Smiling all the way
Sometimes the goddesses of wildflower chasers smile. May Day was one of those days.
We set off eager to be outside after days of sheltering at home, yearning to find wildflowers while still maintaining social distancing. The day was breezy, alternately overcast and sunny, with temperatures in the high sixties. Our hopes were just as high.
Our first stop: Grey Cloud Dunes Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) to check out a sand blowout where we’d seen leaves of violets (prairie? bird’s foot?)a few weeks back. Along the trail to the blowout we passed pussytoes budding, deep pink prairie smoke almost blooming, wild strawberries opening white flowers, and clumps of bergamot leaves. When we glimpsed intimations of purple ahead, Kelly raced down the path to try to catch the overcast light perfect for photographs before the sun emerged from the clouds. All around the blowout vivid violets (they turned out to be bird’s foot) blossomed, more than either of us had ever seen in one place before. In the midst of the violets one blue-eyed grass bloomed. How could the day get any better?
We found out how a little later when we stopped along a wooded stretch of road where more bright purple violets (woodland ones this time) caught our eye. Spring had climbed the hillside with flowers of both yellow and white trout lily, bloodroot, cut-leaf toothwort, round-lobed and sharp-lobed hepatica, eastern false rue-anemone, and Dutchman’s breeches hanging out its pantaloon-shaped flowers. We were close to the place where we had tentatively identified the leaves and buds of squirrel corn a week ago, so we stopped to see if the plants were now in bloom– the one sure way we could tell squirrel corn from Dutchman’s breeches, since both have similar leaves, grow in the same habitat, and bloom at the same time.
And did they bloom! The squirrel corn plants we’d found in leaf and bud were full of gracefully elegant heart-shaped flowers. And because the plants were blooming, we could spot more and more of them revealed up the hillside. Farther along the roadside we found even more plants and blossoms, a wealth of squirrel corn, climbing up a ravine and mingling with Dutchman’s breeches.
Squirrel corn was only the beginning. Along the same stretch of road we found swaths of Virginia spring beauty, bellwort, bishop’s cap, rue-anemone, trillium–drooping, large-flowered, nodding—in bud or just opening, wild ginger, Dutchman’s breeches, mayapples opening umbrellas of leaves, and wood anemone. Woodpeckers hammered, birds we couldn’t identify called through the trees, and the air hummed with pollinators from tiny flies to bumblebee queens so big they pulled down the blossoms they landed on. A bellwort flower shook with the busy work of a bee that had disappeared inside.
Higher up the hillside we found the emerging leaves of a showy orchis, and as we slipped and slid back down the hill we came across the patterned leaves of downey rattlesnake plantain orchid.
Sometimes the wildflower goddesses smile, who know why? On May Day they smiled down on us with every springtime flower we could imagine, tossing in squirrel corn, showy orchis leaves, and downy rattlesnake plantain leaves besides.
The goddesses smiled, and we smiled, too. After a day like this, we’ll be smiling for a long, long time.