Skunk Cabbage Leaves

SkunkCabbageLeavesThe first wildflower of the season is transitioning from flowers to leaves. The maroon flowers/spears come up through the snow. They’re kind of like mammals; they convert glucose to heat so they can emerge in the late winter months. Then the spadix and spathe wither away and these stout green leaves emerge. Native to the wetlands of eastern North America

Skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus

First sign of spring: Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage in black swampskunk cabbage sproutsSkunk Cabbage and oak leaves

The skunk cabbage has been up for weeks. It came up through the ice and snow—skunk cabbage flowers make their own heat, so that the temperature inside the sculptural spathe is considerably warmer than the surrounding air. You can see in these shots that some of the tips got frostbitten. Now that everything is melted, this marsh looks black and primordial, with green and wine-colored fingers reaching up through the muck. Native to eastern North America.

I first heard the peepers on April 5. It’s been a long winter—last year the peeper debut was March 28, the year before was March 12. This afternoon at Ridge Hill, they were dazzlingly loud. It was fantastic. The winter forest roaring back to life!

Eastern Skunk Cabbage, Polecat Weed, Swamp Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

Bonus picture: this is the kind of action that immediately follows sloshing around in the swamp. Lucy with a stick


False Solomon’s Seal (fruiting)

False Solomon's Seal fruitIn the spring, white flowers. In the fall, red berries. (The berries can have a laxative effect. Also, apparently native people made a tea of the leaves for use as a cough medicine and a contraceptive!) Ruscus family. Native.

False Solomon’s Seal, Treacleberry, Solomon’s plume, False Spikenard (Maianthemum racemosum)

Visiting the Whiteside Garden in Illinois

That Illinois flat agricultural landscape is a beautiful thing when you’re looking at it from a little plane. Here’s the descent, through the clouds, to seeing details of the homesteads surrounded by oceans of soybean fields and corn fields… with evidence of recent flooding.

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We always go visit Dr. Whiteside’s giant and fabulous garden in Charleston. At this time of year, many magnolias were in bloom…

DSC_0059_magnoliaBut mainly I loved all the wildflowers. They were just rampant, they were deliriously happy and vigorous. Here are a few I don’t think I’ll be seeing around Needham: the spring beauties, big bunch of trillium, bluebells, dutchman’s breeches, and a double form of bloodroot that looked like some kind of water lily or lotus.

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When we were ready to leave, I went to say goodbye to Dr. Whiteside, who was out working in the garden. I asked him about that last one, what was that lovely thing… and he asked would I like a specimen for my garden and of course I would! So we tromped back to that section and he dug up this double bloodroot… and four kinds of european anemone  (single and double white, a blue, and a pale blue), and while we were back there I admired a purple larkspur… so he gave me some of that… and a himalayan maidenhair fern. I felt kind of bad that he was going to so much work for me… but then it seemed like it was kind of his idea and maybe he just really enjoys sharing his garden. (Thanks to Alert Flowerophile Marilyn for grabbing my camera and following us around as Dr. Whiteside so generously dug up all kinds of things he thought I would like to grow.) Photos: April 22.

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I told him I was flying home. He said no problem, just wrap them in wet newspaper. So my carry-on was a bag of soil and plants. I just smiled a lot at security.


Snake’s Head (Checkered Lily)

FritillariaI love these — they’re so amazing looking. Wild but not local–they’re native to the west. Lily family. Last year I had the wrong latin name on this. Fritillaria comes from the latin fritillus which means dice-box (were they checkered?) and the name meleagris means “spotted like a guineafowl.” Vita Sackville-West: “a sinister little flower, in the mournful colour of decay.” Hm. That’s really not how I feel about them at all…

Snake’s Head Fritillary, Snake’s Head, Chess Flower, Frog-cup, leper lily, Lazarus bell, Checkered Lily, Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris)

Skunk cabbage is the first

skunk cabbage 1 We first noticed the skunk cabbage emerging on February 16. Even though there had been a blizzard and there was snow everywhere else, this is a protected swampy spring-fed area, and the shoots were emerging up through the ooze, looking very primordial and eager to get on with it. This is their bloom, before they leaf out later in spring. From Wikipedia: “Eastern Skunk Cabbage has contractile roots which contract after growing into the earth. This pulls the stem of the plant deeper into the mud, so that the plant in effect grows downward, not upward. Each year, the plant grows deeper into the earth, so that older plants are practically impossible to dig up.” (I started this blog with photos from this location last March.)

Eastern Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

Skunk cabbage in muck

Skunk cabbage first appearance: Feb 16, 2013

Bonus picture: except for down in the swamp, the snow blanket prevails.

Ridge Hill in the Snow

Flowering Grasses — need ID

For now, I have to give up on naming these three. Maybe they are more grass than wildflower, because I’m not finding them in any of my resources.

Wild Garlic

What a find, this Dr. Seussical plant! They’re about an inch across, 1 or 2 feet tall, and with no discernible leaves, just a tall stalk. Lily family.

Wild Garlic (Allium vineale L.)

Pale Swallowwort

Pardon my fingers; the wind was blowing and I was trying to steady the plant enough for a photo. There is just one of these plants all by itself in this field, but it’s considered highly invasive, so I wonder if there will be more next year. An unusual color. A twining vine. Milkweed family. Introduced from Europe in the 19th century.

Pale Swallowwort, Dog-strangling Vine (Cynanchum rossicum)

Wake-robin Trillium

I saw these maroon wake-robins and some yellow trilliums not in any wild woods, but in a Needham woman’s woodland garden (a spectacular stop on the Needham Garden Tour). But they’re native wildflowers and they’re (mostly finished) blooming, so here they are. Picking a trillium seriously hurts the plant, because then it can’t produce food for the next year. It takes many years to recover. Trillium seeds are spread by ANTS! Ants are attracted to the decaying ovary, take the seeds to their nests, eat the spongy “elaisosome” part of the seeds, and discard the rest of the seeds, which then germinate in the ant compost heap. Lily family. Native.

Wake-robin, Purple Trillium, Birthroot (Trillium erectum)