by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator
I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. I hope you enjoy!
We are just entering the early stages of summer and at Wintergreen that means our flora appears as a sea of green. We are in what I refer to as the jungle phase. It is the period between the colorful ephemerals and the wave of color provided by asters, coneflowers, and goldenrods in late summer. In this seeming monotony of green plants there are precious flowers that we need to notice. This Nine Minute Naturalist will focus on the special “jewels” that are ready to dot our vast jungle.
My favorite flower amongst the pantheon of beautiful options at Wintergreen is about to bloom and is a must find on your walks in our wilderness. That plant is Canada lily. It is amongst the most widely spread native lily growing from southern Canada to northern Alabama. This unique wildflower is found in many of the rich, moist woodland sites at Wintergreen. It grows 2-5 feet in height with an unbroken stem featuring whorls of leaves of 3-8. The stunning feature of this plant is the flower. This trumpet shaped flower is borne from the top of the plant and can feature up to 15-20 flowers per plant. The color ranges from yellow to yellowish orange to crimson red. The crimson red variety stands out stunningly amongst a sea of green and luckily enough is the dominant color of Canada lilies at Wintergreen. You can find them on the Highlands Leisure Trail as well as the more difficult Pedlars Edge Trail.
Another favorite of mine during this “jungle” phase are the Monardas. These lovely flowers are members of the mint family and thus feature square stems and a distinct smell of mint when the leaves are crushed. The two most striking varieties of Monarda found at Wintergreen are bee balm and wild bergamot. Bee balm prefers a full sun environment while wild bergamot likes a part sun/part shade setting. The ability of this plant to spread via underground stolon is evident when coming across a dense patch of this prolific plant. They are highly preferred as a nectar source by butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. The roadsides of Wintergreen Drive will feature these beauties in the coming month as will the Brimstone Trail for the more adventurous wildflower seeker.
Another plant that will offer a wonderful respite from the monotony of green is black cohosh or black snakeroot. This understory plant is found in the rich mesic soils of our shady oak-hickory forest. By late June a tall stalk emerges featuring a stalk of white, frilly flowers filling the understory with a splash of color. These tall stalks will grow eye level making them very easy to spot as you hike through the forest. They can be found on the Old Appalachian Trail or pretty much any rich shady site at Wintergreen.
Do not get lulled into thinking this portion of summer is lost to the flower lovers amongst us. These options as well as many others will add wonderful splashes of color amongst a sea of green. Unlike early May or late summer when flowers fill our landscape, these “jewels” need to be sought out amongst our green jungle.