Spring into the forest this season

April 24, 2010|By CELESTE MAIORANA / Special to The Herald-Mail
  • These pink azaleas were just emerging in early April at South Mountain State Park.
Photo by Celeste Maiorana,

"In every walk with nature one receives more than he expects." - John Muir

A wonderful characteristic of our mixed, mostly deciduous forest is its impressive seasonal change.

Spring is especially remarkable for the dazzling transformation of the forest from its mostly dormant winter state.

The dull gray or brown trees and shrubs begin to bloom and advance their new leaves. The colors are sometimes vivid, often pastel. Many trees bloom before they leaf. Many leaf before they bloom. But each kind seems to have its own special color for its nascent leaves.

While trees provide most of the biomass of the forest and determine its overall appearance, there is a lot more to the forest than just its trees.

Because deciduous trees lose their leaves in fall, abundant sunlight reaches the forest floor in early spring. This provides opportunities for growth for the plants and fungi of the forest floor.


As the air and soil warm, wildflowers begin to emerge from under the dead brown leaves. Depending on temperature, flowers may linger for weeks or fade in just a few days. Many are small and delicate. Others are sturdy and flower in bold colors.

The timing of spring in the forest is very dependent on temperature and sunlight. Moisture plays a big role as well. Whether, and when, a flower emerges in a particular place, how big it is and how bright its flower will vary from season to season and place to place.

Many of our earliest wildflowers will be found in rich moist woods. They may be found near streams and rivers but will also occur in basins on the tops of the ridges. Some will be restricted to wet, marshy areas.

Flowering shrubs, such as the pink azalea, which is in bloom now, and mountain laurel, which has advanced its buds, abound on rocky wooded slopes.

The leaves of pink lady slippers are beginning to emerge on the slopes and ridges.

With our cool weather, the flowering dogwoods, which prefer rich moist woods, are holding on to their blossoms.

Soon-to-flower mayflowers are carpeting moist woods and edges, and Virginia bluebells may still be making a nice show along the C&O Canal towpath.

Take a walk in the woods soon. Look at the flowers. Enjoy the new foliage. Listen to the birds.

As it should be with every walk with nature, leave behind only your footsteps and take away only your memories.

Celeste Maiorana is a member of the Washington County Forest Conservancy District Board, which promotes forest conservation in Washington County. Please visit online at

Know more

o For public woodlands, refer to the Parks page on the Forestry Board's Web site,

o For a non-exhaustive sample of woodland flowers, check out the Web site's wildflower slideshow.

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