They're baaaaaack !!!
Trout Lily (erythronium americanum)Yes, its finally springtime in Southern Virginia.
Digging out from under all that snow is a welcome relief from winters icy grip. The generous precipitation from flooding and snowfall will be long forgotten once the onslaught of summer highs arrive, but before that happens, the long days and warmer temps bring a much needed antidote for cabin fever with the arrival of the first wildflowers of spring.
Trout Lily twins
These delicate forest jewels remind us of the resilience of nature, as they lay dormant through winters long freeze, to awaken in the early hours of spring, bringing rebirth to the woods as they push aside the leaf and straw and break the surface for a few brief days of growth and propagation.
Its fitting that these most delicate flora arrive after the harshest pf conditions. Its not the towering oaks and pines nor the hardy vines and thorn bushes that bloom first, its the diminutive and delicate jewels of the forest floor that are first to greet the warmth of the coming season.
Toadshade (trillium sessile)
Its always been part of the fascination of the annual changing of the seasons but also one that not many people ever experience to the fullest. By the time some of us realize that springtime has actually arrived, the early wildflowers have already been pollinated and shed their blooms as they begin the cycle anew.
Large-Flowered Trillium (trillium grandiflora)
That's why now is the perfect time to visit Gravely Nature Preserve or the Fieldale Trail. Widlflowers ! They are popping up all over and rewarding the observant hiker with a rich tapestry of delicate beauty.
Trout lilys in the foreground as Linda Rachner hikes the Rhododendron trail with friends
Even though the forest may still seem all shades of brown and gray, the observant hiker only needs to walk slowly and watch the ground. Most will walk right past some of these little gems of the forest as they often seem to blend in with the surroundings unless you are looking directly at a freshly opened bud. The recent flooding has scoured the banks of dead leaves and regolith and the trout lilys and toadshades are much easier to spot now and they seem to be more numerous than in seasons past. Perhaps the rising waters brought additional plants or it may have opened up new opportunities for habitat that conducive to wildflower growth.
Linda finds a new patch of toadshade along the river on the Rhododendron Trail. This group was not observed at this site in previous years so perhaps the trail or the flooding created new habitat ?
Red Trillium (trillium erectum)
Although the Grandiflora and the red trillium will not bloom till late April, their tri-leafed stalks are just beginning to surface in clumps along the rocky outcrops and the floor of the Rhododendron trail.
A fascinating thing to watch for now at Gravely are the areas along the river that have been scoured by the flood. The removal of dead leaf material has opened up the bare ground and now the trout lilys can be easily observed by the hundreds !
Ellen Jesse points out trout lilys along the trail in the river bottom
Many other varieties are beginning to bloom and will continue from now all the way through late summer and early fall, each change in season bringing a different color, shape and size.
What can you find in the coming weeks ?
Lets take a look at a few favorites that are easy to spot and recognize
Trout Lily (erythronium americanum)
The Trout Lilies will still be in bloom for a few more weeks. Watch for their pointed petal blooms with shades of yellow and purple while their large base leaves are mottled greens and purples.
Bloodroot (sanguinaria candensis)
The Bloodroots are easy to spot with their brilliant white "teacups" teatering on light green stalks then opening
and spreading to a full star-shaped bloom
Don't confuse them with the Twin-Leaf which also appears at the same time and often in the same habitat. Both plants have similar sized white star-shaped blooms but as the name implies, the Twin leaf can easily be identified by it's namesake, the twin shaped leafs of the stalk. Note the rounded petals as opposed to the more pointed ones of the bloodroot
Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)
And of course the toadshape, its tri-leafed shape making it an obvious member of the trillium family, the mottled green and purples support a deep scarlet bloom
As April approaches and gives way to May and we say goodbye to some of the first wildflowers of the season, its not time to slack off. Watch for Mayapples, Trilliums, ladyslippers, foamflowers, bellworts and get ready for woodland orchids like Putty Root, rattlesnake plantain and showy orchis!
If you got o Gravely and forget your field guide, just take a quick glance at the kiosk before heading off on the trail and see what all can be found...a wildflower wilderness in the heart of Henry County.
The Wildflower ID photos at the Gravely kiosk
Don't forget to bring your camera !
Take only photographs, leave only footprints
Showy Orchis (Orchis spectabilis)
Putty Root (Aplectrum hyemale)
Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens )
May Apple (Podophyllum peltatum)