Tag Archives: spring

Dutchman's Breeches © Deborah Kellogg

Take 5: Spring Wildflowers

April in many parts of Massachusetts can feel a bit like nature is holding its breath, so that on any given morning you might wake up to find the world outside transformed from gray to green (or, as last Friday proved, blanketed in white one more time). Never fear, spring wildflower season is upon us! These bright harbingers of spring burst forth from the long-dormant earth in a dazzling variety of colors, shapes, and arrangements.

There’s an advantage to blossoming early—plenty of sunshine to provide energy before the trees fully leaf out and obscure the sun’s rays. The majority of spring wildflowers need to bloom, be pollinated, and store enough food for the following year—all before the leaves on neighboring trees have fully appeared. Some of the earliest species (and those needing the most direct sunlight) are known as spring ephemerals. These are plants that, after flowering, virtually disappear in a few short weeks.

Timing Is Everything

While the exact timing can vary due to variations in elevation or temperature, including the warming temperatures caused by climate change, if you want to catch a glimpse of Dutchman’s breeches and trout lily, make sure you get out by the first week of May; even sooner if you’re looking for bloodroot, which in some regions is already setting seed by the end of April.

You’ll see the greatest diversity of spring wildflowers around the middle of May, including red trillium in deciduous forests and jack-in-the-pulpit in wetlands. You’ll find the bright-red, nodding flowers of wild columbine perched on rocky outcrops. Last to the party in late May are the orchids: pink lady’s slipper is more common than most people realize and grows beneath pines and oaks, but you have to be lucky to stumble across yellow lady’s slipper or showy orchid in pockets of rich woodlands.

Learn More

Read up about spring wildflower season on our website, grab a copy of the classic go-to Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, or take an upcoming wildflowers program at a sanctuary near you. Please enjoy these five photos of spectacular native spring wildflowers from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

And don’t forget to check out all the great Earth Month things going on at Mass Audubon—Earth Day is this Thursday, April 22!

Jack-in-the-Pulpit © Anne Greene
Jack-in-the-Pulpit © Anne Greene
Dutchman's Breeches © Deborah Kellogg
Dutchman’s Breeches © Deborah Kellogg
Red Trillium © Allison Bell
Red Trillium © Allison Bell
Yellow Trout Lily © Richard Welch
Yellow Trout Lily © Richard Welch
Bloodroot © Maili Waters
Bloodroot © Maili Waters
red-winged blackbird

The First Sounds of Spring

Red-winged Blackbird © Rachel Bellenoit

Some resident birds start singing their spring songs in late February and early March like clockwork, no matter what the weather is doing.

Even when winter keeps its grip on Massachusetts with snow and freezing temperatures, these birds mark the lengthening days with songs to attract mates, define their territories, and prepare for breeding season.

Early songsters respond to the amount of time between sunrise and sunset—called the photoperiod—and shift their behavior towards spring patterns accordingly.

Here are some of the earliest sounds that prove spring is just around the corner.

Black-capped Chickadees whistle a thin, pleasant “fee-bee!”:

Northern Cardinals give high, piping warbles from exposed perches:

Mourning Doves make low, resonant coos throughout the day:

A week or two after these birds start sounding off, the earliest short-distance migrants arrive from the southeast part of North America: Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds.

Blackbirds’ jangling, metallic song is most often heard in marshes and wetlands:

Grackles give a chorus of creaks and harsh “chack!” notes in large, transient flocks:

The arrival of spring accelerates after the first few migrants arrive, with skunk cabbage poking through the soil in wetlands and more birds like Ruby-crowned Kinglets to Yellow-rumped Warblers showing up.

All of these species are out and singing by the second week of March. Which ones have you been hearing so far this year?