After flipping through a booklet on Ohio spring wildflowers last week, I was inspired to venture out on the cold trails of Hogback Ridge Park in Sunbury to see if any blossoms were peeking out from around last year's leaves.
Ever the optimist, I felt sure I'd find a few -- since I put my faith in the booklet's claim that several of them bloom March through May.
So I swept aside some leaves, hoping to see the delicate petals of the spring beauty -- white with purplish-pink stripes. Or maybe I would see the downy yellow violet -- bright yellow with deep-maroon nectar guides on one petal. Or possibly bloodroot, cut-leaved toothwort or Dutchman's breeches -- all white, and all possible in late March.
But winter is hanging on this year, as evidenced by the Easter Monday snow and the generally chilly weather in the days afterward. Our early woodland wildflowers won't be quite as early this year. As our education services manager says, we're having a "more typical spring" than we've had for a few years -- so, chilly and damp.
I'm taking heart, though, in the knowledge that we will get our wildflower show eventually, and when we do, you won't want to miss it.
At Hogback Ridge, the show often starts with the sweet spring beauties. They are tiny and low to the ground, so don't expect a showy drift of white when they finally bloom. Instead, they'll likely catch you unaware; just when you think every patch of brown leaves looks the same, you'll notice small specks of white sprinkled over a stretch of ground.
Maybe that patch gets more sunlight because the leafless trees are spaced further apart. It doesn't matter; suddenly, it's spring in the park. And just as suddenly, you'll see spring wildflowers everywhere -- as if these tiny flowers have signaled to their later-blooming kin that it's safe to come out.
Yellow trout lilies are easy to see, and there are plenty at Hogback Ridge. Look for lemon-yellow flowers rising from long, narrow, brown-spotted green leaves.
You'll find hepatica, which can be white, rose-pink or bluish lavender. The Dutchman's breeches mentioned early will make an appearance, with their distinctive white pantaloon-shaped flowers dangling in rows along their stems. I've spotted Jack-in-the-pulpit along the Hogback driveway, and common blue violets -- the same flower that loves your backyard -- will lend their pretty hue to the park.
Many of these flowers are small and easy to overlook if you're not paying attention. That is not the case for my two favorite Hogback Ridge flowers: the may apple and the large-flowered trillium. Both of these are attention-grabbers, but for very different reasons.
The large-flowered trillium, which was named our official state wildflower in 1987, will make you stop on the trail for a closer look. It can grow to 20 inches in height, and each flower stands tall with three waxy white petals surrounded by three green sepals, held above three large leaves. Moreover, these trillium can grow in huge stands, blanketing an entire hillside. They're breathtaking. The flower of the may apple, on the other hand, is not as easy to see -- but you can't miss the leaves. Looking like a little umbrella, two deeply cleft leaves emerge from the ground, folded tightly. As the plant gains height, the leaves slowly open, ultimately standing tall to become two open umbrellas on a sturdy stem. A large white flower will open at the fork between the two leaves, and the plant will develop a greenish-yellow, apple-like fruit.
Although we often associate flowers with pollinators such as bees and butterflies, it's the box turtle that I think about when it comes to the may apple. Turtles like the fruit and aid in seed dispersal, but the colonies also spread via rhizomes, which is why you'll see plants clustered together in big patches on the forest floor.
Winter will end, that's certain. And when it does, come out to the parks, search the woodland ground under last year's leaves, and you will find these beautiful signs that the season has finally turned.
Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.