You know how you can walk past something again and again and not notice it or what it is, but when you do you feel like a dope? I had that experience recently when I hit part of the Ice Age trail in search of a particular wildflower I knew was there, but ended up being bowled over by one that I didn’t.
Well kind of. Sure, I noticed its bright green, feathery leaves and thought them beautiful. The problem was when I noticed the flowers were long gone. Check out what it was –
I’ve long known about these guys and how they’re supposed to be so common, but I’d never seen them before. They were right under my nose the whole time, I just didn’t recognize them without their pants on. Once I did though, I spent a lot of time looking and photographing them. Here’s what they look like when they’re young –
As you probably can tell, they are in the same family as bleeding hearts. My guidebook tells me they are only pollinated by bumblebees since they are the only ones to have a proboscis long enough to get in there. I saw plenty of girls on them, but wasn’t lucky enough to capture one at work. Al Mullen was though –
Isn’t she great?? Early spring wildflowers are so important to bees emerging from hibernation like the bumblebee. They do not store food for the winter and so finding it quickly and in abundance is key to their survival. In return, they specialize in certain flowers and are key to that species proliferation as well. Wonderful how that works, huh?
Something else that works is black and white for these flowers. Check it out!
The tonal range here just nails a black and white. The texture, too, adds a richness that I think is needed in a monochrome photo.
Wisconsin winters certainly seem longer and bleaker than NH winters. When things turn it seems so slowly that I think I know for the first time what spring fever is. Being cooped up with hardly any color or seeming life around can get on me a little even though I do enjoy winter quite a bit. Spring though. There’s nothing like it. And of course the flowers.
Round-lobed hepatica starts us off!
These are both shots from the yard. I used to have to drive 45 minutes to find these little lovelies, but not I just walk outside. They’re everywhere, but I love them still and marvel at their proliferation and toughness.
Sometimes the choice to go to black and white isn’t obvious. With this next picture I was playing with a moonlight simulation in Lightroom for a while, but it kept getting paler and paler until I finally knocked all the color back. I like the mix of detail and blur, the solidity of the stems and the muted exuberance of the flowers themselves.
Bloodroot is another flower I used to travel all over to find and now just have to step outside to see. My yard and the surrounding area is covered with them. They’re hard to shoot, but I keep trying. Those leaves are just so wonderful that when the light catches them just right, they become the focus, not the about to bloom flower.
Of course, finding wonder and joy in my own backyard isn’t new. I used to do it in New Hampshire all the time even though my yard was much smaller. Curiosity is the key to staying engaged in photography even though your horizons may be limited, either by the weather, time, physical ability or whatever. As long as you can keep your sense of wonder intact, subjects for your sensor will keep appearing and, more importantly, keep appealing.
We get a lot of rain up this way and so when I found some collected between the leaves of as of yet still unknown flower, I got right down on it and just look at what I found –
A reflection of the trees above and yes, my camera. It was fascinating to me and I’m glad I slowed down to explore my yard in more detail. I ducked out of the frame and so now it looks like some alien probe from Star Wars checking out what’s down there.
So that’s my first wildflower post of 2017. There will be more. As of this writing I’ve found a spot that was literally carpeted in spring ephemerals and I shot some flowers I’ve never photographed before. I’m also planning a trip to Door County in June to visit a wildflower preserve so that should be really fun. Stay tuned!
My ongoing fascination with Indian pipe continues. This first one I almost didn’t see, being hot and sweaty with bug spray running into my eyes, I just wanted a blast of air conditioning in the car. But I went down a little side trail and on the way back, this little beauty appeared.
Background is key to good wildflower photography and so with some careful tripod placement I was able to get the distracting highlights out of the frame. When I shoot Indian pipe, I expose for the highlights, just barely clipping some whites at times, but managing that in Lightroom is key also. Preserving detail, but keeping the bright white takes a little finagling, but it can be done.
Here’s another with a background of green; this time a lovely mossy log. I’d have liked a better angle on the log itself, but that would have meant that some flowers would be sharp while others would be blurry. Lining up the angles is sometimes hard, but I do try. In this case the sensor is so much smaller than the scene and it wasn’t too difficult. A couple of checks in the LCD screen and some tripod shifting and I had the focus I wanted. When the sunlight hit I had a shot I love.
In northern Wisconsin we still get frost and freezing overnight temps well into May. What’s a demure beauty to do? Get tough. Spring beauty is one of the most hardy wildflowers we have and though it’s quite small and looks fragile, it survives almost anything Mother Nature can throw at it.
In addition to frigid temperatures, spring beauty can, and does, flourish in nutrient-depleted areas like housing developments and deforested areas like farms. It’s pretty undemanding.
Here in the yard though, there’s no skimping on soil nutrients, they grow in the lawn as well as in the woods where they have to push up through some very deep leaf litter.
They’re still blooming and I think I’ll have to go pick some because in addition to being adorable, they’re edible! The roots are actually tuberous, like potatoes, and it’s said they taste very similar, albeit sweeter and kind of chestnut-y so far as I could tell from info online. They can be eaten raw or cooked so I’ll have to get out there and get some while they’re at the peak of ripeness.
