April 23, 2022
All it takes to convince us that spring really has arrived is one warm 70-degree day, even if the weather is overcast, threatening rain, and wicked windy. Saturday was that day, so we went looking at Townsend Woods Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) for early and ephemeral flowers.
Townsend Woods SNA is a remnant of Big Woods, made up of oak, maple, bass, ironwood, and elm (before Dutch elm disease) and running diagonally from the southeast corner of the state up into the central part. Now less than 2% of that original forest remains, and the Townsend Woods remnant is old growth, a reminder of the 1.3 million acres of Big Woods that covered much of Minnesota before European settlement.
The way into the SNA involves a half-mile walk along the edge of farm fields, the wind blustering us along as we hiked. Once under the leafless canopy of trees growing on knobby hills the glacier left behind, we still heard the wind, but the air around us was peaceful.
It’s still early days for most wildflowers, even ephemerals, but we were delighted to find hepatica blooming, purple and pale blue and pink and white blossoms scattered through the brown leaves of last year’s forest. Ferny leaves of Dutchman’s breeches, whose flowers resemble upside down pairs of pants on a line, promised a flowering so rich that no Dutchman should ever have to go breeches-less. Trout lilies leaves seemed to be everywhere, and a few two-leaved plants already had buds about to bloom. (Like Mayapples, only two-leaved trout lily plants will have flowers.)
Tiny plants with clusters of even tinier buds puzzled us until we realized they were likely cutleaf toothwort not yet ready to bloom. A single fuzzy gray-green Canadian wild ginger leaf curled like an art deco vase, and ramps sprouted bright green.
Old growth forest has little underbrush, making our wandering easy except for fallen trees (another sign of old growth forest), many of them riddled with woodpecker holes. In places we came upon ephemeral pools, those come-and-go ponds that fill with water in springtime in low places on the forest floor and provide critical habitat for frogs and salamanders to lay their eggs. Because the ponds eventually dry up, they can’t support fish, making them a safe sort of nursery.
Occasional rain sprinkled down on us, the sun shone briefly, and birds and frogs called. As we came out of the woods and figured out the way back to the car, three wild turkeys sped ahead of us, gobbling.
On our way home we stopped to walk a trail we’d read about where a new-to-us snow trillium population bloomed brightly. Even though we managed to get lost hiking back to the car on this straightforward trail, we found our way eventually.
And so has spring.