Wild flowers blooming in area woodlands
—by Steve Lekwa
April showers bring May flowers, or so the old saying goes. I suppose that it will hold true this year, as well, but it might be more accurate to say March showers have brought April flowers. I took an early Sunday morning walk around Hertz Woods, just a mile south of our home in Nevada, and was surprised to see hepatica in full bloom. If I’d waited another week I’d have missed most of their delightful early spring colors. The first Dutchman’s britches, blood root, rue anemones, and spring beauties were opening up, as well.
It’s time to visit a few woodland trails if you’re one of those folks whose spring isn’t complete unless you’ve seen a good number of the spring wild flowers we often call ephemerals. Many of them are just that — they last a very short time and are then gone for another 11 months. Winds are gusting strongly as I write this week’s column on a Sunday afternoon. Winds like these can make flowers like blood root even more ephemeral. Their beautiful white petals don’t last more than a few days, at best, and are often blown off by such winds.
Good wild flower walks can be enjoyed at several parks around the county. The best displays of early flowering hepatica are most likely to be found on north and east facing slopes where it’s shadier and cooler. They can be found on the greenbelt trail heading upstream along the Skunk River at Soper’s Mill, on the George Clark Trail at McFarland Park, near the southeast side of Hertz Woods, on the north side of Robison Acres on slopes above Indian Creek about six miles south of Nevada. Inis Grove Park in Ames has some nice displays on the river bluffs, and you might find some at Ames’ Munn Woods or Emma McCarthy Lee Parks, too. All these parks will have great displays of later blooming varieties, but they’ll be more spread out since their habitat needs aren’t as restrictive as hepatica. The Touch-a-life Trail near the conservation center at McFarland Park offers a chance to see many of the woodland flowers from a paved path that provides full accessibility for people who might not be able to negotiate some of the more remote trails.
I saw my first yellow-rumped warbler of the season on my walk, too. They’re always the first of the warblers to come through in spring and the last to leave in the fall. April 3, though not a record, is early even for this early-migrating specie, though. Many more species will follow, but the peak of the warbler migration is still weeks away when the trees are beginning to leaf out. I’ll be conflicted on my walks in the weeks ahead as I try to keep one eye up in the trees for birds and another on the ground for flowers. Early morning is the best time to see and hear birds, but some flowers aren’t fully open at that hour. Late afternoon is a good time to look for wild flowers. Most will still be open and the warmer low angle sunlight enhances their colors. Mid-day sunlight washes out colors, and that’s something to keep in mind if you’re trying to photograph most nature scenes.
There’s still time to visit an area wetland if you’d like to see waterfowl in their very best breeding plumage. Good numbers of puddle ducks like teal, shovelers, and mallards are still here. Some of the divers like scaup, ring-necks, and buffleheads are still around, too. Some of the ponds at Ada Hayden Park in north Ames offer good views from the trails, and viewing can be good from old Highway 30 (E-41) east of Colo at the Colo Bogs and at Hendrickson Marsh northeast of Collins.