Jarrod E. Stephens
The Ashland Beacon
Springtime is perhaps one of the most anticipated seasons of the year simply because it brings about an incredible change in scenery nearly every time that you look outside. The barren branches of the dogwoods and redbuds were quickly graced with unmistakable colors that have come and mostly gone.
After several recent walks in the woods as I spent time turkey hunting and mushroom hunting, I realized that I had acquired an extensive collection of photos of flowers and wonders that I found in the woods. It’s no secret that I’ve always been a bit of an outdoors nut who loves to learn about the wonders of the creation and how to identify the things that I find. When I was in high school, I came across the book entitled, A Guide to the Wildflowers and Ferns of Kentucky, by Mary E. Wharton and Roger W. Barbour. I loved the book then and more than twenty-five years later I stumbled upon a discarded copy of the book and it now has a happy resting place on my nightstand.
Thanks to knowledge that I acquired from my dad and the aforementioned book, the springtime woods come to life as I can call the flowers by name. If you have the opportunity to take a stroll in our woods for the next few weeks, here are few woodland beauties that you may encounter.
The Trillium is now reaching the end of its blooming cycle but is one of the easiest wildflowers to identify in early spring. The “tri” in trillium refers to the number three and each flower has three leaves and three large petals that range from bright white to a light pink color. The trillium grows on rich northern slopes and are usually found in great numbers.
When I was a boy one of my favorite toys was the Matchbox car. I loved building minuscule roads for the cars amidst what we always called “baby blue eyes.” The flower is actually called “Bluettes” or “Quaker Ladies” and these delicate flowers grow in small bunches in both densely forested areas and even in open pasture lands. Their deep blue to purple petals and small size make them quite a sight to behold.
While I love the outdoors, I can't lay claim to the fact that I know a lot about flowers and their types. However, the first time that I ever saw a crested dwarf iris in the woods, I knew immediately that it was some type of iris because it looked like a miniature version of the irises that my mom had in her flower bed. The deep purple color of the petals on the crested dwarf iris and its perfect shape make it appear as if it is a domesticated plant. Standing only at about four inches in height, the flower still has the ability to really draw your attention to it when it’s in full-bloom.
This year my son and I were able to identify another variety of wildflower after we kept seeing and finally got out my wildflower book and identified it. The showy orchis or showy orchid, much like the crested dwarf iris, looks like something you’d find at your local greenhouse. Of all the flowers that I’ve mentioned, this variety is the most delicate. The soft pink and white petals attract numerous pollinators and are most hardy before the foliage is completely developed. The showy orchid is actually an endangered plant in some New England states because of habitat reduction and the fact that people remove it from the woods to try and grow it. Since it grows in such specialized conditions, it’s nearly impossible to successfully grow it at home, so it’s best to leave it in the woods.
While I’ve mentioned “flowers” that have been of full display, I can’t forget the tastiest morsel in the woods; the morel mushroom. It’s not a flower but when you see them they stand out much like a flower with their strange conical shape and varying colors. As the end of the mushroom fruiting season ends, some of the largest white variety begin to appear. With the right guidance you can find several and after they are prepared you’ll agree that they are certainly worth searching for.
For individuals who don’t have access to private property where these wonders can be seen, there are several public parks and recreational areas where you can go. Locally, Greenbo Lake State Resort Park has 28 miles of trails that will take you through terrain where each of these flowers and many more can be found. As time gives you the opportunity, get a good field manual from your local library and venture out to see what you can find as spring is now certainly on full display.