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Northland Nature...Crocuses: Our first flowers to bloom

As we exit the month of March, we look forward to the new month of April that will host more happenings of spring. We now have 13 hours of daylight with sunsets nearing 8 p.m. And the sunrises shed the darkness given by daylight saving time.

As we exit the month of March, we look forward to the new month of April that will host more happenings of spring. We now have 13 hours of daylight with sunsets nearing 8 p.m. And the sunrises shed the darkness given by daylight saving time.

Chill and snow can still be with us, but just as likely are warmer days, and rain eventually will replace the wet snow. Before April is over, the lakes will follow the ponds and streams with a return to ice-free waters. Lawn grass replaces the snow.

The next migrant songbirds appear in our yards and parks, while the redpolls that kept us company for so many of the winter days starting way back in November, now restless after a winter with plenty of food, begin to head back to their nesting homes in the north.

Besides these avian spring happenings are many from the plant world too. Out on the tree branches, the twigs that wintered with us are now holding developing catkins, while the buds open to reveal hundreds of small flowers. As May is when we see blossoms of plums, cherries, juneberries and apples, so April is when the maple trees show us their less-colorful flowers.

A few woodland wild flowers open this month as the snow finally recedes. I have never seen a year in which the first to bloom in the woods was not the hepatica. (During 2010 and 2013, I found this initial floral event in Jay Cooke State Park in late March.) But even before this, a couple of non-native flowers set the pace.

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Each year in late March, I search along the hot spots of the south and west sides of buildings where the snow melts more quickly and temperatures are always a bit higher than at other sites, where spring comes first. Here, I locate both the dandelion and crocus coming up to open an eager flower.

Though the former isn't one usually appreciated, many winter-weary people are glad to see these sunny-looking blossoms among the grasses at this time.

Crocuses are appreciated and it appears as though they are planted just to give us some early color. I'm always glad each year, as March wanes, to look out along the south side of the house to see these minute plants with the large blossoms adding new colors to the scene. And whether they are yellow, white or purple, they are all very welcomed.

In the last 10 years, the highly anticipated first crocus has bloomed as early as March 15 (2006 and 2010) and as late as March 29 (2003 and 2008). Considering the varying weather conditions that we get in March, these dates, which average around March 22, are quite consistent. Though a single yellow flower may start the show, other colors are sure to follow within days, and soon dozens of these delightful perennials will be ushering us from March to April.

The tiny plants stand only a couple inches tall and seem to consist of nothing more than a few thin leaves and large flowers. (If these minute flowers bloomed later in the season, we would hardly even notice them.) With bulbs that survive winter underground and with very little growing to do above ground, it's no wonder they are so quick to open their blossoms. In the spring sunlight, the petals respond to give a complete view of their florets. On such days, they light up the sides of the buildings.

I'm not the only one to notice these colorful openings and early bees and flies; even some newly-awakened butterflies, such as the mourning cloak, comma and tortoiseshells that may be out now, will also visit. The insects gain nectar and leave the plants pollinated; everyone seems to be satisfied.

These days of profuse crocuses blooming in late March and early April are a colorful addition to this time; but like many of the spring plants that seem to be in a hurry to bloom, they are just as fast to fade.

Violets, bloodroots, marsh marigolds, bellworts and spring beauties will all soon take over in the woods, while daffodils and tulips show up in our yards. But it all starts in late March with crocuses.

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Retired teacher Larry Weber of Carlton is the author of several books, including "Butterflies of the North Woods," "Spiders of the North Woods" and "Webwood." You may contact him at news@pinejournal.com .

Related Topics: CARLTON COUNTY
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