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Published May 21, 2010, 08:45 AM

May flowers of all sizes

After a week of cold, wind and rain it was great to get out and walk through the woods on a sunny day. The early spring ephemerals had their show days in April.

By: Dan Wilcox, outdoor columnist, River Falls Journal

After a week of cold, wind and rain it was great to get out and walk through the woods on a sunny day. The early spring ephemerals had their show days in April.

Dutchmen’s breeches, bloodroot, wood violet, rue anemone, trout lilies, spring beauties, wild ginger and hepatica are done flowering. Now trilliums, phlox, wild geranium, jack-in-the-pulpit and Solomon’s seal are blooming, soon to be followed by the late spring and summer flower show.

Most of the trees are leafed out now, shading the forest floor and shutting down the spring ephemeral flowers for the season. Many trees and shrubs bloom before or during leaf-out.

Our valley has been fragrant with scent from apple, wild plum, quaking aspen and wild cherry blossoms. A close watch of any of those trees on a warm day revealed squadrons of pollinators. In addition to domestic honeybees, a variety of bumble bees, smaller bees, wasps and beetles were visiting the flowering trees.

Smaller flowers have their own beauty. A magnifying glass helps to see the smaller-scale world. Burr oak leaves the size of a mouse’s ear are accompanied by long clusters of green male staminate flowers. The pistillate flowers form near the ends of twigs and form acorns after being pollinated.

The lowly and embattled lawn weed, creeping Charlie, has an elegant vase-shaped pink-purple flower, translucent with darker stripes like blown glass. Wild cherries have finger-sized bunches of small white flowers.

Red osier dogwoods, having kept some color around all winter on their red stems, now sport circular bunches of small white flowers among their growing leaves.

The showy flowers on these plants are all about attraction; not for others of their own kind but to attract sex workers. Unlike pines and grasses that release pollen that is dispersed by the wind, most flowering plants rely on insects or birds to pollinate their flowers. Flowers are showy and offer up nutritious nectar and pollen in order to attract pollinators. Many flowers are attractive to bees because they fluoresce in ultraviolet light.

The fancy creeping Charlie flower has hairs inside to brush pollen off visiting small bees. Tiny wild cherry flowers have stamens that curve inward to ensure that visiting insects leave painted with pollen. The ends of the pistils on red osier dogwood flowers turn red after they have been pollinated, perhaps to let the insects know to look for the unpollinated flowers.

It’s fun to take a break from farm, garden or yard work and take a close look at the many species that live in the neighborhood. When observing the real world, the closer you look, the more you see.

Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at wildside@rivertowns.net.

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