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.