Stepping into Spring

VA Rt. 605 Morgans Mill Rd to VA Rt. 50

March 23, 2016 (8 miles, 5.5 hours)  crocus

It was a slightly overcast morning when we hit the trail, about 80 hours past the vernal equinox. That’s the exact moment the sun shines directly over the equator and marks the change of season. So we were happy to be officially stepping into spring. Even the trailhead welcomed us with a dainty clump of pinkish crocuses poking up through the leafy soil.

If I were writing a headline summarizing the difference between the last week’s observations and this one, it would read…Beech leaves hang in there, bloodroot commands center stage, tiny white flowers vie for attention, and bluebells make an appearance.

In our quest for signs of the emerging season, we kept a sharp eye for blooms. As we walked through leaf-littered terrain, the contours of the hills and valleys were readily apparent through the leafless forest. We quickly spotted clumps of rue anemone, dainty white petals with yellow-green stamens. As we ventured along the trail, we noticed subtle difference in their color, some taking a more reddish or bluish tone. It wasn’t until we returned home and compared photos in reference books, that we realized we were actually looking at several different plants intermixed on the forest floor. You have to admire the observational skills of naturalists.

 

rue anemone pokes up through the leafy forest floor
rue anemone

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vivid BLUE Amenome CROP
Blue rue anemone

Spring Beauty white & pink crop

 

 

The amazing thing is that the flowers on these spring-blooming plants are very ephemeral. Some of them last for just a few days. If you miss them, you have to wait another year for their performance. Also because many of the bird and insect pollinators aren’t active this early in the season, some of the plants rely on ants to pollinate. The ants carry seeds to their nests and eat the outer layers. Since they are unable to crack the harder seed casing, the fertile seeds are cast aside and made ready for possible germination.

At the AT Conference last summer, we purchased, Wildflowers of the Appalachian Trail. Written by Leonard M. Adkins with photos by Joe and Monica Cook, it’s an indispensable reference. In addition to magnificent photographs, the author provides fascinating insight to the plants. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers is another great resource.

Jane was interested in a plant with unusual reddish-brown, liver-shaped leaves. It turned out to be the round-lobed hepatica, also known as liverwort.
Spring Beauty was an unexpected find that we confused with anemone. But checking out the guidebooks we realized it was a totally different plant. It’s pink stamens and pink-stripped petals were quite different. It’s one of the first plants to bloom in the spring.

 

white hepaticca w leaf
liverwort

The stalwarts from last week, witch hazel and bloodroot, were still very conspicuous. The yellow witch hazel flowers filled their spindly trunks with vibrant color. This is the only time that the shrub’s abundance in the understory is o readily visible. It was also the week for the bloodroot. They filled the hillsides with their splendor. Rather the one and two-at-a-time of last week, clusters of 4 or more plants was more common. In case you were wondering, the plant’s name comes from its sap. We’ll have to cut one on our next hike. They say that Native Americans used the deep red sap as a dye and to produce face paint.

 

2016-03-22 23.50.12Our first couple of miles brought us to the end of the Roller Coaster. Jane’s triumphant dance, though well deserved, was a bit premature. We still have several miles ahead of us before trail’s end. Check out Jane’s celebration on the youtube link…

https://youtu.be/y0EZPkbEALw

 

Through the course of the day, we crossed 8 streams. Some a mere trickle, others more substantial, and still others a squishy boggy marsh. One common denominator was the vivid skunk cabbage in the moist soil. We also encountered the remains of a stone wall. It’s a reminder that the hills and hollows have a rich history.

skunk cabbage creek
Skunk cabbage popping up along the creeks.

Near the end of the hike, we came across a hillside of Blue Bells. Just a revealed their tiny flowers. Let’s see if they are more prolific next time.

Blue Bell Clump
Virginia Bluebells getting ready to bloom.
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