Northland Nature: Small flowers appear on hazels
Retired teacher Larry Weber, of Barnum, is the author of “Butterflies of the North Woods" and “Spiders of the North Woods," among other books. Reach him via Katie Rohman at email@example.com.
Many trees in the woods are still bent over from the heavy and substantial snowfall that we received in December. Thanks to that and the following record-setting snowy winter, these trees, plus the broken branches, makes walking on the trails quite a chore.
At times, it is hard to tell the trail from the nearby woods. Besides this snowfall total, the snowpack that measured 20 inches or more for nearly four months, was slow to leave when March and April recorded lower-than-normal temperatures. All contributed to a late arrival of spring.
But though the cold and snow did linger, the daylight continued to get longer and the seasonal signs are here. All of the vernal ponds that I visited on this walk in early May are open and wood frogs and chorus frogs sing in their new water world. Migrants are a bit slow, but as I walk, I see and hear from various sparrows, phoebe, kinglets and yellow-bellied sapsuckers. It is a welcome sight to note warblers as well.
The spring wildflowers are also appearing later than usual, but there is growth on the forest floor. Mosses that retained their green all winter under the snow are now forming new growth. Wild leek (ramps) that don’t bloom until summer are raising their green leaves.
Trees will also be growing green leaves soon. The only one that I see now are the buds of elderberry starting to open. But there is more on the trees. Many are still in their winter pose, others are responding to the new season.
The large red maples are flowering with either staminate (male) flowers or pistillate (female) blooms, as we saw with the silver maples earlier in April. The furry buds of willow that gave us a peek at spring weeks ago are now holding yellow pollen. Quaking aspen branches are with numerous drooping catkins that also started to form weeks ago.
They are joined by the small tree of alder in wet sites, also with pollen-filled catkins. Another small one about the same size as the shrubby alders are the hazels that are currently flowering.
Hazels, growing about 6-8 feet tall, are abundant understory woody plants in the deciduous woods. For most of the year, we hardly notice them. Two kinds of hazels grow here: American and beaked. They are hard to tell apart until the fruits form in the late summer or fall. Both produce a nut crop.
American hazel has a husk that is leaf-like, while beaked hazel lives up to its name with a long growth extending from the nut. (Also, the autumn leaves of American are purple-red; those of beaked are yellow.)
Now, in spring, both hazels have male catkins, hanging down in a hot dog shape, longer on American hazel than beaked hazel.
Female flowers emerge from a bud (either lateral or terminal) and open to reveal a diminutive (less than one-quarter-inch) pink-purple flower. This tiny floral adds color to the scene. Plants are wind pollinated and pollen will drift from the male catkins to these small female flowers, often on the same branch.
Being the size that they are, it is easy to pass by and not notice them, but for those who stop to look, a beautiful flower is seen. Recently, I have been seeing them during my early May walks, later than the usual April time, but still a welcome and interesting sight. More tree flowers and leaves will be coming soon as we go through May.