Nature Detective Notes: Late March-Early April – Plants and Trees

Welcome to Spring!!

Quite a March it has been with large swings in temperature, plenty of wind (as a battleground sets up between North and South), flower buds popping, more birds singing, froggies chorusing, and even a little snow.  Thanks to that strong, March sun and a warmer than normal surface temperature, the “white stuff” didn’t last more than a few days.

Well, that was what I was INTENDING on starting our notes with, but….Old Man Winter has reared its head just to remind us that we live in New England and it’s “only April.”  I was as shocked as you all to see this much snow down in southeastern MA, but having lived in both VT and upstate NY most of my life, snow storms like the one we had on April 4 were more the norm.  Back in late April of 1983 we had over a foot in NY where I was visiting relatives.  And in the foothills of the Green Mountains back in 1997, we also had close to a foot of snow with scant amounts in the Valley below.

And how about those torrential rains on April 7?!  We must’ve had close to 2” in spots.  Combine that with temperatures rebounding into the 50’s and we have, “Bye, bye snow…for now!”

Remember, the months of March through mid-April continue that “battle of North and South”—not a Civil War reference, but a meteorological one, where cold air out of Canada (Polar or Arctic in origin) clashes with subtropical air from the Gulf of Mexico.  Lucky for us, it’s usually just snow and a few rumbles of thunder that we need to contend with VS. tornadoes in the southern Plains, southeast, and mid-Atlantic. We might get some more of the “white stuff” over the next few weeks, but by month’s end, more consistently warm air will be the norm, as the days lengthen and the sun’s angle gets higher in the sky.  Lots of light at the end of this tunnel!!

With Spring arriving there are so many things to share with you. In order to make this long list a little easier, I am dividing this into three groupings: Plants & Trees, Birds and Butterflies, and Amphibians and More. Check back over the next two days for the next two installments of the observations I have made in the last few weeks.

Plants and Trees

Daffodils: daffodilsquashed under 4-6 inches of heavy snow earlier this month and no doubt gasping for air, but lovely and perky in this photograph just a few weeks ago; Our flower garden variety Daffodils are not from these parts, yet are well-adapted to survive the rigors of New England seasons—bred in even more northerly climes; one of my favorite Spring ephemerals that lasts but a month or two (leaves and all, shriveling back).

blue snow drops

Blue Snow Drops: another Spring ephemeral that’s “up with the sun and gone with the wind”; one of the earliest flowering plants we see, blanketing our lawns with this lovely blue or white; like the Daffodil it is also non-native and able to withstand these great changes in temperature that occur up here in New England

Forsythia blooming: No doubt that the recent temperature plunge AND resulting snow have crushed many of these flowers, so brilliant a week earlier.male red maple flowersfemale red maple flowers

Red Maple flowers—male: Some of the earliest of our trees to flower, giving off a “reddish-orange” hue from a distance; Driving along our roads and highways, this is one tree that you can identify clearly this time of year; the male flowers usually appear before the female ones to spread their pollen…hopefully, before the ravages of an early Spring snow

Red Maple flowers—female: These bright red flowers tend to appear just after most male flowers have opened up AND for good reason too: “Why bloom any earlier than you need to?”  New seeds (and genetic potential for the species) will be produced IF they are properly fertilized during the Spring; And IF that happens like usual, standing or flowing water will carry them to a scarified embankment so that they may potentially germinate;  After the madness of the weather, let’s just say that I am monitoring each flower closely for development into these samara-type seeds

male willow flowers

Willow flowers (male): this genus of plants (especially the shrubbier species) also inhabits our wetlands and displays its flowers nice and early; One of the most northerly of shrubs, willows are a hardy lot, so no worries about their being able to survive cold temps and snow!  Just look at those little “pussy cat mittens!”

American Elm flowers: the Massachusetts state tree is one of the larger species to floamerican elm flowerswer in the early Spring, also within wetlands and alongside streams & roads; still occasionally ravaged by Dutch Elm Disease in certain areas (western MA and up through VT), there are many healthy individuals in our neck of the woods IF you just look carefully enough—check out their classic form (below) and swelling flower buds as you drive from Cobb’s Corner up the hill to Sharon Center….there is one on the right (beside the best Daffodils ever), then a larger individual quickly on the left, and finally another large tree on the right just past the white Chabad House; ALL are in flower now and hopefully made it through the storm.american elm tree

The “vase-like shape” of an American Elm: those 3 trees I just mentioned (in Sharon) possess some of this lovely form, but not quite like those that grow in more open areas of New England.

Check back tomorrow for the next installment: Birds and Butterflies.

Until then,

-Acciavatti Instep, Non Stop

Nature Detective Notes by Michael Acciavatti. Michael is our full-time teacher naturalist who often heads out on the trails to stretch his legs and observe what is happening. His enthusiasm and knowledge make for wonderful updates about the nature of Moose Hill. We hope that you will be inspired to head out on our trails as well and enjoy the changes that each season, or better yet, each month bring to Moose Hill. We look forward to seeing you here!

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