Most of the tall trees have not yet grown new leaves for the season. And so, as I walk through the woods on this May day, I note that the sunlight is penetrating through the trees and reaching the forest floor.

The plants that call this their home are taking advantage of the sunlight when they can. Within two weeks, leaves will be full in the overhead canopy and this site will be shady.

These short-lived spring wildflowers, often called ephemerals, are fast to sprout from the soil, develop leaves and produce new flowers for the season. Once pollinated by early-flying insects, they will fade. Some keep their leaves through the coming months, but others fall back to the soil and in summer, we can't tell they were even here.

But they thrive now and during my walk I find about a dozen kinds: hepatica, bloodroot, spring beauty, wood anemone, white and yellow trout-lilies, bellworts, wild ginger, marsh marigold, toothwort, trillium, Dutchman’s breeches and violets. This list is normal for a deciduous forest in May.

Growing with them are some fern fiddleheads. Looking up, I see that many trees are forming new leaves. Near the woods' edge, I find some of the trees are forming flowers of their own. We often call tree flowers "blossoms."

Tree flowers have been with us since late March and many trees, like alder, hazel, aspen and willows, have held catkins — flowers of a different sort, through most of April.

Silver maple was followed by red maple to show their pistillate and staminate flowers, some with red colors. During the second half of May, we see the blossoms from other trees, many of which we are very familiar with. Now this arboreal show begins with three small trees.

Common at the woods' edge or roadsides where they get enough sunlight, these little trees, all with white petals, put on quite a show of their own. This early tree trio is composed of wild plum, juneberry and pin cherry. Each tree is small and each has flowers with five petals. They frequently grow near each other.

I find the first to bloom is wild plum. The small, nearly circular, petals will open on the branches before leaves develop.

A wild plum blooming in May. Note the abundant flowers are before the leaves are grown. (Photo by Larry Weber)
A wild plum blooming in May. Note the abundant flowers are before the leaves are grown. (Photo by Larry Weber)

Within a couple days, juneberry (also called "shadbush" and "serviceberry") will open its blossoms with long thin petals at the same time that leaves are forming.

Pin cherry with its clusters of small flowers is next — also, with leaves.

All three are common on roadsides and we see plenty as we pass by. We usually do not realize how abundant they are until seen in bloom at this time.

After being pollinated, each forms fruits and berries ripe in summer. Though small, the colorful berries are eaten by many of the local wildlife. Bears (and some of us) find juneberry to be quite tasty on hot July days. It is interesting to note that although we call them Juneberry, they have blossoms in May and ripe berries in July.

Soon others will add their blossom colors to the late May landscape. Elderberry, hawthorn, apple, chokecherry and lilac will be giving plenty more petal colors late in the month.

The blossoming of trees that we so associate with late May begins with the early tree trio of wild plum, juneberry and pin cherry as seen now along the roadsides.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber