The Race is on: Flowers vs. Trees!

The delicately pink-striped Spring Beauty

It’s springtime in a forest: an ancient race between trees and flowers.

Here’s the deal: as spring comes to a forest, the trees are still naked and bare-branched, allowing streaming sunlight to strike—and warm!—the forest floor.  Warmed by the sun’s rays, underground roots send up this year’s shoots and flowers, the fresh flowers giving pollinators like native bees, also waking up just now, their first taste of nectar in the new season.

Virginia Bluebells, three colors in one flower!

And as the flower is pollinated, it makes the seeds it needs to spread its species.

Then, as spring quickly progresses (especially in this year’s fast-forward edition of spring), trees leaf out, their buds opening to spread an umbrella of leaves across the forest canopy, effectively blocking out almost all sunlight, a cloak of darkness spreading across the forest.  

Without blessed sunlight, these flowers have a tough time photosynthesizing—making and storing the sugars they need to survive—so the flowers not only shut down but cast off their unneeded leaves, storing sugars as starches in their roots, ready and waiting for next year, when they’ll open and make flowers again.

So the flower vanishes completely—until next year.

Bloodroot, among the first flowers of spring

But the good news is there is a parade of wildflowers progressing through the season.  So on my walk, I noticed the mottled leaves of trout lily just poking their heads up out of the soil, and several stands of black cohosh rapidly unfurling.  The next wave of forest flowers on it way.

But come see them—incredibly lovely, remarkably quick-vanishing beauties.

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