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A Partnership of UNH Cooperative Extension and NH Fish and Game

Before the Leaves

It doesn’t take much motivation to get me outside in any season, but there are certain times of year when nature provides a little extra incentive.

In early spring, there’s a short window of time that’s easy to miss; after all the snow has melted, saturating rich forest soils, the trees still without leaves, allowing the full warmth of the sun to hit the ground. The subtle browns of last fall’s leaves give way to green as the forest floor comes back to life. It may still seem a dull time of year, but there is a lot to see in the forest before the leaves.

Starflower (Lysimachia borealis). Photo by Emma Tutein.This is the time to get out in the woods to observe some of our shortest-lived wildflowers: spring ephemerals. As their name alludes, these species of wildflower only bloom in the early spring and for a short period of time.  They are quite a sight, often carpeting the forest floor with clouds of white, pink, or yellow, providing early food for pollinators before fading away into the shade of the forest’s trees as spring progresses.

And though there are relatively few species that fall into the category of spring ephemeral, I can never seem to remember the names of all of them. I often find myself referring back to my trusty wildflower field guide to refresh my memory, a ritual I quite enjoy. The wood anemones, often arriving first, followed by trout lilies, foam flower, goldthread, spring beauties, starflower, and trillium. They look as beautiful as they sound.

Wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia). Photo by Emma Tutein.

Early spring is also the time to observe all manner of warblers, small colorful birds, some arriving for the season, and others simply passing through on their way north. Once the forest is full of leaves, I’m no longer privy to easy views of these birds. Watching the tops of the trees intently with binoculars, I might spy yellow-rumped warblers and northern parulas gleaning insects off tree branches, or a palm warbler hopping on low branches in front of me. After the leaves come, I’ll need to learn their songs if I ever hope to get a glimpse, a feat that requires more practice than a quick glance at my field guide, but one I pursue none the less.

Spring is a busy season as we all emerge from various states of hibernation, but it’s a great time to get outside to witness the changing season. So grab your field guide, your binoculars, and a careful ear and head out into the woods to enjoy these fleeting beauties.

By Emma Tutein, UNH Cooperative Extension
Spring 2016 Taking Action for Wildlife Newsletter