Northland Nature: It's alive! -- Forest floor vegetation unfurls in mid-May
Mid-May is a time of tremendous happenings in nature. It seems like every roadside has its growth of wild plum, juneberry, pin cherry, elderberry or crab apple in bloom. All these small trees flowering at once makes us realize just how common the...
Mid-May is a time of tremendous happenings in nature. It seems like every roadside has its growth of wild plum, juneberry, pin cherry, elderberry or crab apple in bloom. All these small trees flowering at once makes us realize just how common they are. It becomes a bit of a challenge for commuters to keep from looking at their abundance and beauty.
Trees continue to green, and it seems like each day more get further along in the forest foliation of May. Among these leafing branches flit the latest migrants. Warblers lead the way in numbers and variety with about two dozen in the Northland during this month.
Here too, we'll see the newly arrived Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, thrushes, flycatchers and vireos. Many add more to the scene with melodious songs during much of the time that they spend with us. Some stay and nest while others keep moving further north to the boreal woods of Canada.
But the forest floor is alive, too. Spring flowers scatter through the woods and a walk at this time can garner 20 or more kinds.
Vernal plants tend to be perennials and so if we remember a spot from last year, it is probably holding similar flowers this year. The rich deciduous soil sets the backdrop for this show.
Now we can find carpets of spring beauties, trilliums and still a few of the early bloodroot and hepatica. Yellow bellworts blend with the yellow and white trout-lilies. And nearly every wetland is full of bright yellow marsh marigolds.
Wild flowers are not alone here. A few early fungi make their appearance: the bright scarlet cup fungus is very showy, but not as well known as the spongy looking morels.
Morels are a choice find for the fungi fancier and many of who find them guard their morel sites like a good blueberry patch or a favorite fishing hole. Watch also for the darker and different shaped false morel. These can be confused with the true morel but may be dangerous.
Also eaten by some, fiddleheads are also abundant now. These new growths of fern leaves unroll each spring. The curled shape gives them this unusual name. While sometimes called a baby fern, they are merely the new leaf (often called frond).
Underground, the stem (rhizome) remains alive for many years. Wild plant eaters claim fiddleheads as a choice find. It's best to collect them with someone knowledgeable; some kinds can be dangerous.
Though all ferns produce fiddleheads in spring, three seem to be most noticeable in our woods: bracken, interrupted fern and ostrich fern. The well known three-leaved bracken has a fiddlehead that quickly reveals the three growths.
Interrupted ferns are quite hairy. Their name comes from the leafy growth being separated by spores (seeds). Ostrich fern fiddleheads are a rich green color, but they don't last long. Quickly, they'll unroll to form the long plume-like fronds that give the ostrich name.
With all this happening, a mid-May walk in the woods is an outstanding experience.
Larry Weber is author of the "Backyard Almanac." He lives in Carlton County and teaches natural science at Duluth's Marshall School.