Early Bloomers

Snowdrops and crocuses in gardens might beat them to it sometimes, but the first native plants to flower where I live are always the skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus). I saw my first ones of the year on Monday (March 12).

Inside these red coverings (spathes) are the actual flower clusters (spadices)–a similar setup to other members of the arum family (Araceae), like calla lilies, jack-in-the-pulpit, and Spathiphyllum, except a skunk cabbage’s spadix is fat and round rather than long and straight as in these other plants.  The only insects I’ve seen visiting skunk cabbage flowers are lesser dung flies (Sphaeroceridae: Limosininae), like this one:

I took that photo last year on March 17.  The lesser dung flies I saw on Monday were all preoccupied with some moose droppings, and the only animal that showed up while I sat for a few minutes by the flowers shown above was a mole that went swimming by in its waterlogged burrow, making a burbling sound as it passed me.

I think most people are familiar with skunk cabbage as an early sign of spring in these parts, but there is another flower that blooms almost as early, which I think is underappreciated.  I saw my first ones today: beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta).  The male flowers (catkins) are conspicuous as they lengthen and begin to disperse pollen…

…but the fancy ones are the little red wispy female flowers (one is shown in the upper left corner of the above photo).

Some other red early “bloomers” that I saw for the first time today are the scarlet cup fungi (Sarcoscypha).  I seem to always find them near sugar maples.

I also saw my first leafminers of the season today.  They were Phyllocnistis insignis larvae mining in golden ragwort leaves, almost as far along as the ones shown here, and over a month earlier than I found them last year.  In the past few days I’ve also heard scattered spring peepers peeping, a wood frog chorus, red-winged blackbirds, displaying woodcocks, a phoebe, a singing brown creeper, and a chipmunk, and seen various thawed-out moths, beetles, leafhoppers, and other insects going about their business.  Suddenly it’s getting very difficult to stay inside and get any work done.

About Charley Eiseman

I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.
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3 Responses to Early Bloomers

  1. Stephen Gifford says:

    I marked a stand of skunk cabbage last fall to observe over the winter and their blooming. On march 9, I not only found most had bloomed, but also observed a honey bee visiting two of he plants.

  2. Judith Eiseman says:

    Once a botanist, always a botanist. . . .

  3. Dave says:

    Not so far along here in Alberta, alas, although the buds on the deciduous trees are starting to look a bit plump and their outlines thicker against the grey clouds. Sapromyza (Lauaxniidae), Elgiva solicita (Sciomyzidae), and the odd Protophormia terraenovae (Calliphoridae) are out on the snow when the sun is shinning and the wind not too strong. Canadian Geese were overhead heading north on 9 March, though, tying our earliest record (2008) from before the springs started trending colder in 2009, so I’m hopeful Spring isn’t too far in the future. No skunk cabbage to follow, but if the snows continue their retreat, the marsh marigold and coltsfoot should be up in a couple of weeks.

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