Wow! It felt like a very long winter. Do you ever wonder what life would be like with would no calendar or weather forecast to tell us what to expect? I like to walk and dream about what it would be like to experience the change of seasons in an old growth woods. Let’s use our imagination and a time machine to go back over 200 years.
What would winter be like with no lights beyond a flame, no heat other than the fire, and a pretty empty pantry? Are you wondering why you got into the time machine? All around us, as far as we can see, is a dense forest filled with huge walnut, oak, hickory, maple and beach trees. As we look upwards, the giant trees arch to form a canopy cathedral.
The days are getting brighter and the ground is starting to thaw. Do you see the signs? The forest is coming to life. Listen for the chirping frogs, pounding woodpeckers, and racing squirrels. Sprigs of green are peeking through the thick mat of decaying leaves. First, the skunk cabbage in the swampy bottomland, then the spring beauties, wild leeks, trout lilies, squirrel corn, and trillium call out for spring.
The sight of these wildflowers lifts my spirits after a long, dark, winter, but they mean so much more than spring is on the way. Several plants like spring beauty, trout lilies, wild leeks, and Solomon’s seal have bulbs that we can eat. The tubers of toothwort and wild garlic will add a nice horseradish and onion flavor to our venison. Gather some sweet cicely, I am sure we can find a use for the licorice scent.
The medicine cabinet is also pretty sparse. We need to gather some wild ginger to help with coughs, fevers and stomach aches. The twin leaf roots will be important for rheumatism and muscle cramps. Bloodroot will help with pain, burns, and to stop bleeding. The nodding trillium is harder to find but helpful for starting childbirth.
So many of the woodland plants can be harmful. Fortunately, I know which ones to use, how to dry them, and make a tea to avoid the poisonous effects. You don’t want to experience the purging effect from poorly prepared Mayapples before the invention of toilet paper.
False rue anemone, dutchman’s breeches, wild geranium, Virginia bluebells, and blue phlox brighten the woods and herald the new season. For the pollinators, they are very important early nectar source; but to us they are just a joy to behold.
As we get back into our time machine and speed back to the future, we move through our state’s past when most of the dense forest was cut down, woodlands were heavily grazed, wetlands were drained, and the rich forest floor was destroyed.
As we exit our time machine in 2019, we now have more acres of forest than we did just 100 years ago, but they need our help. Many of these young woodlands are small and fragmented. Non-native invasive plants are spreading throughout our forests, crowding out the native wildflowers.
There are still places you can visit to get a glimpse (without a time machine) of spring 200+ years ago. The trees are smaller but the woods are full of native wildflowers, birdsong, and frogs. They are special and need to be protected.
Join Red-tail Land Conservancy for our Spring Wildflower Celebration at Yuhas Woods, Sunday, April 28 from 2-5pm. The Red-tail nature preserves open to the public where you can see wildflowers include: Stout Woods, Fall Creek Woods, and White River Woods. To get directions to nature preserves, volunteer, or learn more about conservation work visit www.fortheland.org.
Julie Borgmann is the executive director of Red-tail Land Conservancy. Her passion is connecting people to nature for conservation and well-being. Visit www.fortheland.org to learn about volunteer opportunities, find nature preserves to visit, or a guided outing.