Northland Nature: Flowers bloom at woods' edge
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.”
May has been a month of greening. Now, equipped with new chlorophyll-rich leaves, plants do a terrific amount of growing in June. With sunrise at about 5:15 a.m. and setting nearly at 9 p.m., plants bask in daylight, approaching 16 hours.
These longer days, combined with warmth and amble rain (most years), makes this an excellent growing time. We see this in lawns that demand continuous care, garden produce developing and tree branches putting on new lengths. And growth shows up in the woods as well.
Ferns that were new fiddleheads just a couple weeks ago, now may reach up to our chest. These plants as well as tree leaves overhead have stopped the first group of spring wildflowers — the early ones that thrive in sunlight. It wasn’t long ago that we walked in a sunlit forest surrounded by trout-lilies, spring beauties and bloodroots.
When they faded in the shade, they were replaced by those that tolerate shade, flowering in the darkened woods. By the end of May, the forest flora was very green with these tolerants, many of which also flowered.
On a single walk, as May exited, I noted the blooming of starflower, sarsaparilla, blue-bead lily, jack-in-the-pulpit, wild lily-of-the-valley, baneberry, bunchberry, columbine, nodding trillium and some impressive yellow lady-slipper orchids. These colors add much to the shady woods, but their time is passing and the spring floral progression continues to move on.
Later in June, in a couple weeks, fields and open spaces will fill with colorful flowers of daisy, hawkweed, lupine, clover and buttercup. This bouquet in the open areas is a sign that spring has ended (shortly before the summer solstice June 20). But before this floral movement reaches the sunlit fields, meadows and roadsides, it passes through another stage.
Easy to overlook are the plants that grow and flower in the edge, between the woods and open spaces. Taking advantage of light and moisture here, a whole new growth of wildflowers bloom now in early June.
During a recent walk, I saw several of these flowers that fill this in-between niche. Here, I found meadow-rues, rose twisted-stalks and Solomon’s seals. The last two have flowers below their leafy stems. Flowers in such sites can be overlooked. But nearby was another of this group that was easy to see: the false Solomon’s seal.
This plant, also with a green leafy stem, is about 2-3 feet tall. Unlike the previous that hold flowers beneath the stem, its cluster of white flowers is at the end of the stem. With a name like false Solomon’s seal, we may expect it to look much like the true variety; it does not.
Plants are also called false spikenard — another misleading label, not looking like the true spikenard. Regardless of the name, false Solomon’s seal (maianthemum racemosum) reigns in this limited space and time.
Flowers are borne in a plume above the leafy stem. About 5-7 inches long, the plume is filled with nearly 100 tiny white florets of three petals and three sepals each (looking like six petals). And so, they are easy to see on this edge site.
Once fertilized, they form small berries, ripening to become bright red later in summer. Like others of the spring floral progression, this edge group will not last long.
Soon we’ll see abundant flowering plants in the open, but now false Solomon’s seal raises its white plume at the edge.