A new little heartbeat has joined the rhythm of our household, and things are certainly flowing differently around here! I’ve traded the tap, tap, tap of the keyboard for the creak, creak, creak of my rocking chair, circle times songs for lullabies, and evenings of staying up late to work on business and crafting, for cuddling this tiny bundle of sweetness. Enveloped in new mama rapture, I only caught a glimpse of spring’s arrival, and now that is has warmed up and the baby is six weeks old, I’m venturing outside more often. The woods are bursting with life- and my favorite spring ephemerals surprise me in every nook and cranny.
When we first walk in, there is tons of false green hellebore (veratrum nigrum), which I identified with the help of the Plant Identification group on Facebook (click here to join). I have been wondering for a few years what it was. The leaves are so bright green and cheery, but it is a toxic plant- I read that Native Americans used the root as an endurance test to determine new chiefs. The would-be leaders all ingested some, and whoever was the last to start vomiting was elected ruler!
All over the woodland floor, an army of single trout lily leaves poke up, their mottled colors looking like camouflage banners. It can take up to five years for the trout lily (Erythronium americanum) to produce a flower, if it decides to at all, and meanwhile its tiny bulb (or corm) stores up energy for that grand task. When it is ready, it sends up a set of leaves in lieu of the single one, and the dainty upside down yellow-bronze petals emerge. I’ve heard talk of placing a rock below the trout lily bulb, as they seem to blossom better in shallow, rocky soils where they are less able to propagate via a network of underground offshoots from the corm (which is small, but edible), or tuber like ball at the end of the root. Trout lilies like to hedge their bets against uncertain spring weather by spreading via this underground network of shoots, rather than depending on blossoming and pollination- which is why you often find huge colonies of the single leaves where the soil is rich and deep. Where it is shallow and rocky, they have no choice but to reproduce via pollination and you are more likely to find the lovely yellow flowers.
Next along the path, I find blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) everywhere I turn- our woods are just full of it! It begins as the “purple dragon plant”, as I named it before I learned what it was-
and grows taller, spreads out, and the leaves unfurl from purply, feathered, and closed, to green, mature plants- tho the stems remain dark compared to surrounding green stems of other plants. The transformation reminds me of the birthing process, as the uterus contracts from tightly wrapped around the newborn babe, to expand and swell. Blue cohosh was called “Papoose Root” by Native Americans who used it widely for women’s issues- a uterine tonic. I plan to harvest some this year- but first, I’d like to just spend some time with it and be more in tune with the essence of this Woman’s Herb that has ushered so much life into this world, including my second born, a plant to which I am very grateful. While black cohosh stimulates contractions, blue cohosh is an anti-spasmodic, helping to “tone down” the intensity, to bring relief and release during the moon cycle and labor.
Eventually it will fruit into small blue berries, which are not safe to eat raw, but have been roasted as a coffee substitute. The plants are perennial, and just as we as women mature and become more and more confident in our mothering with each babe we bring into the world, the blue cohosh roots grow and every year as the plant dies back, the roots “cap”, so you can tell how old a cohosh plant is when you harvest it by counting the caps. See some pictures of the roots caps, along with a beautiful perspective of the plant, here.
Dainty spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) peek out along the trail, another perennial that overwinters via a corm stored underground- that has been dubbed “fairy spuds”. Native Americans believed eating the raw roots would prevent conception- permanently- but ate them, cooked liked potatoes- as food. I prefer to let them grow and blossom than harvest them for teeny tiny snacks! Don’t worry fairies, we won’t steal your spuds.
A wise old maple with an inviting limb to look out from, or sit and read a book.
Early spring walks always reveal the trees that didn’t make it through the winter. Some we leave to compost back into the soil and provide habitat for lichens, moss, fungi, and critters. Others we will use for firewood.
Cut leaved toothwort, which I blogged about last year, here.
And here is Chipmunk Gully, a place where fallen logs crisscross the steep creek banks and playful chipmunks run circles around the kids as they play, peeking up to be spotted, then ducking back into their hidy holes.
The wild leeks, or ramps, are looking incredible this year. My husband digs a bunch up to munch along the trail and to add to our dinner. They are spicy, sweet, and pungent… my favorite spring edible, and there are thousands here in the woods now. Here is a recipe.
There are lots of mayapples- and I loved this one just beside a crevice under a log. See the nuts hidden away under there? I’m sure the fairies and wee creatures are enjoying their new porch umbrella’s shade!
And everywhere, the trees, bushes and shrubs are budding. I am sure the woods will smell enchanted next week when things begin to blossom! Of course, plants aren’t the only thing growing around here…
What’s growing in your neck of the woods?