Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Signs of Spring

The weather over the past few days has been wonderful. It feels like Spring is in the air. After a lovely walk along the Earth is Our Mother Trail today, I think that Spring is in the Earth too. The early Spring plants are starting to put on their show.

First I saw some cheery little coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara). At first glance, many may think they are dandelions but they're not. Look close and you'll see the differences. These little yellow flowers appear early spring, well before their horse-hoof shaped leaves make their appearance. The seed heads appear rather quickly and they too are reminiscent of dandelion seed heads.

Then came every child's favorite - the pussy willow (Salix discolor). Who doesn't remember being a kid (or big person too) and just loving to touch the silky pussy willow catkins. (Catkin is the fancy name for these kinds of flowers). Pussy willows are always special and sentimental sign of spring in my family. My grandfather, who is no longer with us, used to keep an eye out for the first pussy willows of the season. He would always cut a big bunch to bring home. I try to keep up the tradition and share pussy willows I've cut with family and friends. My own pussy willow tree has just exploded with catkins over this past weekend. I guess it's time for some bouquets to be cut!

Further along one of the most unusual late-winter/early-spring flowers greeted me. It is the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flower. Skunk cabbage is so named because of the foul odor that is emitted when a leaf is broke or tore. But the flowers...they are very unusual. They do not look like what everyone thinks flowers should look like. They have a mottled purple hood (spathe) around a flower spike (spadix). (If you are familiar with Jack-in-the-Pulpit Arisaema triphyllum, it too has a spathe surrounding a spadix and that will give you a rough idea of how the skunk cabbage flower is structured.) If the looks of the flower wasn't unusual enough, the strangest is yet to come. This flower makes its own heat. According to some sources, it can be 15-35°C above the air temperature. This warmth not only lets the flower melt its way through frozen ground, it attracts early spring insects who bask in the warmth these flowers offer. And I'm sure a little pollination happens along the way too.

Finally, I'll share a picture of the stream the Earth is Our Mother Trail ends at. The stream is running fast and the sound of the rushing water greeted me long before the sight of the stream did. Simply beautiful.

People can keep their 70 degrees all year long. I love the changing of the seasons and the change of winter to spring is one of my favorites!

I hope you have a wonderful late winter and early spring!!


1 comment:

  1. I was just speaking about not seeing pussy-willows anymore! I always used to see them growing up, but I haven't seen them in years. One more reason to go visit Ganondagan very soon! The stream looks awesome, too! Thanks for the inspiring article!


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