Early Spring Wildflowers – Mid-April
By Roger Rittmaster
Mid-April in Mid-Coast Maine is the start of spring wildflower season, and it’s always fun to look for the first ones. In fact, if one has a favorite place to look for one of the wildflowers below, the timing of the flowers appearing is a good indication of whether Spring is early or late compared to previous years.
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)
What’s that dandelion growing by the side of the road? Well, if it’s blooming this early in the season, it’s probably not a dandelion, it’s coltsfoot.
Coltsfoot likes poor soil and often grows along trails or the sides of roads, where little else thrives.
Whereas dandelions start as a rosette of green leaves, often in lawns, the rudimentary leaves of coltsfoot are appressed against the flower stalk and don’t enlarge until the flower gone to seed.
If you’re stopping by the Coastal Mountains Land Trust offices, there’s a nice patch of coltsfoot about 20 feet from the entrance.
Round-leaved Violet (Viola rotundifolia)
A common native trailside flower that’s just starting to appear is round-leaved violet. We are at the northern end of its range, but it can be found as far south as Georgia. It likes dry soil, often growing next to rocks. When it first blooms, the little yellow flowers dominate, but soon the round, scalloped leaves expand. After early spring, the flowers go to seed, but the leaves remain. Look for this flower along many of our mountain trails. I found the ones in the photograph on the Georges Highland Trail, about 6/10 of a mile from the Route 17 trailhead.
Round-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica americana)
This beauty of a flower is often the first one to open in the spring along mountain trails. It is relatively uncommon in our area, and even harder to see as it pokes out among the dead leaves on the forest floor.
Sometimes it’s easiest to look for last year’s leaves, whose three lobes and bronze and green color are distinctive. The flowers start out purple, but soon fade to white. The new leaves won’t come out until the flowers have gone to seed. A reliable place to find hepatica is on the Maiden Cliff Trail, on the uphill side of the trail, within the last ¼ mile before the lookout. Hepatica is in the buttercup family Ranunculaceae.
Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens, Mayflower)
Trailing arbutus will be flowering for the next month or so. For a flower that’s common in our woods, sometimes it can be hard to find. The aromatic flowers arise among last year’s perennial leaves, and the plant grows close to the ground. It requires shade and rich, acidic soil. It is a member of the heath family Ericaceae, like blueberries and heather. Trailing arbutus is a slow-growing plant, and for that reason it is best not to pick it. It is the State flower of Massachusetts and the Provincial flower of Nova Scotia. It is illegal to pick it in those places.