Northland Nature: Among the Ozark spring wildflowersWhile camping and hiking in the woods of the Ozarks during recent weeks, I have managed to avoid the April snows of the Northland. Instead of looking out onto a ground coated with several inches of wet snow, I’m able to be immersed in a covering of another type.
While camping and hiking in the woods of the Ozarks during recent weeks, I have managed to avoid the April snows of the Northland. Instead of looking out onto a ground coated with several inches of wet snow, I’m able to be immersed in a covering of another type.
Though the arboreal canopy of leaves is opening, mostly the sun is penetrating through to illuminate the forest floor which is filled with thick growths of spring wildflowers. These fast growing plants’ niches are similar to that of the north country. They take advantage of the available sunlight and rapidly develop leaves and flowers before fading (sometimes to the point where we will not even know that they were present) in the shade of later in spring.
But for a few weeks, these low-growing flowers put on a show that is hard to compare. Some years, these bouquets among the leaf litter will blend with the trees of redbud, serviceberry (Juneberry) and dogwood to create a spectacle that is hard to not notice. A traveler in the Ozarks in April is treated to a roadside glow without even leaving the car.
But I like to get out and take a closer look.
A single day’s walk in a moist wooded valley at this time will reveal at least thirty kinds in bloom. Colors vary from white to yellow to blues and purples, even greens, but reds are few, if any. So thick are the plant growths that along many flowering sites, it is hard to take a step without seeing the abundant colors.
Walking here is often among flowers that are similar to those in the north country, even though I may be seven or eight hundred miles to the south. I have recently found flowers of bloodroots, spring beauties, wild gingers, buttercups, violets, trout-lilies, toothworts, bellworts, Dutchman breeches and jack-in-the-pulpits, all of which are the same as ones that will be blooming in the Northland next month. (It has been said that spring progresses north at the rate of about fifteen miles a day, and so what I see among these rocky hills in early April could be comparable to with happenings in the Duluth areas by mid to late May.)
But these familiar one are mixed with those that are more southern, and I will not find them in the north later. Here in the woods are flowers of other kinds as well. I find a profusion of white and pink rue anemones and their look-a-likes, but not related, false rue anemones. Purples and blues are seen in spring-blooming phlox (similar to our sweet Williams of summer) and three-petaled spiderworts along with tall larkspurs and wild geraniums.
All are welcomed sights, but I especially enjoy seeing two more showing these colors: Jacob’s ladder, with its bell-shaped purple flowers and compound leaves that apparently caused some to be reminded of legs of a ladder, and the blue-eyed Mary. This delightful plant holds flowers at the top divided into two lobes the upper one being white while the lower one is blue. They grow only from six to ten inches tall, but when in a thick growth, they are a marvel to behold.
I also seek three others of the rocky woods here in April. We know and look forward to the blooming of the large white trilliums in the Northland. Here, a much less noticeable cousin is flowering now, the green trillium. Like other trilliums, this plant lives up to its name with growths of threes. Leaves, sepals and petals are all in a green color, not as easy to see, but just as delightful.
Irises are common in the swamps of the north country and our blue flag irises put forth glows along the edges each June. A smaller iris, the dwarf iris, is just as blue, but on a leafy stalk reaching only a foot tall. Unlike the wet areas, they thrive on rocky cliffs.
And then there is the May apple. Standing about twelve to eighteen inches tall with large leaves held in an umbrella shape, they grow in groups in woods or along the edges. Even though they are often sterile with no flowers, they are hard to miss. Flowering ones hold large two- to three-inch white flowers under the big leaves. Though May apples do not make it into our northern forests, they do reach into the northern states.
The April woods of the Ozark country, even with its differences, is in many ways a prelude of what we’ll see in the forests of the Northland in May.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.