April comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay
Not just April, but May as well, recklessly and profligately scattering blooms, so that if colour and flower were voice and music, the cacophony would be ear-piercing. As it is, the eye hardly knows where to look: on the ground for the snakes, roots, rocks; in the air and trees for the birds trilling just above, for the dragonflies and mayflies beginning to arc and dip; or on both sides of the path at the same time for the small and large woodland wildflowers and shrubs, ferns, and mosses. A girl could get whiplash.
In the case of a small system of trails nearby, it’s a veritable riot just now of pink lady slippers (Cypripedium acaule …a few of which are white), painted trillium (Trillium undulatum), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), starflowers (Trientalis borealis), foamflower (tiarella), ferns of all sorts. A mile walk took me over an hour, and it’s not because the terrain is challenging but because there is so much to take in, through body, mind, spirit, heart, soul, senses.
Just a few things to know about the lady slipper, a kind of orchid: It requires a fungus in the soil from the family Rhizoctonia, and it needs bumblebees (though there is actually no nectar inside it and the bumblebee gets nothing from the relationship). Early in the lady slipper’s life, the threads of the fungus, Rhizoctonia, break open the lady slipper’s seed and attach to it, passing food and nutrients to the plant’s seed (which has no other way of getting nutrients), and then, as the lady slipper plant ages and can make most of its own nutrients, the fungus extracts the nutrients it needs from the orchid roots. Pink lady slippers can live to be more than twenty years old, but if you pick the flower, you kill the plant. It’s found often under red maple, oak, sweetgum, and pines, and near sassafras.
Join me in my slow walk among the lady slippers and other spring plants.
First, some trail to get us started:
And, the lady slippers … I counted 100 plants in one 200-square-foot space where two trails meet. And another 60 or so scattered along the three trails. Most are pink lady slipper (Cypripedium acaule), some are the white variety of the same species.
Some painted trillium are still blooming:
Clintonia (borealis, aka blue bead lily) is starting to bloom:
Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) is in bloom, and bunchberry (Cornus canadensis):
And starflower (Trientalis borealis), everywhere:
Not to mention, though I will, Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum; full of oxalic acid!):
And blueberry bushes, tiarella (foamflower), violets, and ferns galore:
Sarsaparilla flowers, Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana), fungi on a log, British soldiers lichen (Cladonia cristatella), and azaleas by the pond:
Finally, a dragonfly (probably chalk-fronted), great blue heron, and a mayfly … on my shirt.
Now go outside and enjoy the idiotic world!