Soup ‘n Walk Report—Spring Ephemerals, April 16

The excellent tour guides for this Soup ’n Walk were Gail Raty and Margan Glover. The tour guide class is reaping rewards. We had a full group. Our maximum is now 30, and we managed. The day was cool, but sunny and breezy in the 50s. It’s so great that we have more to help, as my foot had a fractured metatarsal and I could not lead a tour for the first time since 2004!!!

From Gail:

The second group to head out in the glorious weather we had for the Soup ’n Walk comprised looking for a shorter, slower walk. As luck would have it, most of the group are new to the arboretum this spring. We had the opportunity to do what you would not normally want to do – point out what isn’t there but what to look for in the days and weeks ahead. A teaser.

We took the first bridge to Blockston Branch and encountered blossoming dogwood, emerging Turk’s cap lilies, vibrant greenery of skunk cabbage, bright yellow of the golden ragwort, bluebells, eye-level paw paw blossoms, bellwort, carpets of spring beauties, mayapples, Jack-in-the-pulpits, netted chain fern, Quaker ladies, and a few things I cannot remember. We returned with a little detour up Birch Allee to see the emerging pink lady’s slippers that promise some woodland beauty very soon. Finally, we stopped to admire the devil’s walking sticks and discussed the display that will be in bloom.

The number of mayapples promising blooms and the abundance of Jack-in-the-pulpits seems to indicate last year was a good year.

From Margan:

It was a great day and a great group. Spring is moving so fast!

The first walking group set out along the South Meadow, where we paused to marvel at the green shoots already emerging from the ashes of the meadow burn of just a few days ago. Paw paws, violets, spring beauties, sassafras, and blueberry blossoms competed for our attention. The mayapples, bellwort, and Jack-in-the-pulpit have just emerged in the last several days and are already big enough to start putting on a show. Solomon’s seal is just beginning, while bloodroot, one of the earliest bloomers, has already gone by.

We did find a nice fat sanguinaria seedpod, which gave us the opportunity to talk about myrmecochory. Bloodroot seeds include a little nutrient-dense packet called an elaiosome. Ants take the seeds back to their underground tunnels, dine on the eliaosomes, and trash the seed in their tunnels, effectively sowing new bloodroot plants. When we find patches of bloodroot growing together, it is likely because of this mutually beneficial arrangement between bloodroot and their neighboring ants.

Flowers aren’t the only spring ephemerals. There are a couple swampy areas in the woods known as ephemeral ponds or vernal pools, and they provide a precious micro-habitat of huge importance to amphibians such as frogs and salamanders. The day was a bit too cool to entice the wood frogs to sing, but we did see a splash or two.

We finished up with a trifecta of bluebells (going by), golden ragwort (still going strong), and dogwood (just unfurling in the past few days). Guests enjoyed a glorious outing and were eager to savor the meal that awaited. They also saw many butterflies.

Gail and Margan led the tours. Finally, all arrived at the Visitor’s Center for lunch. This was my chance. There was very fragrant ginger sweet potato soup, colorful Eastern Shore coleslaw, wheat flaxseed bread, and gluten-free almond cupcakes. Some of the guests were from more than 50 miles away, and some were from Baltimore and Pasadena.

We looked at the display of branches from my yard. There were paw paw, hearts a-bursting, spicebush, black gum, fothergilla, and service berry with berries since they were finished blooming. I added a blooming rosemary for color and shared a unique use as a platform for baking slices of eggplant to make an easy eggplant parmigiana. All branches were given away at the end to be taken home. The menus were on the table with recipes of all the tasty foods that we were eating. My hope is that participants will take them home and make more healthy meals. There was a handout included showing the vegetables that had carotenes that are so good for your eyes. Some were on today’s menu. Many were signing up for the fall Soup ’n Walks, since May’s walk is already full.

The staff  were very helpful, and I thank you. Volunteers were Pat B., Margan G., Gail R., Marilyn R., Joyce W., Pat F., Vivian S., and Denise D. Thanks to all. We could not do it without you.

Julianna Pax
Docent/Maryland Master Naturalist

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