Northland Nature: June wildflowers add color to woods walk
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at email@example.com.
The woods are shady as I walk on this June day. I’m quickly greeted by hordes of mosquitoes, but the walk is lovely and worth putting up with these companions.
I’m not alone and hear songs of red-eyed and yellow-throated vireos in the branches, while ovenbirds and veeries sing and call from near the ground. It seems like they only recently returned from wintering sites, but now they are nesting. Raven calls remind me that they have new families as well.
Despite the shade, the forest floor is filled with leaves of green plants. Apparently, these plants do quite well with less sunlight than what was here weeks ago. Most obvious are the ferns, some of which are up to my waist. The three tallest kinds are ostrich, interrupted and lady ferns. All appear to be thriving in the present conditions.
With some looking, I also see oak, northern beech and sensitive ferns with a few maidenhairs. Mixed with them are new growths of their cousins, the horsetails. Lush and green as these plants are, they do not produce flowers. But flowering plants are here and I find many on this mild day.
Gone are the ephemerals of spring beauties, bloodroots and trout-lilies, but as I walk, I find their replacements. Some of the June forest floor flora are easy to see and grow tall:
Baneberry, with its white cluster flowers, stands up a couple feet.
Sarsaparilla has ball floral groupings under the purplish spread leaves.
The bent-over plants of Solomon’s-seal and rose twisted-stalk have flowers below the curved stems.
Nodding trillium, a lesser-known trillium, also has its three-petal white flower beneath three leaves.
Starflower, with its seven petals, and bunchberry are close to the ground.
At two separated sites, I locate a couple lady-slipper orchids: yellow and pink. Finding these plants is a true delight in the woods.
But two others are the most abundant at this time, littering the forest floor. Often, it is hard to step without seeing or stepping on the Clintonia and Canada mayflowers.
Clintonia (Clintonia borealis) is also known as blue-bead lily (later in the summer, the plant holds blue berries). Large lily-like leaves grow from the ground, as does the stalk holding yellow flowers. (And it is sometimes called corn-lily.) But the Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), a small plant reaching only a few inches above the ground, is most numerous in the June woods.
Also known as wild lily-of-the-valley, Canada mayflower has oval leaves on nearly every available spot of the Northland forest floor. Some have flowers, but most do not. It is common with many of the forest flowers that they are sterile; not producing blossoms. If the leaf is alone, it does not have a flower, but if a second leaf (occasionally, a third) grows on the stalk, there will be a spike of white flowers. Only a couple inches of white, but adding quite a lot to the shaded woods.
Though they are often called wild or false lily-of-the valley, I don’t think there is much of a resemblance to the domestic plant of yards and gardens. It does, however, have a lookalike. The three-leaf false Solomon’s-seal can be confused with Canada mayflower. But this plant has three leaves and is a resident of swampy bog sites.
Canada mayflower produces green berries after flowering, later developing into reddish fruits by fall.
Forest wildflowers of June will not last long, and soon, the colorful flora of this month will be seen in the fields and roadsides, but for now, they add much to a shady woods walk.