With May coming to a close in a few days, I am feeling nostalgia. This month is both elusive and dramatic – from bare trees to lime green, and now lilacs so heavily laden with blooms that some are bowed as if in prayer. Wood frogs and peepers bring in the night and the first toads are hopping around my overgrown flower garden; in the forests I surprise them when peering closely at small flowers. Gray tree frogs trill at dusk. Violets of every hue grace the earth outside my door along with robust dandelions, forget – nots, rafts of deep blue ajuga, delicate bells of solomons seal, mayapple umbrellas, false solomon’s seal, wild columbine and golden celandine all nestled in long grasses and moss. No mowing happens here!
On my woodland paths starflowers and Canada mayflowers are now so thick I fear treading on even one, as if one foot could destroy the whole. Down by the brook white trillium bloom on, both painted and purple are setting seed, while bloodroot, arbutus trumpets and delicate anemones have transformed into leafy memory. Ostrich and hay ferns are unfurling, creeping blue phlox and dames rocket are budded or blooming; pink and white lady slippers are beckoning both here and in the woods. June is in the air.
I have spent the whole month with one foot here at home and one in the deep forests, the ones that have been allowed to thrive on their own.
This year I promised myself I would do nothing except watch and listen for birds and spend my time with wildflowers. I have been busier than I ever could have imagined! I feel deep pleasure as each of my ‘regular’ summer birds return and prepare for nesting. In the last week alone I have identified 16 migrating warblers, spent hours in the field listening for migrating birds, checking sources for accuracy, and have been enthralled by Phoebe who is setting up housekeeping on a precarious ledge over my front door. There is so much to do that I feel as if I am living with Winnie the Pooh at Pooh Corner. No room for practicalities!
In the forest I scan the floor for new arrivals while keeping an eye out for lady slippers and blue bead lilies that often grow close to each other. Giant yellow bumblebees are a frequent sight always buzzing close to the ground because they know where ephemeral nectar can be found! Twisted stalk with its tiny pink bells appeared two days ago on one of my regular trails. My favorite woodland fern is sending up new shoots; Christmas fern will stay forest green until mid –winter. Frilled swords spread out from a central rosette that hides rhizomes beneath fragrant moist leaf litter. Here too, carpets of Canada mayflowers and starflowers are blooming in abundance. None of these delicate beings can tolerate being trod upon so it is necessary to stay on a trail. The key to the profusion of wild flowers, is of course, a healthy diverse forest and light foot traffic. The forests I visit are thick with hemlock, pine, oak, ash, birch, maple, to name a few. This rich diversity creates soil that is rich and spongy, offers wild flowers protection from the sun, and before leaf out, still provides enough light for spring ephemerals to begin to bloom.
Reflecting on this elusive and magical month I am struck by how I experience time. In one sense I have been so present to each day/each moment that I experience May as being timeless; on the other hand as June approaches I feel the poignant swift passage of time. As I breathe in terpenes I wonder if trees experience this turning as a celebration. Trees have survived five extinctions; my sense is that they may know things humans do not…
If the weather cooperates and heat waves don’t shrivel tender blossoms some trillium will still be blooming into June if one knows where to look for them. In a healthy forest these ground stars with their three pearl white petals, some inked in rose, often appear in large clumps surrounded by many young ones not yet in bloom. Although purple trillium has set seed others are bright with shining faces. Large white trillium startle the discerning eye. I like it that there are exceptions to the flight of ephemerals!
There are 39 species of trillium in the United States and all belong to the lily family They are native to temperate regions of North America and Asia. Trillium are extremely long lived if not disturbed (Twenty five years).
Like most wildflowers Trillium have become endangered because of machine traffic, logging, and habitat loss. Although their tendency is to spread quite naturally by way of rhizomes, without protected forests, or small patches of forested land like mine where nature is allowed to make her own decisions trillium simply disappear. Trillium seeds are also spread by ants. After blooming, an oval capsule forms that eventually becomes a fruit. Ants take the fruits to their nest where they eat them and add the seeds to their garbage bin, which then becomes a rich medium for future trillium germination!
Here I notice that the first trillium break ground on earth day, every single year. Each spring I have a few more plants and flowers although it will take years before the youngest ones bloom. In the forests I visit, emergence occurs a bit later. I am tuned to unfolding of all the ephemerals, but trillium begin the wildflower season and often end it. While they are stunning to look at, picking trillium seriously injures the plant by preventing the leaf-like bracts from producing food for the next year killing the trillium and ensuring that none will grow in its place.
In pre Christian European lore the presence of three lobed trillium like flowers signified the emergence of the earth goddess in her most magical form, a legend that seems to have at its core the literal greening of spring.