Tiny May flowers

Tue, 05/01/2012 - 2:50pm

There are many signs that herald the arrival of spring. One of the most noted is the sudden bursting forth of flowers in May. Blooming shrubs and trees such as shad, apple, azalea, beach plum, or horse chestnut immediately come to mind. Perhaps it will be the brilliance of dandelion, hawkweed, buttercup, or blue flag irises that dazzle your mind’s eye when you think of spring’s early flowers. Yes, ebullient blossoms all, but look more closely as you walk afield for the less flamboyant but equally stunning fleurs.

Violets, blue-eyed grass, carrion-flower, swamp-maple or highbush blueberry are among May’s diminutive yet amazingly beautiful flowers. All island natives, this sample bouquet is comprised of members of the violet, iris, lily, maple, and heath families. As native* plants (species known to have been present prior to European colonization in the 15th century) it is a thrill to know that these species have resided here as part of this island ecosystem for centuries. To help with perspective, consider the following: these species existed on Block Island for hundreds of years before they were named, drawn or placed on an evolutionary chart by Carlous Linnaeus (1707-1778), John J. Audubon (1785-1851) or Charles Darwin (1809-1882)!

Birdfoot violets (Viola pedata) are blooming now. Look for their three/quarter-inch, bluish-purple blossoms along dry paths and fields.

Blue-eyed grass* (Sisyrinchium), a tiny iris with eighth-inch flowers, will start blooming in early May and will persist in damp open spots throughout the summer.

Carrion-flower* (Smilax herbacea), sometimes called Jacob’s Ladder, grows as a tall, arching plant with tendrils and an umbel (ball-like cluster) of small, greenish flowers. Look for this putrid smelling, non-lily-like plant in late May at the sunny edges of thickets, where it can drape over and cling to an armature of other plants.

The eighth-inch red flowers of the swamp-maple tree (Acer rubrum) are individually inconspicuous, but can be observed all over the island now as rich burgundy domes perched over an understory of grey-barked bayberry and other shrubs.

Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a strikingly beautiful shrub that grows along the edges of damp and boggy areas. This plant is in full bloom by May 1; however one is likely to notice its twisty trunk and branches before appreciating that it is covered in a halo or quarter-to-half- inch creamy white urn-shaped blossoms.

Although there are several late winter and early spring flowering plants to be observed on Block Island, it is the flowers of May that take the major roll as parade marshal stepping us off along a familiar seasonal route of consecutively reappearing blossoms. Each week between May and October, returning friends and new acquaintances will return to our dooryards, fields, paths and roadways. Remember to look for the subtle and the diminutive — orchids perhaps — while cheering at the sight of the showy and robust — hibiscus for example.

The following events and Ocean View Foundation programs will provide opportunities to experience the greatness of nature’s minuteness.

May 1 & 15, at 8 a.m.: Crazy-as-a-Coot Bird Walk, call 595-7055 for location;

May 4: Dessert Pot Luck & Film. 7 p.m. at the Island Library, showing Bag It;

May 13 at 11:15 a.m.: 13th Annual Earth Mother’s Day & Pavilion Celebration;

May 13 – 20: peak spring bird migration;

May 20: New Violet Moon; solar eclipse — not visible on the east coast.

* Go to the Ocean View Foundation Facebook page to learn more about Block Island native and naturalized plants, and to see photographs of carrion-flower and blue-eyed grass.