Woodland Awakening

Springtime Is A Time Of Renewal, Rebirth

Springtime in the forests of Western New York is a time of gentle rebirth and renewal, so welcome after the long gray months of winter dormancy, darkness and cold. Photo by Becky Nystrom

Springtime in the forests of Western New York is a time of gentle rebirth and renewal, so welcome and wondrous after the long gray months of winter dormancy, darkness and cold.

In the world of plants in our region’s watersheds, vernal awakening is cued most reliably by the shortening of night-length and hastened with rising temperatures and abundant rains.

As woodland soils warm and spring showers come, microscopic bacteria, fungi and other tiny creatures become active once more, working rapidly to decompose the remains of last year’s autumn leaves and leftovers.

Nutrients made available by these essential little recyclers, in turn, are soon absorbed by plant roots and incorporated into buds, blooms and tender green bursts of growth.

Among the earliest of wooded wetland flowers is the familiar skunk cabbage, whose purply-green hooded flower clusters and unfurling bright-green leaves actually melt their way through February snows, while vibrant yellow blossoms of March-blooming coltsfoot and early violets splash color along sunnier trail-sides and clearings.

Soon to follow in April and May are delicate spring beauties, bloodroot, hepatica, trillium and trout lilies, wild ginger and goldthread, Solomon’s seal and starflowers, marsh-marigold, May-apple and foamflower…all in an unfolding pageantry of ephemeral and exquisite beauty and hue, and each in its appointed time. And time is short, for these earth-hugging herbaceous forest flowers must mature and reproduce quickly, before the trees fully leaf out and block the sun’s life-sustaining and growth-fueling solar power.

Bloom time must also coincide with early-emerging pollinator-partners such as honeybees, bumblebees, beetles, syrphid flies, gnats and thrips, who are crucial little go-betweens enticed by floral rewards such as nectar, pollen, oils, waxes and warmth.

High overhead but often unnoticed, the trees of the forest are abloom with fleeting spring blossoms as well.

Maple, beech, birch, aspen, ash, oak and many others are in reality big, woody, wind-pollinated wildflowers!

Bearing thousands of tiny, inconspicuous blossoms in subtle pastels of pinks, greens, creams and yellows, many trees in our area produce massive amounts of dust-sized, life-giving pollen in April and early May. They, too, must blossom and set their pollen aloft before leaves unfurl and block the breeze, ensuring that pollination is unencumbered and efficient.

For floral reproduction to be successful, both in the woody canopy and in the wildflowers rooted below, the pollen, which will deliver sperm, must find its way onto its particular species’ sticky female flower parts so that eggs may be fertilized and diminutive seed-borne embryonic plants may develop within the berries, nuts, samaras, capsules and other fruits of the forest.

Intricate in design and breathtakingly beautiful, whether high above or dwelling upon the good earth, each woodland bloom is fully functional, and holds a special promise for us all – for if pollination and fertilization succeed, seed and fruit development will follow, ensuring new life in the forest for generations of spring-times to come!

Join us to celebrate and explore our watershed’s lovely spring wildflowers and other woodland wonders on Saturday,

May 18 at 10:30 a.m. at CWC’s Chautauqua Creek Oxbow Forest Preserve on Lyons Road in Sherman. See the CWC website or Facebook page for more details. Registration is requested but not required.

Email info@chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166 to register.

Becky Nystrom is a Professor of Biology at Jamestown Community College, a founding trustee and former board director of the CWC, and a longtime CWC supporter and volunteer.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or www.facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.