Two weeks ago we wore coats down and up the trails to the northeast homestead to find out if the bloodroot was in bloom. The answer was a frosty “no.”
If the bloodroot blooms did weather the April freezes, they were gone by May 2, when naturalist Tammy Spillis led a walk along greening Quarry Farm trails. Armed with field guides and mnemonic devices like “sedges have edges,” staff and registered attendees started down Red Fox hill in a search for wildflowers and fungi.
Our first find beyond a carpet of wood violets was tall meadow rue. “Anything in the buttercup family is poisonous, but they’re good pollinators,” said Tammy.
A sap test on the next find was done on something in the lettuce family, a plant called lion’s foot. A painted turtle raised his head from Cranberry Run, perhaps at the mention of wild lettuce, then swam upstream and away.
One of the preserve’s many corded grapevines, thick as a bodybuilder’s bicep, hung over the creek. “I never cut grapevines down,” said Tammy. “The larger the root going into the ground, the greater the volume of water. What actually brings down a tree is not because the grapevine is a parasite, but because water is heavy.”
She explained that an upper offshoot of a grapevine such as this one, when tapped with a plastic bag secured over the cut, can yield up to a quart of sweet water in a half-hour’s time. “Always keep a grapevine in your woods, just in case your well goes bad,” our guide advised.
Black mustard grew, hot and spicy, near the vine. Kidney leaf buttercup was a few steps beyond. Way back when, certain plants were thought to be a tonic for the body parts they resembled. “As science advanced and they made explanations into the different folklore, they found many of the plants held true to that,” said Spillis. “But many did not. This is toxic. Don’t eat it.”
She pointed out a native loosestrife, common name moneywort, good for pollinators, flanked by spring beauties. Spring beauties are related to purslane. So let it grow — purslane is high in Omega 3 oils. That means it’s good for you.
Eric, the brewer in our party, was interested in the wild ginger growing on the old quarry’s edge. We first noticed one or two plants and their burgundy pipe-like flower in that spot a couple of years ago. The warm green leaves have increased in number since then, and new beds are springing up elsewhere in the flood plain. Tammy told us that ants are making this happen.
“The wild ginger seeds have this oily sugar coating. The ants come back for the seeds and move them to their ant colony. They don’t eat the seeds themselves; all they want is the sugar coating. Wherever the colony is, you’ll get another colony of wild ginger. Isn’t that nice?”
It sure is. More good things to come, further up the hillside.