Plants


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Summer azure nectaring flower.
Summersweet going to seed.

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One of Little Crum Creek’s native spring ephemerals, a colony of Mayapple
survives the smother of English Ivy to flower and start
some berries full of seeds for summer ripening.

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Around mid-March, hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsute) started showing lilliputian blooms in the lawns and borders of Little Crum Creek,

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multiplying, through April, long capsules of seed above its leafy rosette,

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so that, by May, it’s ripening fruit might be ready to burst and launch a hundred-fold patter of seeds at the slightest brush of a stepping foot.

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Last summer uncovered a colony of leaves all in mottle like trout that swim.
But not a flower stood among them.

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Fortunately, some weeks earlier on a nearby stroll, a friend
had introduced me to the blooming trout lily.

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We’re now prepared to meet the flowers of Little Crum Creek that, save this brief and delicate week in April, are either a long time coming or a long time gone.

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And knowing what to expect, both this spring and next,
from opening come morning till closing toward night,
we can all visit while they last.

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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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By Ridley Park Lake, the blue-green spread of Persian speedwell is a colorful complement to the stands of purple deadnettle.

But, being just a third of an inch wide, these floral specks might hardly register with a casual passer-by.

They rather reward the vantage of, say, a robin feeding in grass.

And this better perspective might help explain another common name for the Eurasian species:  birdeye (or bird’s-eye) speedwell.

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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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[Click an image for clarity.]

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.]

Steadily a cold season moon waxes toward full,

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nightly climbing a bare-limbed horizon,

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when suddenly a red maple, lashed with fresh flowers,

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signals spring’s arrival upon winter’s final round.

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