeroot (Sanicula canadensis). Should've known the troublesome thing was Canadian, Mr. André. ;)
Cleavers (Galium aperine) are blooming now, too. It's a low, sprawling plant, exceedingly messy-looking as the season progresses. The flowers are minute. Apparently it gets its name because its ever-so-slightly sticky leaves are supposed to stick to one's clothing, but I've never experienced that phenomenon. It's in the Bedstraw Family, some species of which smell exceptionally sweet when dried. I'll have to dry some of this one of these days to see if that carries over.
Here's the other chickweed- Mouse-ear Chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum). It's fuzzier than regular chickweed and not so crisp-looking, and tends to grow into unsightly clumps which are, however, easy to remove. So many garden weeds are pretty when they're examined up close, though. I s'ppose that's why one should always leave enough time to look for beauty. Or at least pause a moment to appreciate it before consigning it to the weed-pile.
The Fringe-Tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is blooming, now. I missed it, last year- it's in a part of the woods I don't frequent, so when I noticed my neighbor's blooming I went down to see mine. It's not as full as it used to be- it's grown tall and spindly, and the flowers are at the very top. It smells so fragrant that I can smell it long before I see it. It's in the olive family.
The wild Easter lilies, also known as Atamasco or Zephyr lilies (Zephyranthes atamasca) are blooming in the swamp! They grow on tall stems with a tendency to sprawl, and have a profusion of leaves nearly indistinguishable from stems which grow in a messy mop all over the ground. The flowers are six-petaled, pure white and tinged with pink as they age. They smell like burnt plastic and don't last very long when cut. They give an ethereal beauty to little hidden spots in the woods.

Maple-leafed viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is a shrub with maple-like leaves and heads of pretty, tiny white flowers that smell like garbage.
This plant (Hexastylis arifolia) is known by many names, all of which are surprisingly relevant and accurate. I usually think of it as Hexastylis and refer to it as wild ginger, on account of the pleasantly gingery smell of its foliage. It is also called Little Brown Jug, referring to the peculiar shape of its flowers (visible at the base of the plant). Heartleaf is a more general name for many different species, some of which are threatened or endangered. This particular species is common and widespread. I have located a couple of the endangered ones.
Indian Strawberry (Potentilla indica) is actually from India. It's very weedy. The berries are edible but tasteless. The same can be said of many genetically engineered strawberries from California.
Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis stricta)is another common European introduction. The leaves can be eaten in moderation, and get their sour taste from the oxalic acid that will disagree with you if you eat too much. I saw a recipe for cream-of-sorrel soup that I intend to try sometime.
Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)is about finished, now- it bloomed just in time for Easter, this year. In the past ten years a fungus has killed a sad percentage of the trees, including a particularly beautifully shaped one in the front yard, but the remaining trees seem to be healthy. This picture is from two years ago. The four white "petals" are correctly known as bracts; the actual flowers are the little yellow ones in the center inflorescence.

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There are several other things blooming, including at least five species of grasses and a hawkweed, but I haven't identified all of them yet, so I'll post them separately. I miss the crested dwarf irises- there were two colonies when I first moved here, but they haven't bloomed for seven years or so and have all but died out. I was pleased to find that the wild geranium didn't get killed by the sled run my siblings cut wantonly into the woods, and to discover some new patches of cranefly orchids. I'll post pictures as new things come into bloom. ^_^