As anyone who lives in New England is all too aware, the long winter of 2013-14 was followed by an unusually cold early spring that delayed the onset of the growing season in many areas. However, moderating temperatures in recent weeks have induced a late but rich and colorful wildflower season. The good news is, if you haven’t had a chance to get out and search for some of the spring ephemerals, many of the early species are still flowering as of this writing (May 13). Many trees have yet to leaf out, allowing plenty of light to reach the forest floor.
Early Season Species
Among the early season species that have been flourishing in the hills of western Massachusetts are red trillium, bloodroot, round-lobed hepatica, trout lily, spring beauty, Dutchman’s breeches, and the familiar violets and bluets. The most productive areas are hills and valleys with nutrient-rich soils and streams. One example is Bartholomew’s Cobble in the southern Berkshires town of Sheffield, MA, where limestone knolls on the banks of the Housatonic River host a remarkable variety of more than 800 plant species in a compact geographic area.
A Fun Treasure Hunt
While the ephemerals aren’t always easy to find, searching for them in the forest is a fun treasure hunt. With a careful eye, you may discover rare or unusual treats such as the uncommon yellow-phase red trillium shown here. As the season progresses, the next round of woodland species to watch for includes painted trillium, fringed polygala, columbine, and pink lady’s slippers. Wetlands will also come alive during this time with the blooms of blue flag iris, yellow lady’s slippers, wild calla, northern pitcher plants, sundews, and rare showy lady’s slippers, which generally flower in mid to late June.
Fields and Meadows
After the spring ephemeral season draws to a close, the fields and meadows take over and offer abundant flower viewing throughout the summer months. While not all of the species, such as the lupines shown here, are native to New England, they serve as a much-needed food source for pollinating insects and plenty of photo opportunities. One story to keep an eye on in upcoming weeks will be the status of Monarch butterflies, which suffered a significant decline in 2013.
~ John Burk
John Burk is the author of several books and guides related to New England. See his Amazon page for more information. Visit his John Burk gallery Visit his website for current images http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/john-burk.html