Springing from the Ground

Spring woodland wildflowers seem to spring up overnight coaxed by a little rain, sunshine and warming temperatures. Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve at Holtwood is alive with spring wildflowers. Virginia bluebells give the forest a bluish haze. Spots of yellow, white and purple show where yellow, white, Canada and common violets are blooming. The odd-looking blossoms of Dutchman’s breeches and squirrel corn add an interesting touch to the mix. You might even catch wake-robin or purple trillium still blooming.

DutchmansBreeches

Dutchman’s Breeches

If you visit the wildflower preserve, don’t forget to look up. Right now woodland warblers are moving in and through the area. Listen for their high-pitches and buzzy songs along with those of returning resident birds.

For more information on Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve follow this link: http://www.pplpreserves.com/preserves/holtwood/pints-of-interest/#shenks

Rising from Frost

Skunk Cabbage in SnowSeeming like the antithesis of the proverbial phoenix rising from warm ashes, the first wildflower of spring rises through frost and snow. This often overlooked flower is skunk cabbage. It deserves a second look. Growing on flood plains and wooded wetlands, skunk cabbage began making an appearance long before the first official day of spring. Back in late February the tiny protrusions of growing skunk cabbage poked through the soil, emerging from the ground when all other plants were still in their wintry slumber. Amazingly, unlike the phoenix, skunk cabbage doesn’t depend on an external fire for its annual rebirth. Its heat comes from deep inside to help it grow and flower when freezing temperature would kill other wildflowers. It does this breaking down starch stored from last year.

Skunk cabbage blossoms are unusual in other ways also. Their flowers are surrounded by a pointed hood with a slight spiral twist. These hoods, called spathes, wrap partially around the flowerhead leaving only a tear-shaped opening, protecting the precious pollen from wind and rain. The insulative walls of the spathe also keep the flower warm. One biologist found that the skunk cabbage flower stayed about 36oF warmer on the average than the air temperature around it.

Skunk cabbage flowers should be admired for their early flowering abilities. It is more difficult to admire their beauty. Dainty and delicate these blossoms are not. Rather than subtle shades of pink or blue, skunk cabbage spathes are a deep maroon, either plain or mottles with yellow and green. They lSkunk Cabbage Spathe 01ook like rotting flesh. To round out this deception, they produce a rather unpleasant odor that attracts carrion flies. The flies not only find a warm place to shelter on a cold night, they also assist in pollinating skunk cabbage flowers.

You might not accept skunk cabbage as the loveliest wildflower of spring, but as it heats the soil around it and pushes back winter as it rises from the cold soil, you must admit that like the mythical phoenix, skunk cabbage is, indeed, unique.

PPL’s Environmental Gardens Full of Color and Buzzing with Activity

Monarch Butterfly on Inula
Photo by Sarah Hall

 

 PPL’s Environmental Garden is in full bloom! Come to the Wallenpaupack Environmental Learning Center to witness the beauty of our gardens down by the dam! PPL prides itself in being responsible stewards of the environment. While you’re visiting the butterfly garden and hummingbird heaven areas, we hope you’ll learn something new about wetlands, butterflies, hummingbirds, and even bats.

 The garden is filled with many species to promote and support a healthy butterfly population, including Phlox (Phlox sp.), Butterfly Bush (Buddleia alternifolia), Daylily (Hemerocallis sp.), Lavender (Lavandula sp.), and many more.

Bumblebee on Butterfly Milkweed
Photo by Sarah Hall

Our garden also supports hummingbird populations with several feeders in place under the trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), which is a natural source of nectar for hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are among the most important bird pollinators of plants in North America, so it is important to support their habitat. Learn more about how to create your own hummingbird and butterfly heaven while visiting the environmental garden at Lake Wallenpaupack!

 Directions to the Wallenpaupack Environmental Learning Center can be found at: http://www.pplweb.com/citizenship/environment/preserves/lake-wallenpaupack/programs-and-workshops.aspx

 

Blooming Bells

A pale blue haze appears to hang above the forest floor giving the woodland a rather unearthly appearance. Upon closer approach you discover that the blue is from the flowers of Virginia bluebells. These spring wildflowers are in full bloom at Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower area of the Holtwood Environmental Preserve. For more information about Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve go here: http://bit.ly/1NrPSy.

A Bloody Secret

After a short and mild winter and an unusually warm beginning of spring it is no surprise that some of Montour Preserves woodland wildflowers are showing up early this year. One great example of this early bloom is bloodroot which is in full bloom at the preserve. Bloodroot can be recognized by its large white flowers and leaf which wraps itself around the stem in early spring. This showy spring blossom is aptly named for the orangish red sap that flows from the root and stem of the plant which has been used in a variety of ways in the past. Native Americans used bloodroot sap both medicinally and practically for a dye for face painting and clothing, and as a cough medicine. In the early 1980’s bloodroot extract called Sanguinaria, became somewhat famous as a first line of defense against gum disease and some prominent members of the dental community believed this extract to be as influential in plague fighting as fluoride had been to tooth decay. Don’t miss out on the wonders of early spring; remember our woodland wildflower walk is scheduled for Saturday April 28th from 1:30-3:00p.m.

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