Spring Wildflower and Wildlife Watch

Despite the current climate of uncertainty, spring is swiftly sweeping through the Hudson Valley! The crocuses are opening, the yellow daffodil coronas are brightly popping up, and the woods and fields are alive, bringing with it much hope and excitement. Here are a few plants and wildlife springing into action this week to keep your eyes out for when exploring outside.

Amphibians: The frogs are back! Ponds, wetlands, and vernal pools are alive with the sound of the frogs, an inspiring chorus and spring welcoming committee. Salamanders have been active too, heading down from the upland woods to the low wet spring pools to breed. On damp, rainy evenings, we’re still expecting some more “Big Night” action as amphibians continue to migrate. These critters may also have to cross roads, so be alert and don’t drive too much on the rainy warm evenings. If you’d like the get involved to help with the Amphibian Migration and Road Crossings, you still can! New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has training videos and ways to participate and document these migrations on their website, click here to learn more!

Skunk Cabbages: These ethereal wetland lovers are what some might call a “harbinger of spring”—one of our first signs of the shift out of winter. One of the skunk cabbage’s most unusual characteristics is its ability to generate heat, a process called thermogenesis, often melting away snow and ice to emerge. The hood-like feature that we see twisting out of the mud in all manner of amazing purple-yellow patterns is a floral feature called a spathe, which encloses the flower. You may also notice a little ball of many tiny blossoms clustered together on a fleshy round structure, this part is called the spadix. Look inside right now and you’ll see the stamen have emerged and are producing lots of bright yellow pollen dust, which collects at the bottom of the spathes base. Skunk cabbage gets its name from its smell—a strong sour skunky scent when stepped on or crushed. The leaves emerge after the flower and grow big, bright green, and to an enormous size.

Red Maples: The red maple trees are starting to bloom everywhere right now and what a sight they are! These opposite-branched trees have beautiful round red buds in winter, which open into bright red flowers quite early in the spring season. Look for them in the forest’s silhouette against the blue sky these days or tumbling to the ground around the base of trees. These flowers are one of the honeybees and native bees first nectar sources in our region!

Garlic Mustard: This notorious invasive plant is up and ready for action again. Garlic Mustard leaves are some of the first to emerge, bright and almost silvery green, with many small lobes forming a little heart-shape. When crushed they have a strong smell of spicy garlic or horseradish and they are actually an excellent edible wild spring green! While the leaves are small and the flowers haven’t bloomed, it’s a good time to gather them with vigor for salads or pestos and just pull them up to remove them from your native plant or vegetable garden. These guys can take over quickly! Please remember there is no foraging allowed at our Public Conservation Areas. For a little more in-depth details of identifying and manually pulling Garlic Mustard, see this article.