by Kathy Thatcher
Most of the snow has melted and the silence of Winter is now replaced with bird song and the robust chorus of amphibian mating calls. Spring is also presenting itself throughout the woods. Ground covers are some of the first to greet us, reappearing as the snow melts away. Looking as though pressed between the pages of a book, fronds of ferns emerge, scattered across the forest floor. Another common sight are the club mosses Perhaps one of the most familiar is the princess pine, aptly named, as it looks a great deal like a very small pine tree. Other club mosses you are likely to come upon in the acidic-loving forests they prefer, are the ground ceder, very reminiscent of a cedars greenery, and both the running and bristly club mosses single, upright stems running along the ground. There are a number of interesting characteristics of the club mosses There ability to survive the winter months is due to a substance similar to antifreeze. They also have their own vascular system, which, unlike a "true" moss, they are not dependent on external moisture, helping them survive dry periods. Fortunately for these little ground covers, they have a substance that, when chewed by grazing herbivores, emits a bitter taste, making them unappetizing. These little plants take about twenty years to reach maturity, causing a number of states to protect them.
Other greenery to be found are the broad leaf evergreens and their small counterparts, partridge berry and wintergreen. The partridge berry is the smaller of the two, with more distinct yellow-white veins on the leaves. Red berries can still be found on some of the plants, if they haven't been eaten by various critters. Both will present small white flowers come July. The partridge berry has two white, hairy flowers while the winterberry has white, sometimes pinkish, bell-shaped flowers. The winterberry leaves, as well as the flowers, have a distinct wintergreen scent and flavor.
The golden thread, named for it's golden root, which was used by the Native Americans to ease a toothache.
One of the first wildflowers to grace the forested landscape, taking advantage of the open canopy, is the bloodroot, so named for it's blood-red juice, once used as a dye and face paint by Native Americans. Their foliage often wraps around the stem of the flower, as though hugging itself, only to open up after flowering. You can find bloodroot along the Old Chesterfield Road as you wander down into the Park from the Horseshoe Parking lot. Soon after the bloodroot is done blooming, purple trillium will follow.
I have touched upon just a few of the delights that await your discovery as you travel through the woods. It's a great time to enjoy the forested landscape because one thing that is not in great evidence, yet, are the bugs!
Kathy Thatcher, April 18, 2013