by Naomi Jackson, Becketwood Member
On Earth Day 2017, after a busy morning collecting trash, I was introduced to Fernwood Glen by my trash-collecting companions. Half a dozen early spring flowers (ephemerals) were showing their colors. Some were familiar; others I'd never seen before. Knowing how short-lived these early flowers are, after I cleaned up from trash collecting I grabbed my wildflower ID book and wandered through the glen, learning the difference between sharp-lobed and round-lobed hepatica and how to identify wild ginger from its foliage.
When Bonnie Sample learned of my interest, she gave me her list of plants in Fernwood Glen (a work in progress, she said). So began my summer quest to identify all the plants in the glen. Bonnie's list doubled, then tripled. My personal collection of wildflower ID books expanded.
On Earth Day 2018, I put on my mud boots and tromped through the still-snowy glen, wondering how long it would be before any flowers would appear. I needn't have worried; the snow had barely melted before the hepatica burst into bloom, closely followed by the bloodroot. Soon the forest floor will be alive with blossoms, but you'd best get outside now if you want to see them because they are, as I said earlier, ephemeral.
While you are admiring the flowers, watch for bees. Not honeybees, but native bees, of which there are over 3,500 species in the United States. Most of them are smaller than honeybees, so you have to watch fast. These native bees are responsible for pollinating most flowering plants, including many of our food crops.
I saw two bees buzz-diving the hepatica. They were plump with faint black-and-white stripes, but moving too fast for me to gather more data. They might have been leafcutter bees. There were some in the glen last year, but I only know that because I saw the neat, semi-circular snips in the false Solomon’s-seal leaves. The half-circles of leaf would have been brought back to the bee's nest, either to wrap a newly laid egg and food for the future larva, or to separate partitions between eggs and food.
Many bee species, including the leafcutters, lay their eggs in the pithy stems of last year's flowers, so don't be so quick to pull out those “dead” stems in the spring. There might be new life growing in them.
For identifying wildflowers I use the Peterson Field Guides' Wildflowers and Stan Tekiela's Wildflowers of Minnesota. I'm still looking for the perfect wildflower guide, but between these two I'm able to identify most plants I find.
For learning about native bees, I highly recommend Heather Holm's Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide. You can get it at your local library. Identifying native bees is tricky business, but Holm's book will teach you about what they eat, where and how they nest, and how you can provide habitat for these increasingly scarce bees.
Here's a photo of the sharp-lobed hepatica.