Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Also hepatica are blooming on the same hillside where I found snow trillium blooming. I figure spring beauty is out there too but did not have time today to look. Sometimes my science writing takes time from the more exciting adventures, but since it mostly pays for the adventures, I better keep doing it.

Snow Trillium

Snow Trillium are in full bloom here in eastern Iowa. I will post photos as soon as I can. It might be a couple days due to appointments and the rest of life getting in the way... but that's ok. I will get to it!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Skunk Cabbages

This photo shows a pair of skunk cabbages growing side-by-side in the mud. They grow in a location that is pretty much always wet, due to a spring that causes water to seep out to the surface of the forest, and forms a small stream. If you look in the front corner of the photo, you can see the wet mud. Being early bloomers, as they are, the skunk cabbage plants often get damaged by frost. You can see evidence of frost damage on the green vegetation which protected the red "hoods" when they first emerged through the dirt.

Snow Trillium Bud

Here is a snow trillium bud, which I found yesterday in eastern Iowa. It's one of several trillium species that I have photographed over the years. Snow trillium can be found in other locations, but this is the only place where I have ever found it. During trips to the Smokies, I have photographed several other species. Snow trillium is the smallest trillium that I know of, reaching a height of about only 4 inches. It is also the first to bloom each spring and is often seen sprouting in the snow, hence the name Snow Trillium.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Skunk Cabbage Patch

This isn't exactly a photogenic photo, but it shows the landscape where the skunk cabbages thrive. See below for more info about skunk cabbages. It's a wet boggy area where the ground is composed of MUD. I did not step in this area for fear of damaging the plants and making an absolute mess.

Peeking into a Cabbage

Here is a rather close-up view of a skunk cabbage. My sons and I visited the “cabbage patch” on Sunday, March 14. We found hundreds of skunk cabbage plants in full bloom. The “hood” protects the flower underneath. Looking inside the “window” you can see the “ball” that contains many flowers. They emit an aroma that is not exactly pleasant to the human senses, but attracts flies quite well. Skunk cabbage is one of the very first wildflowers to bloom each year, and it actually generates heat to help melt its way through the snow.

Skunk Cabbages and ... Snakes!

Ok, I know this isn't a wildflower. But it's part of the story of spring. My boys and I were walking through the wet forest and checking out the skunk cabbages. I was preparing to photograph one of the cabbage plants and my son yelled out, "I found a snake." Of course knowing the cabbage would stay in place, but the snake might not, I moved the tripod/camera setup over to the snake and tried to get a few good shots. I was hoping to get a good shot with his/her tongue. This was the best one I could get. The lighting is a bit harsh, and I have better photos of the snake (no tongue) with softer, more diffused lighting, thanks to passing clouds. I will prepare one of those pictures eventually too... but this one was too fun and I had to prepare it first.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Patches of Snow

I got this scenic shot the same day as the close-up shots below. This shows a combination of south-facing slope and north-facing slope to illustrate the difference in conditions from one place to the next. The south-facing slope (on the left) has no more snow--being relatively warmer, the snow melted more quickly--but the north-facing slope still has patches of snow. I got this shot while standing on a somewhat flat area along the north-facing slope, so you can see some of the patches of snow near my feet. The sun hits more directly on the south-facing slope and thus it warms up more quickly, and this difference can be seen with melting snow as well as the timing of wildflower blooming. Some years, the difference is more obvious than others.

Hepatica Peeks through the Snow

The north-facing slope had patches of snow. So I walked along and explored the edges of several patches. I wanted to get some kind of photograph showing the wildflowers and the snow together. I wanted to be able to show the type of harsh conditions these delicate plants can endure. In this case, I found one of last year's hepatica leaves just beginning to appear along the edge of the melting patch of snow. The new growth is still protected underground but will likely emerge within the next few days--wrapped tightly by a layer of plant tissue (resembling a spike) that protects the delicate buds and stems within. One of the nice things about hepatica is that last year's leaves typically remain all year, so you can walk through the woods after the blooming season (summer, fall, or winter) and figure out where to look for it when the blooming season returns the following spring.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Spring Beauty Sprout

This spring beauty sprout is beginning to turn green, which means that the chlorophyll is starting to develop in the leaves. Unlike the one shown below, this one was growing in a warmer spot that no longer had any snow. It was on a flat surface of forest rather than a north-facing slope and higher up toward the top of a hill. This shot shows the buds, still well under-developed along the underneath side of the stem. If you look at hundreds or thousands of spring beauty sprouts as they emerge and shortly after, you will see that they always come up with this up-side down U shape and their buds are always protected on the underside of the stem. Pushing through the frozen dirt (and snow) takes a lot of effort and the plant keeps the buds safe by placing them in this relatively protected location. See the entry below for more information on spring beauties.

Spring Beauty Sprout

Here is a spring beauty sprout, which I found in a forest in eastern Iowa on Thursday. It was emerging on a north facing slope, which was still speckled with patches of snow. I searched through the thin layers of snow still remaining to find as many neat shots as time would allow. To give a sense of size here, if I had included my chapstick behind the sprout, the chapstick would reach across the frame (from left to right) and just barely fit.
The plant starts out appearing pink, due to the absense of chlorophyll. The chlorophyll begins to develop with exposure to the sun, during which time the plant becomes more and more green. With time, the stem will straighten up and grow taller, and the leaves will lengthen and become somewhat plump.
The tiny "nubs" under the arch of the arch are the undeveloped buds. Eventually they will develop into white flowers with pink veins and pink pollen. Each stem will produce anywhere from 4 to 12 (approximately), blooming in sequence from the top of the stem toward the bottom. Typically one or two flowers bloom at a time, but toward the peak season, sometimes a single stem can have three or four all at once.
It's wonderful to be back in Iowa for my first Iowa spring in 14 years.

Oops -- Sorry

I got busy with other photos yesterday and did not post the shots I said I would post. Fear not, and please forgive me. I will post them most likely today. I have downloaded them from the camera... And tomorrow I plan to search for skunk cabbages about 30 miles from my house. Spring is definitely here!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spring is HERE !!!

I will posting pictures later today. But for now, I must report that yesterday I found spring beauty and snow trillium SPROUTS (buds so small that they were barely visible except with magnification--like my 200 mm lens) here in the forests of eastern Iowa. Though there was still some snow lingering on the cooler slopes, most of the snow was gone. Still I got a few shots of wildflowers with snow in the frame, which helps show the harsh conditions underwhich these delicate flowers emerge. So come back later today (Friday) and I will have photos posted. I hope to post at least one scenic and a couple close up shots too.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Snow Melting

Snow is melting in the forests of eastern Iowa--more so on south facing slopes (which receive more intense light) than north facing slopes (which receive light that comes hits at more of an angle). Certain slopes show a pattern of patchy melting, with leaves visible in some locations while other locations are still covered by a layer of snow. Widlflowers will begin working their way through the cold and somewhat frozen ground. Spring is nearly here.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Snow and Snow Trilliums

Here is the hillside where I will soon be finding snow trilliums instead of snow! It has been 14 years since I have been able to visit this hillside during the snow trillium blooming season. My boys and I went out a few days ago to check the landscape and this is what we saw... There was lots of snow but much has melted during the past three days. And being an early bloomer, as it is, I would not be surprised to find signs of snow trillium within the week. It might not be blooming, but I should at least find buds by the end of next weekend! Meanwhile, I will need to start looking for skunk cabbages soon too!