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.
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.).
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!
One of my favorites is Jack-in-the-pulpit.
Three violet species can be found along the beginning of Ampersand’s trail.
If you have ever bushwhacked in the Adirondacks, you will know exactly how Hobblebush got its name!
Two-leaved Toothwort was named for the tooth-like projections on the underground root.
There are three Solomon’s Seal species found along the Ampersand Trail. Here are two:
Carolina Spring Beauty is a very early wildflower that you can’t help but notice.
Goldthread got its common name from its yellow, thread-like underground roots.
Foamflower was also abundant along the trail.
Early Fly Honeysuckle has interesting flowers in axial pairs.
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!
An American Toad hopped about near the trail and a Mustard White showed interest in the Canada Violets.
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!