A Tangle of Bright Moments: Self-Renewal

“Reshaping Life! People who can say that have never understood a thing about life — they have never felt its breath, its heartbeat — however much they have seen or done. They look on it as a lump of raw material that needs to be processed by them, to be ennobled by their touch. But life is never a material, a substance to be molded. If you want to know, life is the principle of self-renewal, it is constantly renewing and remaking and changing and transfiguring itself, it is infinitely beyond your or my obtuse theories about it.” — Boris Pasternak, in Dr. Zhivago (1957)


Each year, I start looking for the woodland orchids known as pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) in May; in past years (since 2012), the flowers have bloomed from mid-May to the end of the month. But on 17 May this year, there were only a few noticeable leaves or buds.

But there were painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) everywhere.

Including a twin-stem trillium.


The common evergreen three-leaved goldthread (Coptis trifolia) was blooming, carpets of tiny white flowers. Apparently it blooms for only about a week, so it was lucky to spot it here this year. If you pull a plant up by the roots, which I don’t recommend generally, you can see why they’re called “goldthread,” for their bright yellow-orange rhizomes.

The sepals of the goldthread, which look like petals, are white; their function

“is to protect the other flower parts while the flower is developing, but in some plants, including Goldthread, they are also a showy part of the floral display to help attract pollinators.

“From a pollinator’s eye view, additional flower parts come into focus, and offer some surprises. Working in from the sepals, the unconventional petals make up the next whorl of flower parts. They are much smaller than the sepals, spoon-shaped, with bright yellow, rounded, concave tips. Not only are these bright yellow petal tips attractive to pollinators because of their color, but also because they produce nectar, an extra enticement for a pollinator’s visit.

“Next are the many stamens, the male reproductive parts. Goldthread stamens mature a few at a time, starting from the outside of their cluster. As the stamens mature they release pollen from the anthers at their tips. At the very center of the flower are the green pistils (or carpels), the female reproductive parts. Pollen must be deposited on the stigmas at their tips in order for pollination to occur.” (source: The Natural Web)



Nearby were some Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), just starting to produce buds. Their foliage seems the very definition of spring green.



Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis syn. Chamaepericlymenum canadensis) was beginning to bloom.



Flowers and leaves alike droop on the wild oats (Uvularia sessilifolia) or sessile-leaved bellwort. Sessile-leaved means that the leaves attach to the stem without a stalk. I like the pale buttery yellow of the flowers.



Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) was blooming, too.

“Like some hydrangeas, Hobblebush inflorescences have two types of flowers, large sterile flowers around the perimeter of the flower cluster that are incapable of producing fruit, and masses of small fertile flowers in the center.  The sterile flowers open first.

“The fertile flowers are where the serious work of pollination takes place.  They open a few at a time over several days, giving the plant a long period during which to lure visitors to help pollinate its flowers. At the same time it’s providing food to those pollinators over many days.  It’s a win-win.

“Why would a plant have sterile flowers?  Studies show that there is a higher rate of successful pollination in Hobblebush’s fertile flowers when these showy sterile flowers are present.  The sterile flowers help to advertise the plant’s offerings, luring pollinators to the inflorescence.” (source: The Natural Web)



Something I look for on the forest floor at this time of year is rattlesnake plantain, and in this case I think it’s downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens) rather than checkered rattlesnake-plantain (Goodyera tesselata) because of the broad defined white stripe down the center of the leaves. It’s usually covered with last year’s leaves, so it’s a bit of a treasure hunt.



Some false hellebore (Veratrum viride), all parts of which are poisonous (steroidal alkaloids) to humans and livestock.



British soldier lichen (Cladonia cristatella) is a friendly pop of red along the trail. Lichen are a combination of fungus + either algae or cyanobacteria (or both); in the case of this particular lichen, it’s a green alga (Trebouxia erici) that supplies nourishment through photosynthesis while the fungus (or mycobiont) is Cladonia cristatella, a member of the Ascomycota phyllum. Lichen is named for the dominant partner in the semi-symbiotic or controlled parasitic relationship, which is the fungus, which “farms” the algae for food, while providing the algae with substrate and protection. (More on these lichen at Fungus Fact Friday.)



A May fly (order Ephemoptera), one of the earliest insects we see here in New Hampshire, landed on spouse’s coat.



Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis syn. A. arborea), also called Shadbush, Shadblow, and Juneberry, is one of our earliest blooming trees. I had seen some blooming the day before on a NH rail trail.



Finally, some landscape photos.



Featured image: Solomon’s Seal (probably Polygonatum pubescens, hairy Solomon’s-seal) flower.
This is one in a series of posts revisiting field trips taken from January to June 2019, as described here.

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