Friday, April 23, 2010

Step carefully! Forest underfoot

Most years I don’t have to watch where I put my every step when I’m in the woods. This year the wildflowers are so profuse that I pretty much have to. The rue anemone are especially thick this year, which is particularly impressive when you remember that one plant is rarely more than 4-6 inches across.

Last evening on my evening walk I came across several patches with 50 or more flowers, all in bloom. Many more patches produced 20+ blooms, and the space between patches was usually only a few feet.

Last year the wild geraniums were the showstopper. This year it is the anemone. The geraniums are out, and with more to come, but I’m not finding nearly as many as I did last year. The first mayapples are nearly out, if not yet fully in bloom.

It’s interesting to me to pay attention to the variations in wildflowers from year to year. Weather conditions, snow cover, rains, warmer or cooler temperatures—each slight change favors one flower over another in that year. This year had a very snowy winter followed by a very early and warm March (and now a cooler and drier April). The anemone liked that combination. Last year was a nearly snowless winter with a cool spring, and the wild geraniums were thrilled.

The enormous biodiversity of the native eastern forest can cope with a wide variety of weather, and responds with subtle variations in its flora just as quickly. That’s part of what makes a forest so interesting to me. A forest is never the same, not from year to year or month to month and sometimes not even from morning to night. Still, a visitor does have to look to see the differences. Skimming your eyes across the trees isn’t going to capture those differences, and it’s these tiny differences, I believe, that make the whole of a forest so precious.

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