Behold the Unfurling

Like a new flag fresh from the package or an umbrella freed from its restraint, the opening of a bud or fresh leaf is poetry in motion. While flags and umbrellas (well, most umbrellas anyway) can be returned to their compact state, buds and leaves cannot. Theirs is a slow motion unfurling which, as odd as it sounds, goes very quickly. Much of the new bud explosion is already well past as I write these words – thanks to a few days of near summer-like weather. Just because this state is fleeting, however, doesn’t mean we can’t pause to appreciate it. Cameras can rewind time, you know.

Late last week I ventured out into one of our local woodlots seeking absolutely nothing. In the back of my head I had a laundry list (which included a tree frog, a ball of garter snakes, and a pot of gold unguarded by a leprechaun) but sometimes it’s better to just “let come what comes.”  On this day I found myself in the midst of the silent plant unfurling. My pot ‘o gold was green.

The Honeysuckle, Black Cherry, and Spring Beauties were already open. The Wild Oats were already sown (see above) and the Trout Lilies were already schooling. Above all this silent noise the Shagbark Hickories were just bursting forth (see beginning photo and here). Perhaps one of the most unappreciated “flowers” of spring, the huge buds of this upland tree are truly a sight to behold. Large reddish bracts on the terminal buds peel back like petals in order to allow the perfect new leaf clusters to push up and out. Because this unwrapping normally takes place high up in the woodland canopy it is easy to ignore. Fortunately a low hanging branch brought the sight down to my eye level on the ground – I being a mere leprechaun in a field of giants.

Lower down, at the level where I became the giant, the Mayapples were pushing up (see above). The non-flowering individuals only un-wrap one umbrella shaped leaf but the flowering ones, like the one shown here, possess two leaves with a large waxy bud in the center. The flower will turn into a dangling green apple by the end of May, but I still can’t figure out why these things are called Mayapples.  I mean, shouldn’t they be called….ooooh, wait a minute I get it. How clever.

Immediately to the left of the Mayapple (wow, what a name) was an unfurling Trillium. Everything about this plant is in threes – leaves, sepals, and petals. I needn’t tell you why these perennial forest wildflowers aren’t called dualiums or quintillums. At this early stage in the growing game you could only see the triumvirate set of leaves as the stem straightened its posture.

Already erect and boldly pointing skyward, a bursting Jack in the Pulpit showed some color.  As mature flowers these woodland preachers are basically green on green. When new, everything is intensified. The red stripes on the flower hood are well defined and the tubular stem sheath exhibits a speckled décor (see above and  here). There are two flowers in this cluster and I suspect they both will turn out to be jacks (male flowers). The Jills (females) are much larger and their fresh growth looks much fleshier – if such a word is appropriate to describe a female preacher.

I digitally captured all of these plants last week and intended to post this entry right away. The Phoebe nest situation trumped it and it had to wait. All of these plants are in full form by now and no doubt well into maturity. Their unfurling days are over. As a matter of fact, I noticed that the pin oaks were already leafing out today (see below). I’d say the leaflets were about squirrel ear size which means it’ll soon be corn planting time and then Labor Day (Yes, I meant to say “Labor” and not “Memorial” Day). It just goes to show you that when you blink during the springtime it triggers the fast forward button. It’s a good thing we can at least pretend to have a rewind button.


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