Northland Nature: Blueberries join others now in bloomLast week as I walked the woods of early June, I was struck by the abundance of green on the forest floor. Here the blue-bead lilies (Clintonia) were tightly packed with the wild lilies of the valleys and starflowers.
Last week as I walked the woods of early June, I was struck by the abundance of green on the forest floor. Here the blue-bead lilies (Clintonia) were tightly packed with the wild lilies of the valleys and starflowers.
As if this were not enough, the various ferns were thriving here, too. Most of these plants are shade-tolerant and do quite well as the woods becomes a darker place. Normally this group of plants makes up the flora of late May, and normally the canopy overhead is completely leafed-out by this time.
But this green woods is well worth waiting for, and thanks to the late spring and cool weather, I’ve been able to walk here in June without
attracting hordes of mosquitoes.
Beyond the woods, along the edges, roadside and trailside, I also found large numbers of bushes and shrubs that are holding blossoms. They began a couple of weeks ago with the first wild plums on May 23. This beginning was quickly followed by Juneberry that started on May 27 and pin cherry on May 31. Elderberry and crabapple rapidly followed.
We never realize how common these small woody plants are until they come into bloom, usually in mid- to late May. We drive, bike or hike along most of our roads and trails now and see a plethora of their blossoms. And the show goes on: The cousin of the pin cherry, the choke-cherry, with its long spike flowers, is next to bloom, along with hawthorns and mountain ash.
About this time we get distracted from the scene of wild blossoms by the apple trees and lilacs that are blooming in our yards. But as I passed these flowering shrubs, nearly all are less than 15 feet tall; I noted a few others also with blooms that were a lot smaller.
With a cluster of purple flowers, the swamp currants began their blooming. A close cousin, the gooseberry, was next in line. And during a recent walk, I noticed two more now showing their flowers, the dewberry and blueberry.
Dewberry is a type of blackberry, but unlike the larger ones which will also be blooming in a couple of weeks, it remains low and close to the ground. Flowers are minute and usually alone. (Raspberry is also a cousin of blackberry and dewberry, and will be forming its inconspicuous flowers during this month as well.)
Blueberries are in a different family. This well-known little bush is in the heath family, along with a few other Northland plants, most notably the leatherleaf of the swamps and wintergreen of the forest floor.
Like other members of this clan, the flowers are in a rather inverted vase or bell shape. The little white flowers are only about one-fourth inch long and are borne on clusters at the tip of branches. Though different species of blueberries are in the region, the low ones grow no more than a foot tall.
As with all the other wild shrubs and bushes that I recently found in bloom, it is the berries and fruits that the plant is trying to produce. Often we return to these sites to gather the product of this season, before other animals get there.
Perhaps none are more gathered and picked than the forest blueberries. And many of us berry pickers have dealt with aching backs in our quest for a gallon of berries to take home.
But none of these berries or fruits would happen were it not for the blossoms of May and June.
Colorful petals and a pleasing aroma invite the local pollinators. Within the flower arrangement are the male (stamen) and female (pistil) parts. In order to form the seeds and subsequent berries and fruits, the flowers need to have the pollen moved from the stamen to the pistil. This job of pollination is usually done by insects. Bees are best known, but others, such as flies, moths, butterflies, ants and even beetles, will play this role.
The abundance of flowers that we now see on the shrubs and bushes seem to assure us of a crop later, but only if pollinators are successful. Blossoms seen now will soon pass and we’ll forget them; but later in summer, the berries and fruits will arrive if provided the needed warmth and moisture.
Ripe red berries of elderberry will begin this phase, but the others that we now see in bloom are quick to follow.
All these blossoms at this time cause us to think of berries and fruits at a later time.
Retired teacher Larry Weber of Carlton is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.