Early May Wildflowers: A Kaleidoscope of Color

From Snow to Blooms!

Each year, after a long Adirondack winter, it seems as if we finally say goodbye to snow and miraculously, there are suddenly wildflowers blooming everywhere! Coltsfoot, often mistaken for Dandelions, is one of the earliest spring wildflowers to bloom in the Adirondacks.


Bluets is another early wildflower that grows in large clusters.


On hikes, I begin to observe the psychedelic-patterned leaves of Trout Lilies sprouting from the cold ground. Eventually, the down-facing yellow flower emerges from those wild patterned leaves. The name “Trout Lily” comes from the plant’s mottled leaves, which look like the markings on Brook Trout.

Trout Lily along Ampersand Mountain Trail

Trout Lily along Ampersand Mountain Trail

Old Growth and Wildflowers

The first couple weeks of May are thrilling for wildflower enthusiasts. A great trail for observing wildflowers is the Ampersand Mountain trail along Route 3 west of Saranac Lake. You do not need to climb the peak, but simply hike the first half mile of mostly level trail. The Ampersand Mountain trail is known for its old growth hemlock and northern hardwoods (beech, maple, birch, etc.).

Ampersand Mountain sign

Old growth along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Old growth forests are important for wildflowers. They contain centuries of decayed organic matter which accumulates from fallen trees, leaves, and plants. This matter provides the deep, rich soil conditions needed for wildflowers to grow.

Old growth along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Old growth along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

In forests where the soil has been undisturbed, a diverse collection of wildflowers appear each spring. These flowers bloom only briefly and wither by midsummer, endearing them with the term, “spring ephemerals.”

Old growth along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Old growth along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Limited disturbance also aids the slow growing ephemerals like trillium and Trout Lilies. They can take up to half a decade to reach flowering maturity and many decades more to form large colonies.

Old growth along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Old growth along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

It is hard not to be awe-struck when you take in the sights and smells of an old growth forest. It is a precious ecosystem borne of time, patience, and good-fortune.

Brook along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Ampersand’s Wildflowers

A hike along the beginning of Ampersand Mountain’s trail in mid-May will offer you the chance to see over twenty species of early wildflowers. I recently hiked the trail and photographed many of them. It is a popular trail for mountain climbers and has a lot of foot traffic at this time of year. I spent much of my time on the ground taking photos.   Reactions from hikers are always interesting. Some hikers look away and I imagine they think I must be crazy! Others ask what I am doing and seem interested. The wildflowers and plants are fragile and it makes you realize how important it is to stay on the trail – particularly on mountain summits where the flora can be extremely rare.

Painted and Purple Trillium are early wildflowers and many people’s favorites!

Purple Trillium along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Painted Trillium along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

One of my favorites is Jack-in-the-pulpit.

Jack-in-the-pulpit along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Three violet species can be found along the beginning of Ampersand’s trail.

Marsh Blue Violet along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Yellow Violet along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Canada Violet along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

If you have ever bushwhacked in the Adirondacks, you will know exactly how Hobblebush got its name!

Hobblebush along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Two-leaved Toothwort was named for the tooth-like projections on the underground root.

Two-leaved Toothwort along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

There are three Solomon’s Seal species found along the Ampersand Trail.  Here are two:

Smooth Solomon's Seal along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

False Solomon's Seal along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Carolina Spring Beauty is a very early wildflower that you can’t help but notice.

Carolina Spring Beauty along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Goldthread got its common name from its yellow, thread-like underground roots.

Goldthread along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Foamflower was also abundant along the trail.

Foamflower along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Early Fly Honeysuckle has interesting flowers in axial pairs.

Early Fly Honeysuckle along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Some of the other wildflowers such as Wild Sarsaparilla, Canada Mayflower, Starflower, and Clintonia, had not yet bloomed, but they were close! Once you are familiar with their leaves, you can anticipate the flowers arriving.

And Fauna Too!

As I photographed wildflowers, newly arrived migrant bird species were singing away. A Great Crested Flycatcher called. Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireos sang. The Hermit Thrush gave its beautiful flute-like song. I listened to many warbler species including Ovenbird, Northern Parula, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler. And many more avian voices!

Blackburnian Warbler by Larry Master

An American Toad hopped about near the trail and a Mustard White showed interest in the Canada Violets.

American Toad along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

Mustard White on a Canada Violet along the Ampersand Mountain Trail

If you enjoy old growth forests and wildflowers, the first half-mile of Ampersand Mountain’s trail is a lovely place to venture! If you do visit, there are many wonderful lodging and restaurant options nearby!

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About The Author

Joan Collins is President of Adirondack Avian Expeditions & Workshops, LLC. She is President of the New York State Ornithological Association and Editor of New York Birders. Joan is Vice-President of Northern New York Audubon, past President of High Peaks Audubon Society, and past member of the Board of Directors for the Audubon Council of New York State. Joan leads birding field trips year-round, is a New York State licensed guide, an Adirondack 46er, and has climbed all the Adirondack fire tower peaks. She is a frequent guest speaker and teaches classes on ornithology topics. Joan has published several journal, magazine, and newspaper articles on wildlife and conservation topics in various publications including New York Birders, Conservationist, and The Kingbird. Joan authored several warbler species accounts, in addition to serving as a peer reviewer for The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State. Mountain Lake PBS, Adirondack Explorer, and Adirondack Life magazine have featured pieces on Joan, and her regular birding segments with Todd Moe can be heard on North Country Public Radio. Follow Joan on Facebook at: Her website can be found at:

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