Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Wildflowers in February a Sure Sign of Early Spring

Here it is only February and wildflowers are blooming. And yes, I’m talking about here in Maine, not some tropical paradise.

I’m always fascinated by any early-blooming or even early-showing plants. For instance, I revel in my chive bed, because this season’s chives are already trying to grow through snow and ice. Very soon, I’ll nibble on the first garden vegetable of the year, a single stalk of chive.

Daylilies, too, send up the tips of little green leaves. These are usually well up by mid-March and this year should see them coming around even earlier. By the way, these daylily leaf tips make a good green vegetable when boiled or steamed. They represent one of the first wild (or semi-wild) foods of the season.

But today I’m wound up about seeing flowers blooming on a stark, roadside bank. The flowers, I’m sure some of you have guessed, are Coltsfoot and they are the earliest wildflower to bloom, at least to my knowledge.

The roadside bank is so steep that grass can’t be planted there. But coltsfoot seeds, like dandelion seeds, get transported by a little, feathery “parachute.” And when these little parachutes land on anything, they stick to it. When the seeds become wet, they stick even harder and this allows them to germinate on a nearly vertical surface.

What’s more, the embankment is only feet away from the salt water, which means slightly warmer overall temperatures as opposed to inland conditions.

Finally, the bank is south-facing and even now, in February, the soil warms up nicely on a sunny, late-winter day.

So be of good cheer. Spring is surely coming and it looks like it is coming early. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Was it my imagination or do the branches and twigs on the weeping willow along my driveway have a little more color? Sometimes in late winter trees give us low-key clues that spring is on the way. Maples show red at twig tips and willows, such as the one along my driveway, show a brighter shade of yellow.

Astronomical spring arrives on March 20. But as much as one month prior to that, nature shows us signs of the changing seasons.

For instances, those who spend time in the woods and those who feed wild songbirds, probably have noticed that along about now black-capped chickadees change their song. It becomes just a little more raspy.

And by looking closely at little pools of water formed by melting snow, we might notice a coating of some kind of dust on the water’s surface. More than likely it isn’t dust at all. Snow fleas, a.k.a. springtails, thousands of them, jump around on the snow around the base of trees. In fact, rivulets of snowmelt can channel umpteen snow fleas to a larger pool and likely millions of the tiny creatures can entirely cover the surface.

Then we have the less tangible signs of spring such as the way the earth smells where snow has melted and sunlight thaws the top layer. This is evident in towns, too. On a warm day in late winter, all the smells, scents and odors that were there last summer and fall are suddenly unlocked. Some of these scents are quite attractive and in our minds we can imagine that they are of distant flowers, or perhaps of someone baking bread.

In a little over one month we’ll have the real deal to embrace. But for now, these silent, often-unnoticed signs of spring are sufficient to buoy hope in winter-weary mortals. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

                                        Spring Slated for Mid-March Arrival

A forecaster from National Weather Service has come out with word that by mid-March, the northeast will see a warming trend. The last few years have seen late-arriving springs, partly due to lingering arctic air. But this year, there will be no arctic air and a strengthening March sun will work wonders toward warming us up.

For me, this comes as the best possible news. Wild edible plants will become available earlier and trout fishing in streams and rivers will crank up into high gear by early April.

Today is February 8 and until just a few days ago, I was able to go out back on the hillside by my house and pick fresh wintergreen leaves to chew on. That’s because what little snow we had melted, leaving wide swaths of bare ground on south-facing hillsides.

Before that, though, three resident deer had pawed through the snow to get at the wintergreen. This surprised me. I didn’t know that deer liked wintergreen. I knew that partridge liked it, because many lf the birds that fell to my shotgun in fall had crops filled with wintergreen leaves.

Today, though, temperatures are in the low teens and a major snowstorm is on the way. But it’s only early February and we must expect such things. So let it freeze, let it snow and do whatever it wants. With news of a big warmup in March, we can handle about anything that nature gives us.