Catch a splash of color before wildflowers fade

May 01, 1994|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Special to The Sun

For the first week or two of May, the woods of Harford County will be splashed with color as trillium, Virginia bluebells, woodland phlox and other delicate wildflowers that grow on the forest floor burst into bloom.

More woodland wildflowers will blossom during this brief period than at any other time of the year.

But the brilliant display won't last for long. Already the canopy of trees has begun to fill with leaves and it won't be long before the sunlight has been blocked out. Soon flowers will fade and seeds will fall.

Now is the time for wildflower enthusiasts to take to the woods with hiking stick and field guide in hand to experience the Technicolor show.

"For people who really enjoy woodland wildflowers, this is an annual trek," said Dennis Kirkwood, teacher in charge of environmental education for Harford County's public schools. "This is one of the two peak weeks of the year. People will see the greatest abundance of wildflowers in terms of the number of species and the profusion of blooms."

Woodland wildflowers often bring the first signs of spring to the forest, said Mr. Kirkwood, who works at the Harford Glen Environmental Education Center, a 350-acre outdoor learning facility owned by the Harford County school system.

"Many of them are very showy and pretty," he said. "This time of year all woodlands are going to have blooming species."

Harford Glen has more than 540 species of ferns, shrubs, trees, flowers and grasses. Of these, about half are wildflowers that grow in the woods, wetlands and open fields, Mr. Kirkwood said.

"The woodland wildflowers usually emerge first," he said.

Recently, Harford Glen volunteer Jack Shagena, 57, who lives nearby, led a group of about 35 hikers on a search for wildflowers near Plumtree Run that flows through the park at the end of Wheel Road in Bel Air.

"I've been photographing wildflowers in Harford Glen for about 10 years," Mr. Shagena told the hikers. "I've identified a lot of showy wildflowers and I've continued to find smaller ones.

"I'm going to try to show you how to identify wildflowers for yourself and how to take pictures of them."

The wildflower seekers, who ranged in age from babies in backpacks to grandparents, poked about at the trail's edge, near the stream and high on a hilltop for common blue violets, spring beauties, May apple, Jack-in-the-pulpit, toothwort, trailing arbutus and skunk cabbage.

They tried their hand at identification using field guide books, and they listened as Mr. Shagena offered tips about lighting, composition, background, tripods and lenses.

"I'm interested in wildflowers, and I wanted to see if there was anything new I could find out," said Madeline Trionfo, an art teacher at William S. James Elementary School who was busily sketching flowers.

"I like to go out in the woods and see what's happening," said Frank Zelenka, a science teacher at Parkville High School in Baltimore County. "This is a beautiful place."

"I'm kind of an amateur photographer," said Dick Strittmater of Forest Hill. "And my wife, Alice, and I are just very interested in knowing more about wildflowers."

In addition to Harford Glen, there are plenty of woods in Harford County in which to enjoy the annual spring blooming of wildflowers.

"Susquehanna State Park has displays that will dazzle the eye," said Stan Kollar, a local nurseryman and associate professor of biology and earth science at Harford Community College. "There's a whole hillside that is just covered with them."

The park has eight miles of trails where one might find Dutchman's-breeches, squirrel corn, saxifrage and blue cohosh. It's probably not too early for Solomon's seal and meadow rue.

Rocks State Park is another popular spot for wildflower watchers. Try hiking the trail from the Country Lane parking lot on Rocks Chrome Hill road to the King and Queen Seat.

Or you can take time to explore the pristine Falling Branch and Hidden Valley areas of the park.

"Things right now are about a month behind because of the lateness of the winter," Mr. Kollar said. "Usually woodland wildflowers bloom in early to mid-April. But the snow and ice kept the ground frozen much longer than normal. Now as we start to get into hot days, the weather may speed up their demise.

"Remember that picking flowers in a park is illegal. It defaces the landscape and impairs the ability of the plants to reproduce in a time when many are struggling to survive in shrinking habitats."

Mr. Kollar will lead a wildflower walk beginning at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Rocks State Park. Participants should meet at the King and Queen Seat parking lot.

The walk, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by the Student Environmental Action Coalition of Harford Community College.

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