April 11, 2023
Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo
When we drove up north last Friday, patches of snow and ice still lurked in the twin cities. By the time we returned on Tuesday, almost every bit of snow had disappeared, and the temperature topped 80 degrees. Could any early wildflowers (besides skunk cabbage, which melted its way out of the ground weeks ago) already be blooming?
Since most of our earliest flowers bloom in bare woods to soak up sun before the trees leaf out, we decided to drive on down 35W to Townsend Woods Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), a remnant of old growth maple hardwood forest near Morristown.
Getting into Townsend Woods involves a longish walk alongside a farm field, but once we entered among the trees and crunched through last year’s leaf litter, we began looking for mottled purple-red hepatica leaves. Hepatica hangs on to last year’s leaves until this year’s flowers bloom, then grows new green leaves which stay on the plant until the following spring.
Almost immediately we spotted a sharp-leaved hepatica in bud.
Then a hepatica in flower, pale white against the brown forest floor.
And then a purple-flowered bloom.
And another. And another. And a cluster of blooms.
Hepatica did not let us down.
Other signs of imminent spring: a few single trout lily leaves, Virginia waterleaf (an important flower for early native bees) beginning to leaf out, tiny leaves of violets and cut-leaf toothwort. Soon the woods will be alive with these early, quickly blooming flowers and more.
Birds called, frogs rattle-chirred, a fox slipped through the trees, a mourning cloak butterfly flittered. A red-tailed hawk feather lay on the ground, and what we thought was a last scattering of snow turned out to be tufts of fur, all that was left of some creature’s meal.
From a distance Townsend Woods SNA looks like bare tree trunks, but within the woods a whole world is awakening. And we are so glad to see it.
Driving back home, we detoured briefly to check on a new-to-us population of snow trillium, a state special concern flower, that we’d seen last year in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. What were the chances, we wondered, of seeing two early flowers so soon after snowmelt and on the same day?
Chances, it turns out, were good. Along a hillside we found a few bright green clusters of snow trillium leaves, a few with petals opening, and one with its bright white flower already open to the sun.