Spring in Maryland – First Wildflowers

Posted on March 10, 2008

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Frost covered the rear window of my Honda at 7:30 Monday morning in Olney. The clock in the car said 6:30 a.m. (The owner forgot to spring that clock forward to daylight saving time. He forgets every year.) Whatever time you’re on, it was early morning after a seasonally cold late-winter night. Frost on the window, temperatures below 30. Still winter!

Spring does not begin until the vernal equinox on March 20. If you thought spring started on March 21, you were right. It used to start March 21. But while I wasn’t looking, Spring advanced a day, and now is here March 20. By 2016 or so, the season will become even more impatient, and begin popping on March 19. There is a scientific explanation, but I don’t need to understand it and neither do you. I don’t think it has anything to do with global warming.

So here it is, the waning days of winter. I stop on the way to work to slip an overdue bill into the mailbox in White Oak. Glancing down, I see white dots in the grass, a lot of white dots. It’s a patch of hardy little flowers, the first wildflowers of spring in Maryland.

I look forward to the yellow forsythia to announce the end of winter and arrival of spring. It’s usually still wintry when the forsythia bloom in late March. The forsythia’s bright yellow flowers appear before its green leaves, making a bold splash of color on bleak, leafless lawns and hillsides.

You can tell the roll of the seasons in Maryland by the fast-paced march of the flowers. Each flower gets more than 15 minutes of fame, but not much more. The forsythia reigns undisputed for two or three weeks before it turns to bright green leaves and the yellow fades. But soon there are dandelions in the grass, and suddenly, dandelions everywhere. By May, myriad wildflowers are coming and going, too many to count. In June, clover takes over, white and purple, covering hillsides along every highway. By the end of June, with the heat of summer, comes the day lily, clustered around mailboxes, spreading wild and free along country roads, and mixed into domestic gardens. Mostly bright orange, the day lily hits its peak at July 4, and disappears before August.

Let the record show that the first wildflowers of 2008 appeared in my world on the wintry morning of March 10. Your observations may differ, depending on where in Maryland you live, and the sharpness of your eyes. Maryland is big enough, and the temperatures and terrain varied enough, that flowers can be seen around the state at slightly different times. Forsythia, for instance, can be at full glory in Chevy Chase when it is only beginning to bloom in Glen Burnie, and still dormant in Timonium. There’s a difference of a week or more between tropical Charles County in the south and chilly Carroll County in the north.

After work, at 5:45 p.m., I take advantage of the daylight-saving-time sunlight and return for another look at my patch of tiny white dots. The flowers appear to be groups of tiny round pedals, four or five or six together at the end of a green-and-purple stem, no more than an inch and a half high. I need my field guide to flowers, rocks and birds! To my untrained eye, these flowers look like baby clover.

Mixed among the white dots are smaller, delicate blue flowers, blooming on a vine clinging to the ground. They are too small to see standing up. I have to be on hands and knees, my eyes a foot from the ground, to spot them. Were these blue flowers here this morning? Did they appear during the day?

This is the dawn of spring — daylight saving time and tiny wildflowers — at the chill end of winter. New signs of the season will bloom and fade nearly every day now. — Bernie Hayden

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Posted in: Maryland, Nature