Spring can be drab and lifeless in the woods when it first arrives, often accompanied by snow hiccups. But at least it arrives — and, with it, the promise of better things to come outdoors.
Yes, April can be a brown, dirty month in the beginning, but it’s promising by the end. Snowmelt leaves the sludge of winter behind, but the month’s showers and warming temperatures does much for the forest landscape. That old adage, “April showers bring May flowers,” is very true — and you could add morel mushrooms to the month’s bounty.
I’ve enjoyed hunting those elusive fungi for all 40 springs that I’ve lived up here, but this isn’t a column about hunting morels. It’s about some of my favorite area trails where you can count on seeing emerging spring wildflowers over the next couple of months. And, if so inclined, you might keep your eyes open for a pockmarked, hooded mushroom. I have also occasionally found a few morels along the trails.
After a long cold winter people are looking forward to spring’s longer days, warmer weather and spring flowers that seem to sprout overnight along trails and throughout the forest. Bunches of flowers also scatter throughout fields, stretching up hillsides. I love the striking, haphazard appeal of natural beauty. Sometimes the whole forest floor is covered with flowers, but it’s a phenomenon that lasts for only a few weeks. By summer they are mostly gone.
Most people are familiar with the showy trillium, the signature wildflower of our northern woodlands. Other spring ephemerals are also easy to spot when you take the time to look for a little color. Blue phlox and violets, red columbine, yellow trout lilies and bellwort, and delicate pink spring beauties are easily recognized by their bright shades. Two of my favorite white wildflowers are Dutchman’s breeches and squirrel corn, because of their whimsical shapes, much like upside down breeches.
Northern Michigan’s native orchards — pink, yellow and showy lady’s slippers — are woodland standouts. Two places you have a good chance of spotting them are the Leelanau Conservancy’s Houdek Dunes and the Grass River Natural Area in Bellaire. Look in late spring just before summer starts for these beauties.
Nature is jumping back to life. The ground has thawed and signs of spring are starting to emerge. Flowers will soon be poking up and blossoming. Dust off those hiking boots and head out on area trails for some spring hikes. The Rascals said it best in their hit song, “It’s A Beautiful Morning,” which hit the airwaves over 50 years ago. “Just take in some clean fresh air, boy. Ain’t no sense in staying inside, if the weather’s fine and you got the time.”
Here are some of my favorite spots for spring wildflower walks, in addition to the two mentioned above.
Pete’s Woods is located in Arcadia Dunes Nature Preserve, off Joyfield Road. It’s arguably one of the best wild flowerhikes in the Grand Traverse Region. Despite the hilly topography it’s not a hard hike, and it’s only a little over a mile-and-a-half long. It gives you ample time to just mosey along and be amazed at all the wildflowers you will see blanketing the hills. The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy is offering two May wildflower hikes there led by Paula Dreeszen (www.gtrlc.org/recreation-events/events).
The Whaleback Natural Area in Leelanau County rises 300 feet above Lake Michigan. On top, a three-quarter-mile loop trail and an observation deck offer picturesque views of Good Harbor Bay, Pyramid Point and the Manitou Islands. It’s a half-mile steep climb to the top. Wildflowers thrive in the micro-climate on top; trillium, Dutchman’s breeches, yellow violets, spring beauties, jack-in-the-pulpit, trout lilies and periwinkle grow in abundance. There are even wild thimbleberries, which are hardly ever found in the Lower Peninsula.
The Grand Traverse Natural Education Reserve located along the banks of the Boardman River offers several miles of trails through mixed forest, wetlands and meadows rich in plant life and wildflowers. The conservation district routinely conducts spring wildflower hikes (https://natureiscalling.org).
The Grass River Natural Area, also with abundant wild florae hosts guided wildflower hikes weekly through May and June (www.grassriver.org).