Around the Garden

Sightings & notes from the North Carolina Botanical Garden

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Waking Up to Spring

For some weeks now, I’ve heard the sweet warbling song of bluebirds—pine warblers too. The trout lilies opened weeks ago as well.  But gosh: last year’s papery pale leaves are still wobbling in the wind on the beeches, and the view out the window is dominated by bare branches of the other deciduous trees.

Regardless, there is one day when I wake up to spring.  I guess that’s when some critical number of spring wildflowers have opened and a few choice shrubs have begun to unfold lush, pleated leaves. Whatever it is, that day has come.

A walk along the garden paths and nature trails two days ago brought to my eyes the sight of so many old friends:  spring beauty (Claytonia virginica), hepatica (Hepatica americana) [1st photo below], star chickweed (Stellaria pubera), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) [2nd photo], windflower (Thalictrum thalictroides), little sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum) [3rd photo], spicebush (Lindera benzoin), yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima). 




And how about these painted buckeye leaves (Aesculus sylvatica)?


These seem to emerge in the blink of an eye—that is, over the course of three days, which is fast by my book.

One early spring bloomer that particularly grabs my fancy, and which I don’t manage to stumble upon  very often, is the inconspicuous pennywort (Obolaria virginica)—a member of the Gentian family, and a monotypic genus to boot (meaning, there is only one species of Obolaria).


Pennywort grows so low to the ground, tucked into the leaf litter, and its fleshy purple-green stems and leaves blend in so well, that only when little white buds appear in the leaf axils, and later, white-tinged-purple flowers open, do I have any chance of seeing it at all. Like some of the other wildflowers mentioned above, it is a “spring ephemeral” and will be finished blooming and setting seed by the time the tree canopy has obscured the falling of sunlight onto the deciduous forest floor.

On the evening of the same day as this wildflower walk, I saw a bright sliver of new moon in the western sky, where a bit of color from sunset lingered on. I realized at once that this was the last new moon balanced in bare branches of oak and maple that I will see until next fall: leaves will already be at least partway out by the time of the next full moon. 

That’s a wake-up call if ever there was one!

—Laura Cotterman

  1. aroundthegarden posted this