Monday, March 4, 2013

Spring is for Skunk Cabbage

Today was a relatively warm day (for early March) and I decided to go on a hike. By this time last year so many plants were in bloom I figured there would be a lot to see today. But this is why nature is awesome: it varies from year to year. Not only did I see about 4 signs of botanical life, there weren't even any birds out in the woods. I saw a mourning dove and a herd of whitetailed deer  in the parking lot. But a mile into the state park? Not even a spider. It was almost creepy.

But anyway, I was hiking in Ridley Creek State Park which is about 16 miles from center city Philadelphia. It is HUGE and seems to be comprised mostly of Liriodendron tulipifera and Fagus grandifolia trees, although neither of them were showing any signs of leafing out, yet. At  the ground layer I am sad to report the dominant plant life was Rosa multiflora, which was already leafing out. Perhaps this approximation of groundcover isbiased since there was no sign of life on any other shrubby plants, but really, there were tons of roses all over the place.

The hike wasn't completely depressing, though. There were many patches of Polystichum acrostichoides, the evergreen Christmas fern, poking out through the fallen leaf litter and growing on the side of rock banks. This is one of my favorite ferns because you can literally find it year round. Yeah, I realize it was probably dormant today, but it was there and it was green, and when you're sick of winter that's all you need.

Polystichum acrostichoides and moss

Of course the real find of the day was Symplocarpus foetidus, the springtime Skunk cabbage! This was really the plant I was hunting for, but it took quite a bit of hiking to find. Turns out it was only growing on the other side of Ridley Creek. We finally crossed a fallen tree across the water and within about 5 feet on the other side there was a swampy little area where we discovered this:
Skunk cabbage Spathe

Foliage tips

You know spring is here when you see the skunk cabbage. Although, it seems late this year. I swear the spathes were up in January of 2012. But who knows?

As we were heading out of the park, I noticed a flash of color. Yellow. And in the grey woods that yellow stood out.
yellow !
I know that Eranthis hyemalis (Winter aconite) is not a native plant. But it is just so happy. Plus, you can't really hate on a spring ephemeral since it comes and goes so quickly. And it gives the bees something to forage until the native flowers bloom.

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