Harbingers of Spring

There are so many contestants vying for the position of true “poster child” of Spring.  Just a few weeks ago the wife and I spotted a small flock of robins in a local conservation area.  That alone, should dethrone the robin in my opinion as they’re obviously demented.  It was frickin’ January !  What the Hell was wrong with those birds ?  We’ve seen Red winged Blackbirds in March.  Ducks tend to stay the Winter near town harbors, and Canada Goose reasoning is anyone’s guess. The problem with using migratory birds as the harbingers of Spring, is that they’re personally mobile, and can be demented as earlier suggested.

No migratory mammals can be relied upon as THERE AREN’T ANY LEFT !  As for hibernating mammals, I swear I’m gonna put out a contract on that fat-assed lying rodent Wiarton Willy. I hear local hit man No Nose Bruno Forconi will “Make ‘im dead.  For cheap”.  We spotted a beaver on Feb 4th last year sitting on the ice chewing away on a stick.  I know they don’t really hibernate, but Mr. Humpybutt McWaddle was right out there in the open.  Maybe he ran out of food under the ice.


So I figure birds are off the list, and mammals can’t be trusted. I then considered the obvious. I know you need warm days for maple sap to rise, and cold nights to make it run back down to the relative warmth of the roots.  That’s the very premise on which sap collecting works.  The sap runs up and down, past the tap constantly.  However, I consider the up and down motion of the sap to be rather like waffling on the tree’s part.  “Well, it’s warm enough now to send some sap up to the branches “.  Then 8 hours later it’s “Holy Crap !  That’s getting’ farkin’ chilly out there !  Alright, everybody back into the roots, and we’ll try again tomorrow”.  It’s not a bold and irreversible commitment to Spring.  It’s not a chancey investment potentially frought with disaster.  For that you have to consider letting it all hang out so to speak, and that means … flowers.

You have to be pretty damned sure you’re right, before you’ll hang your reproductive parts out in the open air (for any longer than required to write your name in the snow anyway).  You won’t see a trillium pushing its way through a foot of snow to bloom with night temperatures dropping to double digits below zero.  Those flowers are their only chance to propagate their species, and that’s something wild things take very seriously, and rarely screw-up.  Of course, it’s not just a matter of your flower surviving the cold.  You gotta have something to pollinate that flower too.  That begs the question of whether insects should be included in the race for harbingers of Spring. All I can do is report from what I’ve witnessed myself, and I’ve always been impressed/surprised to see insects on Spring wildflowers.  I’ve seen them.  Yes indeed, but if it weren’t for the flower, I wouldn’t have noticed the insect, so I don’t think I’ll place insects in the running.

On that issue, the trillium is thought by some, to be self- pollinating while others believe they are highly pollinated by bumblebees.  Though trilliums are not the earliest wildflowers of Spring, they are the most recognizable and commonly seen.  There are many fallacies and fancies concerning trilliums, so I’ll take a paragraph to share what I know for certain about them.  It is not illegal to pick a trillium in Ontario, unless you’re in a public park, conservation area, or whatever, in which case it’s illegal to pick ANY flower anyway.  There are only 5 taxonomically recognized wild original species of trilliums in Ontario.  Those are some very big words, and there are very good reasons to use them. The taxonomy naming system was developed back in 1735.  It provides scientists with mutually common names for … stuff.  For example I might say I saw a Stinking Benjamin. Ranger might say he spotted a Trinity Flower.  We hear reports that someone else found a patch of Wakerobins almost directly across the road from a patch of purple trilliums.  What we all saw were taxomonically named Trillium erectum (yeah,I chose the species “erectum” intentionally.  I gotta have some fun doing this).  Even worse, 2 of those 4 names are commonly used to denote 2 of the other 5 species of trilliums.  It’s like an executive who gets caught in a hotel room with his secretary.  It’s complicated.

So, if you wanna look them over, Google :
Trillium :   cernuum





Any other trillium you see is either a hybrid (we have one that looks like a yellow grandiflorum), or about to wilt so it turns pale pink, or infected with mycoplasmas.  This infection causes green areas on the petals of grandiflorum, which leads to deformity, and ends in death.  This infection is communicable with the rest of the patch, and eventually, it will kill them all.



There are reports (though I’ve never seen one personally) of trilliums with 4 or even more, petals.

So much for the trilliums.  Now, who’s the earliest Ontario Spring wildflower ?  Well, we have pasqueflowers which literally push their way through snow in our gardens, but we’ve never seen one in the wilds of Ontario.  They tend to be more Western (the provincial flower of Manitoba).  The wife and I searched through years of written and photographic data to answer the question.  It appears the wildflower winner is :

Then the wife remembers her favourite critters in the whole wide World.  “What about those Wood Frogs we heard last Spring ?” she asked. “I think they were before any wildflowers”.  She looooves her amphibians.  So we check and, yes, we heard and saw Wood Frogs before we saw any wildflowers.  However … Wood Frogs, like the maple tree, waffle on their commitment, in my opinion.  Wood Frogs will freeze overnight or even for a few days again, if the temperature drops sufficiently.  For this reason, I’m expulsing Wood Frogs from the competition for insufficient dedication to the cause.

So it comes down to a fourway tie for the title.  Hepatica (nobilis), Wild Ginger, Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana), and Bloodroot.  Poor old Wild Ginger isn’t much to look at, particularly in comparison to the other three.  Though appropriately named, we’ve never seen patches of Spring Beauty of any particular size and Bloodroot, is still a white flower only.  After a long, hard, cold winter, I wanna see color damnit ! We have seen large patches of Hepatica.  We make a yearly migration of our own, to Seymour Conservation Area to view the forest floor carpeted with Hepatica.  Creamy white through purple to deep blue petals, some with brilliant yellow anthers await the walker in late April – early May.




So I guess I’m casting my vote for Hepaticas.  Any arguments/suggestions/better ideas, will be summarily ignored.  Naww, I’m just kidding.  If you wanna get vocal about it, feel free to comment.  However, you might wanna read the last paragraph of the previous posting titled Walk Definitions to get a clue as to who would likely win a pissing match.


ADDENDUM/CORRECTION – April 12 2015 – The wife and I saw coltsfoot in bloom today, long before anything else.  I’d forgotten about them.  So, I guess coltsfoot it is.  I stand corrected.


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