Many Northlanders who spend winters here have learned to look forward to the vernal equinox — the first day of spring, usually about March 21. After the 40 or more days of subzero temperatures and a snowpack that remains on the ground for about 150 days, this new season of spring is a relief.
Getting out and watching the snow subside along with rising temperatures and the longer days, we get plenty to see during April and May. Late lingering snows and below-normal temperatures may slow things a bit, but overall, this season grows by very rapidly.
Along with ice-out and bird migration, we may take note of the changes on the forest floor. After being covered with snow for months, the site gets spring sunlight and rapidly, myriad wildflowers take advantage to put forth leaves and flowers in this early-season sunlight, and just as quickly, they fade.
These ephemerals with a short flowering time took advantage of the sunlight that penetrated the forest trees.
But overhead, leaves came out on the trees during May and cast shade over these sunny sites where the early spring flowers were. Their place was taken by a batch of flowers that did well in the shade. Clintonia, starflower, wild lily-of-the valley, bunchberry, Solomon’s-seal and yellow lady-slipper orchid tolerate the shade of the darkening woods and last for a couple weeks from May into June.
But their time is also passing and the nearby ferns, growing a few feet tall, will thrive for the summer. But the floral season is not over. It has moved.
Anyone driving some of the area roads at this time is quick to notice that there are many wildflowers in bloom. No longer in the woods, they are now out in the sunlight of the open spaces. Whether it is roadsides, unmowed lawns, fields or even parts of wetlands; a plethora of wildflowers are now adding color to the scene, and they do not need to compete with trees.
There are more than a dozen kinds here now; clovers, sweet clovers, vetches, cinquefoils, buttercups, fleabanes, yarrow and goatsbeard. They blend in colors to make the roadside bouquets a rainbow variety. But it is four kinds that seem to be most noted.
Daisies with a yellow center (disc flowers) and surrounding white (ray flowers) are abundant now. About as numerous are the hawkweeds, both yellow and orange. (Orange hawkweed is sometimes called "Indian paintbrush." The true Indian paintbrush grows more in prairie country farther west and is quite uncommon in our region.)
And there are the tall spikes of lupine, varying in color, but mostly blue-purple. White, yellow, orange, red, blue and purple invite us for a closer look.
These abundant field flora tell us that spring has ended. The flowers in the open outnumber those in the woods at the time of summer solstice.
It is interesting to note that when the huge majority of woodland spring wildflowers are native, many of these field wildflowers are non-native. Despite their colors, some are not appreciated — even seen as noxious weeds. These summer wildflowers now in fields are often composites; spring wildflowers rarely are.
Whether native or not, and whether they are seen as pretty flowers or nasty weeds, they now add a lot of color to roadsides and fields as we enter this new season of summer.