Northland Nature: The woods is greening, from the ground upAfter several delayed starts, spring has come to the Northland. A few days of temperatures in the 70s along with the threshold of 15 hours of daylight has put nearly everything in the mood of May.
After several delayed starts, spring has come to the Northland. A few days of temperatures in the 70s along with the threshold of 15 hours of daylight has put nearly everything in the mood of May.
Even the lakes, opening weeks later than normal and more than a month and a half after last year’s date, are showing signs of finally accepting this new season. Eager water birds that have patiently waited for a place to swim and feed are now getting their desires.
My yard is showing its growth too. May is the greening month and I see it without going anywhere. The grasses of the lawn that turned brown under the snow and remained that way until recently are taking advant-
age of the full light and long days. Also in the yard, I see leaf buds opening on the lilacs. The rhubarb’s flat leaves are unfolded for another year. And the beautiful yellow flowers of the forsythia are stretching out their long petals.
All this happening in the nearby yard makes me want to see how the greening is proceeding in the woods. With less sunlight penetrating there than in the yard, the woods is a bit slower.
But as I walk along a trail, I see that it is changing here too.
The forest greens from the ground up. Scattered among the dead leaves of the floor and the rocks and stumps of trees, I see the numerous mosses. Such small plants are easy to pass by, but as I stop and take a closer look at them, I see that a whole new set of leaves has recently grown. Mosses remain green under the snow all winter, but now they are quick to take advantage of the openness given by the melting snow to produce this small, but ample new growth.
A few other green leaves from last year are still here: strawberry, wintergreen and pyrola; but I’m searching for new leaves. And I find more.
Clumps of dark green leaves are common here, under the deciduous trees. Stepping among them, I’m quickly met by the odor of onions. The wild leeks are thriving in snow melt soil at this site. These wild onions that grow so thick now will not form flowers until the shady days of summer, but now the leaves make use of the available sunlight to produce food, storing it underground in the swelling roots.
Nearby are plants that at first look similar, but leaf spots and blotches tell me that they are trout-lilies, and these do bloom with yellow or white flowers during this spring month. While walking further, I see the thin leaves of spring beauties. Soon these ephemerals of five pink petals will fill the forest floor.
The woods greens from the bottom up, but not all greening is on the ground. A couple of small shrubs and trees are setting the pace as the initial woody plants to open leaves.
Standing only about three feet tall, the gooseberry is quick to opens its small green leaves. Most common at the woods edge, these bushes will soon flower and produce spiny berries later in summer.
Fly honeysuckle, about the same size, has small oval leaves emerging from the buds as well. These are quickly followed by a pair of yellow flowers that hang from the twigs. Returning to this fly honeysuckle in summer, we’ll find a
pair of red berries at the same site.
Growing bigger, but hardly enough to be called trees, are two more shrubs now producing green leaves.
One, the leatherwood with its bent and twisted branches, not only greens its leaves, but is also holding yellow blossoms already this spring.
Larger and much more common are the green leaves that unfold out of the large buds of the elderberry. Also known as red-berry elder, this small tree holds large white blossoms later in May and clusters of little red berries a month later. The fruits never seem to last very long among the local wildlife. Elderberry leaves are not only quick to open, they are rather complex as well. Unlike the simple oval or round leaves of other early risers, the elderberry leaves are big and compound:
a main green stem with many leaflets off to the sides.
After such a long wait, I expect we’ll be getting a fast greening that will culminate in tall trees, but which now starts with the smaller plants of the woods. And as we walk here, we may need to look down to see the greening.
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.