I have taken a particular path through our woods numerous times over the last 10 years. One day last year in early spring, I noticed that a pair of orchid leaves had emerged. I quickly placed a makeshift wire cage over the plant to keep deer from chomping on it. We were later graced by the flower of a pink lady’s slipper.
I can’t explain why after all these years the plant should miraculously appear. I am hoping that it will again bloom this spring.
Similarly, an area under an old apple tree, one spring, produced some morel (morchella sp.) mushrooms. Like the first find, morels are native to our area. They are somewhat unusual in that they will form a symbiotic relationship with tree roots for part of their life cycle and live as a saprophyte (getting nourishment from decaying matter) during another part of their life cycle.
Cool weather that follows spring rains is conducive for their growth. As the saying goes, “Look for morels when oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear.” This mushroom has a distinctive cone-shaped, sponge-like cap and hollow interior, although there is a similar-looking mushroom that is not hollow.
Weeding one day in our front yard I came across another fungus. Dark brown woody growths were protruding from the fallen leaves that had blown into the planting bed. A search through some references revealed that this fungus is known as Dead Man’s Fingers (xylaria polymorpha). Clumps of these 4-inch long fungal growths are an interesting find.
Another spring native that can be found in wooded areas are the wild onions known as ramps (allium tricoccum). They are common in our moist Appalachian woods. Ramps grow from a perennial bulb. The leaves will have died back before the small white flowers appear. Round black seeds will be produced later in the summer. Seeds may take six to 18 months to germinate, and plants need up to seven years before they reach any size.
Blue-eyed grass (sisyrinchium angustifolium) has just started to poke up through the soil surface. It is native to the eastern part of the U.S. This member of the iris family has narrow grass-like leaves and pale blue flowers with six petals that will bloom later in the spring.
Clumps grow over time and will reach about 12 inches in height. Mine are planted at the edge of my patio where they will not get overcrowded by other plants. As with other members of the iris family, these are deer proof.
Donna Gates is a retired lab technician for the University of Maryland whose work focused on the identification of stream invertebrates. Her current gardening interests are centered around her rural Garrett County home.