The Sunny Side of the Creek

As the warm sun calls you to walk in the forest, look carefully in the leaves along the trail.  Those leaves make a brown blanket for all the spring wildflowers helping them survive through the winter. As the sun shines through the bare tree branches, these flowers sprout and bloom as soon as they can. When the trees start to leaf out there won’t be enough sun for these small flowers, so they must take advantage of the sun while they can.  One of the first to bloom is the aptly named Harbinger of Spring.  If you don’t watch for it, you will miss it altogether.  Look at these small white blooms, and compare them to the size of the dead leaves in the background.  

When you bend down to look closely, however, the delicate grace of this flower is evident.

That’s the way nature is.  Some creature or plant may be small and easily overlooked, but worth the effort of taking notice.  Yes, the knees of your jeans will get a little dirty and wet, but they can always be washed, right? Click on any of these photos for a larger version.

Where are the best places to find wildflowers at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve?  In the early spring, go down along Little Huckleberry Creek and look along the water and the hillside above the creek. Then cross the bridge to the Hidden Spring trail, and look in the valley and along the rocky cliffs on the other side of that creek.  In the next few weeks, these hillsides will be full of the early blooming flowers. We will have two kinds of Rue Anemone, False and True.  Do you know how to tell the difference?  When they start to bloom, we’ll give you some pointers.  (Confession:  I’ve had it wrong for years!)

Pay particular attention to the position of the sun on the valley.  The sunny side of the valley warms faster, and the flowers will bloom there before they bloom on the shady side of the creek.  I saw plenty of Toothwort sprouts along Little Huckleberry Creek, but no blossoms.  This early, I didn’t really expect any. Notice how the leaves look like crow’s feet – very “toothy.” 

But along the limestone cliffs at Hidden Springs, the Toothworts have begun to blossom.  In a while the hillsides will be full of them.

Little Huckleberry Creek is also a great habitat for Trout Lilies and Sessile Trillium.  Both are sprouting, but you have to look closely.  The Trillium has three leaves, but when they poke through the ground, they are wrapped around each other, and will open wider.

Both the Sessile Trillium and Trout Lily have variegated leaves – that is green with splotches of brown or darker green. The Trout Lily grows only one small leaf at a time.  Again, comparing them to the dried leaves gives an idea of their small size.

There are many kinds of Trillium, as you see in all wildflower field guides, but the Sessile Trillium blossom is attached to the leaves, nestling among them, while others will nod down on a stem of their own.

As your walk progresses, you see lots of vines that look like the roses in your yard.  Well, they are roses, but a wild Multiflora Rose.  Unfortunately, these are invasive and can take over quickly.  Watch out for they will grab your shirt or skin before you even know they are there.  

The shady side of the creek may have a green fern growing down the bank.  Isn’t it a little early for ferns?  This is the Christmas Fern that does not die back in the fall as other ferns do.  It remains visible and starts to green up again as soon as the whether begins to warm.

Finally, we found this on our walk.  Not a rock, nor a stick, nor a flower of any sort.  You guessed it..this is dog poo.  Creasey Mahan is pet friendly to friendly pets, and I’m sure no one wants to step into a pile like this.  So please clean up after you dogs, so all of us can enjoy our walks in the forest!
Naturally yours,