John Bartram introduced Europe’s most widely spread maple tree to Philadelphia in the 1750s, and it’s probably best known for some seasonal features.

In summer, the Norway maple casts a deep leafy shade on the ground.

And kids like to peel open its ripening green samaras, pasting the sticky sides to their noses.

In late fall, the tree’s foliage is brilliant yellow.

And its browning seed pods helicopter down in copious amounts, seeming to fill every surrounding inch and crack of ground.

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Now, in spring, with so many other trees in bloom, it can be easy to overlook the Norway maple’s green inflorescence.

Fortunately a gray squirrel happens along, nibbles off a twig, and lets it fall to the ground.

Then we get a better look at the clustered flowers, resting on the tree’s surfacing roots, amid the refuse of prior seasons.

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For a time, before spring’s first mowing, a mass of purple deadnettle dominates a slope by Ridley Park Lake.

Like the ground ivy growing nearby, it is a member of the mint family from Europe and Asia. 

But unlike the low-lying creeper, purple deadnettle’s free-standing habit and flowers can’t escape the approaching mower’s blades.

Just a week since these pictures, they’re already gone. 

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This continuing catalogue of life along Little Crum Creek seems increasingly filled with introduced species.

So, inspired by a Spring Ephemerals Walk with Marcia Tate and the neighboring Friends of Glen Providence Park, I set out to find some native flowers close to home.

As yet hard-pressed to find the bloodroot, mayapple, or trout lily lately blooming in Ridley Creek State Park and the nearby Crum Woods, I have finally found something native.

Clinging to a fringe of space between the ground ivy and grass, spring beauty blooms downstream along Ridley Park Lake.

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Since these shots, spring beauty has caught my eye at a few spots upstream, including our usual view of the creek, and on several neighborhood lawns.

Here along our usually shady confines, Glechoma hederacea must compete with more aggressive plants like English ivy. 

So it flowers with the kind of charming modesty that inspires a name like  “hedgemaids.”

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But downstream of our usual vantage, Little Crum Creek opens onto a 20-acre lake created when the borough of Ridley Park was founded in the 1870s.

Surrounding the lake, an extensive lawn provides the little European species ample room to flourish.

And the plant’s aggressive spread might suggest its more common (though decidedly less florid) name of “ground ivy.”

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But stooping for a whiff of minty-scented leaves sent from creeping stems might also put us in mind of more colorful names like “creeping Charlie.” 

And from the French guiller, meaning “to ferment,” the plant’s herbal use  in flavoring beer is specifically reflected in “Gill-over-the-ground.”

Surely the plant’s useful beauty, weedy though it be, helps explain its spread by settlers across North America.

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[Images are sharper when clicked.]

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Suddenly spring overwhelms the senses with a conviction that winter is past.

Even the flurry of sycamore trees floating feathery seeds down on mounds of blooming snowdrops seems a distant memory.  

The seeds have all fallen.  And those snowy white flowers have been wholly succeeded by brilliant suns of lesser celandine lighting the streamside from their blanketing habit of green.
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Now the ground is drizzled with darkened drops of a red maple’s fallen flowers.

The crabapple tree shows its first young leaves.

And the twisted boxelder once again suspends its tasseling flowers over the rocky stream.
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Up on the banks, by the quickly filling, but not yet blooming, tangle of multiflora rose, where the recently woken woodchuck feeds each morning, modest hedgemaids, long awaited and soon gone, inch up to the world their hidden floral adornments.

Washing over it all in a moment is the sound of what seem to be splashing creek chubs.  

Racing into the shallow riffles, wriggling out of water upon the dry sides of rocks, and scattering banded schools of smaller minnows,  they make hasty wakes up and down the way.
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A sympathetic viewer is easily smitten … overwhelmed, even … by so much to witness at the start of a third spring sharing some Little Crum Creek.

Then an erratically fluttering cabbage white  instantly lifts the vision and scatters it across the slim, crowding woodland with a renewed promise of still more to come.
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In certain cultures, it might be improper to tell stories out of season.

Nature sharing can feel that way too.

But when some of the year’s last fruits hang from their branches, I can’t help but see a whole tree abloom like spring.

Culmination of our seasons, late fall’s crabapple makes even that floral expression seem present today.

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Having escaped another week’s mowing, several horse nettle bonnets, berries, & rumpled stars blossom on the perimeter of a field beside Little Crum Creek.

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Perhaps the immature fruit looks familiar.

Both horse nettles and tomatoes are part of the nightshade family. 

Unlike tomatoes, however, these much smaller fruits are poisonous and turn yellow when ripe.

Prickly & persistent, horse nettle is native to our region.

Here you can spot it where the wilding weeds meet the sunny but overlooked edge of an open space.

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