Treasure-trove in the Woods

by Lydiann Zimmerman | Jul 21, 2021 | 0 comments

The day was perfect for my annual wildflower hunt. On a day like this, it was hard to decide—should I look up for birds or down for flowers? With my trusty Alpen binoculars slung around my neck, I strolled a couple hundred feet down the road to where I knew the periwinkles should be bursting into bloom. Sure enough, the glossy carpet of vinca vines sported a myriad of purplish blue blossoms. Running myrtle is their actual name, and, according to the flower book, European settlers brought them across the waters for both medicinal and ornamental purposes.

Frizzy golden coltsfoot flowers spangled the fence row. I stooped to pluck a cheery golden bloom and brushed my fingertips across its dandelion-like face. Some flowers I’d hesitate to pick, but these were so abundant that I had no qualms that the plants would be endangered, although the coltsfoot had been so highly regarded as a medicinal plant that the outline of its leaf was used as a symbol for apothecary shops in Europe.

As I strode through the woods to my favorite hillside, I suddenly halted, raised my Alpens, and peered at a demurely-colored Hermit Thrush. Its rust-colored tail and speckled chest clinched its identity.

Next, the busy little Golden-crowned Kinglets interrupted my flower hunt as they actively fed in the tippy top of the hemlock trees. Leaving the kinglets to feed in peace, I strolled on in search of the wake robins. “Oh-h-h!” I breathed in delight. The stinking Benjamin was hiding his scarlet face, but I chucked him under his “chin” and lifted his deep red blossom to admire its rich color. Now why would they give such a beautiful deep red trillium such a horrid name? Well, getting down on my knees and taking a sniff answered that question. Its foul odor wasn’t as bad as skunk cabbage, but its smell surely didn’t do credit to this richly colored, three-petaled flower.

A few steps later I was arrested by the gorgeous lavender hues of a patch of hepaticas. I had arrived at my favorite hillside. The early saxifrage lifted star-shaped flowers aloft in the warm spring sunshine. Oodles of cheery trout lilies nodded their yellow blossoms in happy abandon as the spring breezes danced across their stadium. I played my binoculars across the hillside and reveled in the beauty of the starry expanse of hepaticas drinking in the sunshine.

Just then a burgundy-colored mourning cloak fluttered by, sat on a tree trunk, and fanned its gold-fringed wings. Turning my binoculars on the butterfly, I noted its row of sky-blue dots preceding the gold fringes. What is it about butterflies that makes one’s heart feel so happy?
When the butterfly fluttered off, going about its butterfly business, I resumed my flower observations. Reaching out, I caressed the first common blue violets snuggled down among the decaying leaves. My delighted eyes drank in the beauty of a lacy fern growing out of a small patch of blue violets. Close by, a moss-covered tree trunk guarded a delicate cluster of hepaticas, accented by a patch of trout lilies. The cutleaf toothwort had tight clusters of buds with here and there a brave flower beginning to open.

Ah! There was a spring beauty! Its white blossoms with delicate pink veins and pink stamens had me gazing in admiration.

Bending down, I searched the fern-like squirrel corn plants until I exultantly traced the reluctantly opening white blossoms. They looked like miniature white bleeding hearts.

This hillside was such a treasure-trove of wildflowers. Wading across the creek, I skirted the brow or nose of the hill in search of one more treasure…the wild ginger patch. Recrossing the stream, I clambered up the hillside. Ah-h-h! There they were, the tiny fuzzy “tents” that hid the deep maroon chalices hugging the hillside. The tents were formed by heart-shaped leaves just beginning to emerge from the ground. Carefully I dug up a small plant with a fragment of its root. After rubbing the soil from it, I appreciatively sniffed its tangy aroma. As I waded across the creek, I stooped to wash the dirt from the root and nibbled. M-m-m! The aromatic, tangy taste of spring!

Then I stood in awe at the feast for the eyes created by a patch of purple meadow-rue interspersed with yellow trout lilies and accented by patches of delicate spring beauties. Is there any question why this hillside is a favorite haunt of mine in the springtime?

Leaving the gorgeous panorama, I went in search of the Dutchman’s breeches. En route, I glassed the swamp and discovered two Northern Shovelers—beautiful full-color males—and, lo and behold, a pair of Blue-winged Teal also. What a find!

The cheery golden flowers of the marsh marigold brightened the flats by Sugar Creek. Cowslip is another name for this flower which, although called “marigold,” actually belongs to the buttercup family.

Shortly afterward, I came upon a vast patch of Dutchman’s breeches, but only a few of the “bravest” Dutchmen had strung their miniature “wash line” full of breeches for the sun and breezes to “dry.”

Hearing the sounds of voices, I proceeded with caution. I discovered a girls’ party at the Sugar Creek Trail Shelter and quietly slunk down the hill to detour.

Then, uh-oh, I was trapped! Another party was coming. I slipped behind a tree trunk to disappear until the party had passed. Carefully I glassed the vicinity. Then, recognizing the other party as my nephews, I proceeded down the trail. When they recognized me, they stepped out from behind the trees where they had disappeared when they glimpsed me coming.

The three of us spent the rest of the afternoon rambling over a couple acres of woods while I taught an impromptu botany class.

Wilson told me that Woody, an elderly woodsman, had told them they have wild ginger in their woods, too. I showed them the slip of ginger I had scavenged from their uncle’s hillside. Then we went in search of “their” ginger. It was actually Roy’s sharp eyes that first saw the woolly tent I had described. I allowed them each a nibble of the tangy tidbit I was carrying. This wild ginger is not the ginger you would buy at a store. Woody had told them he liked to make a tea by boiling the rhizomes, which are actually underground stems.

Next I showed them their bloodroot and told them how the root looks like real blood when you break it open. So, of course, they wanted to try it, and sure enough, it actually looked like blood.

I pulled the foliage of the garlic mustard and let them sniff the garlicky smell. They were fascinated by the cutleaf toothwort and learned to recognize the spring beauties. The Dutchman’s breeches had them laughing at the realistic-looking little breeches hanging on the tiny arching “wash lines.”

We strolled hopefully by the place where the ghostly Indian pipes grow, but the ground was still unbroken. Yes, it was a month or more too early for them. The pussy toes’ woolly, spoon-shaped leaves indicated where the fluffy flower heads would soon be clustered atop woolly stalks.

Since their farm had no cowslips, I couldn’t show them what those looked like because evening chore time was fast approaching. The sun was sinking and the shadows lengthening as the boys turned their footsteps toward their house, and I strode quickly homeward, feeling that the afternoon had been well-spent. Quietly I thanked God for allowing me the privilege of enjoying so many varieties of spring flowers within about a two-mile radius of my home.

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