By David J. Hawke — Our local woodlots, meadows and wetlands have already been decorated with a wide variety of wildflower blossoms, and it's only going to get better.
About 160 species of herbaceous plants and woody plants have been attracting pollinators since late March (starting with skunk cabbage which begins flower production under the snow). By the end of June, more than 200 species will be available for your viewing pleasure.
Having a weird but wonderful dedication to recording the blooming dates of our local botany for the last 38 years, I find it interesting to review the trends of when a species pops open, and for how long. The spring bloomers have a real zig-zag track record as to first bloom, depending on whether the spring weather is warm and early, cold and late, wet or dry, filled with sunshine or shaded by endless cloud cover.
By example, red trillium blossoms have appeared as early as April 6 and as late as May 6. By the time we get to late May and early June, the start dates even out fairly consistently, becoming almost predictable. Herb Robert, a pretty pink geranium found in woodlots everywhere, appears May 25 (give or take a day or two), and yellow day lily opens June 5.
What do these variable dates mean in the concept of climate change? Not sure. Weather is one thing, climate is another. I have tried to graph blooming dates against growing degree days (fancy way of saying how warm and how fast the spring descended) but to no obvious pattern. Species such as coltsfoot and spring beauty seem to start their season just whenever they jolly well feel like it, regardless of rain, sun or cloud cover. Perhaps there is a correlation with blooming dates to a currently unidentified factor, just not obvious yet.
Trying to make note of when a particular species appears on the landscape is both easy and challenging. The aforementioned red trillium and its cousin the white are unmistakable, often first noted while driving at 80 kph (note that reds open 24 hours ahead of the whites, always). Other species require a bit more groundwork, such as wild ginger with its blossoms laying right on the topsoil and under last fall's dead leaves. And some species like corn speedwell have the most minuscule blossoms (about 1mm), requiring a belly crawl on the lawn to see if they have opened or not.
Not everyone is interested in all the mundane and boring blooms, but a group of wildflowers that catches most everyone's attention is the orchids. With the Lake Simcoe area being home to 28 orchid species, armies of photographers and wildflower watchers comb the countryside each year in search of these elusive blossoms.
June is the month of preference for most of the orchids, although a few open up in May and a couple wait for late summer. Within the orchid clan are the lady's-slippers (ram's-head, stemless pink, yellow and showy), each sporting a most delicate and beguiling blossom. The method for their pollination is quite complex, with visiting insects required to navigate internal corridors and push through chamber doors, it's a wonder they get pollinated at all.
In fact, few orchid blossoms ever do get cross-pollinated, with a patch of say 10 plants having only one seed pod by the fall season. But inside that pod will be thousands of itty-bitty, teeny tiny seeds. However, of all those seeds, once dispersed by a dried and cracked pod to the wind and rain, only one or two will actually germinate.
Orchids need a very precise water regime, a very precise sun-shade ratio, a very narrow range of soil pH, and a very specific mycorrhizal fungus that can weaken the coating of the fallen seed and allow the new roots to begin. Thus finding an orchid is an awesome experience, a moment to be savoured.
It's one thing to appreciate a wildflower's colourful display, but to really get excited about these short-lived displays, take a magnifying loupe or macro camera lens and get real close and personal with a blossom. The variety of shape, colour, texture, and function will amaze you. Guaranteed.
Well, have to run, as just looked out the window and think I can see my first dame's rocket of the year. So exciting.