Posts Tagged ‘april’

Mayflowers c. 1840 by Maria Morris Miller

April showers bring mayflowers.  Sometimes in May… sometimes in April.

It’s raining today which is good news for all things green and growing.  Mayflowers  (aka trailing arbutus ~ Epigaea repens) are among the earliest native blooms to appear in Nova Scotia.  Half-hidden on the edge of the woods, their leathery leaves may look ragged and browned in spots, but the flowers are nonetheless fresh and pristine.  Their petals fade from light pink to white as spring progresses.

Mayflowers enjoy the moist, acidic environments that are typically found near bogs.   They are also shy plants, with a preference for shade. 

Over a century ago mayflowers were designated the floral emblem of Nova Scotia.  Found throughout most of eastern North America, this native evergreen plant is now considered an endangered species in Florida and vulnerable in New York. 

Unbeknownst to many gardeners who unsuccessfully try to transplant them, the roots of mayflowers have a secret relationship with fungus.  In this mutually beneficial liaison (also known as a mycorrhizal association), fungi gain direct access to carbohydrates through the roots of the mayflower.  At the same time, the fungus  makes the mayflower more resistant to disease and drought. 

In the language of flowers, mayflowers mean welcome.  Welcome to Nova Scotia.  Welcome to spring.

The image of mayflowers at top left was scanned from a postcard I purchased at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History over two decades ago.  I photographed the mayflowers just a short walk from the bottom of Flandrum Hill Road last week.

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The first wildflowers to bloom in Nova Scotia every spring are often mistaken for dandelions.  Coltsfoot has small yellow flowers that will appear along the roadside and in moist waste areas as early as March.  Their appearance usually coincides with first sightings of robins and pussywillows.

Non-natives, they were introduced to North America from Europe and are presently widespread across the Eastern Seaboard.  In Europe, their image has sometimes been used as a logo for apothecaries (pharmacies).  The blooms, stems and leaves have been regarded for millennia as a helpful medicinal herb.

Coltsfoot blooms appear long before the leaves.  Once the blooms die away, large hoof-shaped leaves emerge.    Dried leaves from last season can be seen in the image below.  In summer, the leaves are usually a dark green with a velvety white underside.

Like dandelions, coltsfoot blooms close at night and on overcast days.  Their closure often acts as a bioindicator for predicting rain.

Dried coltsfoot leaves have been smoked as a tobacco for relief of asthma and bronchial infections.    As a cough remedy, they’ve also been steeped as a tea.  Recent scientific research indicates that coltsfoot causes toxicity in the livers of rats.  Whether it’s considered a remedy or a poison is likely dependent on dosage.

Downy coltsfoot blooms that have gone to seed are used by goldfinches as a lining for their nests.

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April is a promise that May is bound to keep.

~ Hal Borland


April’s promise of spring has unfolded in a flurry of activity this month.  New growth is everywhere:  in the yard and in the woods.  Strawberry flowers are already in bloom along the Salt Marsh trail.  As much as I look forward to this time of year, it still seems to catch me by surprise.  Did I somehow believe it wouldn’t happen?

Bird activity is constant.   The chatter is especially noisy  in the early morning hours.  It’s not unusual to hear a pheasant crowing in the yard at 3:45 am.  Grackles, doves, woodpeckers, chickadees, juncos, sparrows and robins hang out around the feeder well past our supper time.

The squirrels are either chasing each other around, eating at the feeder or  scolding intruders.  Their presence is made known throughout the day. 

Spider threads and webs are everywhere in the woods, created in anticipation of the black flies and mosquitoes that are surely going to be out in full force soon.  The insects will also provide food for the baby birds soon to be hatched.  

He that is in a towne in May loseth his spring. 

~George Herbert



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