Taken together, early spring wildflowers are often called ephemerals. This refers to their short life cycles, but strictly speaking means flowers that die back completely leaving no trace of their presence above ground. It’s a trait that allows them to be very successful, emerging after the most harsh winters, before bud break when the trees hog most of the sunlight.
Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) is a true ephemeral; its leaves quickly break down and disappear after the flowers wither. It is the leaves that give this flower its common name; the mottling resembles the fish.
Like many early widlflowers, trout lily closes completely when it’s cold, overcast or rainy. As an evolutionary strategy I think it works. Flowers that lose petals to wind and weather stand a lower chance of being pollinated versus those that keep their petals. Flower structures and petals help guide pollinators to them.
Pollination is especially important to trout lily because so few of the pollinated flowers actually seed – approximately 10% only which is a pretty small percentage. To make matters worse, it takes 7 years for the flowers to mature and none bloom during that time. Despite those odds, some botanists believe that large, undisturbed groves of trout lily to be 300 years old.
Pretty amazing for a ubiquitous little wildflower that hardly shows its face for more than a few weeks a year.
When I lived in NH I could spend a lot of time out in my yard photographing all kinds of small things. I had barely 1/4 of an acre or something and it was pretty anemic being basically a giant sand pile. But for a person like me who can see beauty in just about anything, it was adequate. Now I live in Wisconsin I have a bigger yard plus many vacant lots nearby and so the camera fodder is exponentially expanded. I could get lost out there for hours at a time and the other day I did just that when the hepatica first started blooming.
In NH I had to drive about 45 minutes to reach a location with these flowers and did so because of their delicate beauty. Now I just have to walk outside. Funny.
Their presentation is a bit different than where I used to shoot them. The leaf litter here is really, really deep because we only have deciduous trees in our yard (the conifers were harvested over a decade ago by the original land owner). This means very few of the plants have a lot of leaves and most of them are buried. So it was a challenge to find them at first, but boy, they are everywhere.
I went out when the sun was still low and I love the different aspects it produces, like this backlit group that I converted to black and white. It really picks up the fuzzy stems which I love. With a bit of cloud cover, the light softened a bit and for this really big group next to my driveway, it was a perfect way to emphasize their soft beauty. They’re kind of an ethereal flower; nothing at all aggressive or bold about them.
They open with the sun and on cloudy days most remain closed, which I have photographed before and had great results, but on this day it was sun, sun, sun.
Yes, they really are that color. Intense, slightly bluish purple; the deepest shade I’ve ever seen. From what I’ve observed, the purple ones are closer to the water than the white ones. I have no idea if that is random or not, but it seems to be consistent. I went across the street (away from the water) and there were no purples, only white.
I did my best to isolate some of the blossoms against the backdrop of last year’s leaves. I just love how it makes them really pop. Not all of them are purple or white, we have this lovely group of pink ones just next to the lawn. I only spotted one other plant with pink flowers. Puzzling.
All were shot with the legacy Olympus 90mm macro at f8 or wider.
They’re still blooming and so there will be more shots coming, but the bloodroot is also coming into season and so are the trout lily, of which we have thousands in the yard. Behind them, trillium in equal numbers. It’s going to be a busy spring!
Back when I lived in NH, I could and did spend hours in my yard photographing tiny things of beauty. It was barely 1/2 an acre of sand and weeds (for the most part), but it kept me occupied and occasionally intrigued. Now I’m in the northwoods of Wisconsin on a bit more land and I have a feeling I could be spending a lot of time finding more of the same. Way more.
So what are we dealing with? An acre and a half of hardwood forest with 150 feet of waterfront (we’re looking into buying the lot next door which will bring the total to about 3 acres). Here’s the big picture –
That’s a view of the dock with a slice of the backyard and the house. I was in the kayak, I didn’t wade out there. It’s probably far over my head anyway. They say the flowage is 20 feet or so at its deepest point.
This is what we like to do best! Beverages on the dock when the water and winds are calm. It doesn’t happen too often; it’s pretty windy through here and the water is often choppy and full of life. Luckily it’s mostly a southern wind, which would be coming from the right in the picture, downstream.
Here’s a view from my chair across the river to Billy’s house –
So that’s some of the big picture, but there’s always a small one for me. The unseen and ignored. Like this liverwort and the sporophytes it makes, like little palm trees.
And then there’s the flowers. Wildflower central. In May the wooded part of the yard (which is most of it) is awash in trillium which comes after the masses of bloodroot bloom. I’ve seen catnip, daisies, tiny pink ones that I don’t know what they are, indian paint brush, spotted touch me not, heal-all, evening lychnis, water hemlock, spring beauty and various kinds of aster, like this rattlesnake root –
And to my utter delight, my favorite, indian pipe –
And of course mushrooms. The yard is loaded with them as are most of the nearby forests (warning, warning, many mushroom photos soon to come).
Being so remote, we have a lot more wildlife than is present in southern NH. I’m not a wildlife photographer, but I may have to become one. We’ve got a loon that lives very close by and that I see or hear almost daily, bald eagles, too. Waterbirds nest in a nearby inlet that is quiet and host to a resident great horned owl that I’ve scared twice now while paddling (previous post). One time a ruffed grouse and I eyeballed each other from mere feet away when I was in the kayak – so different from the other times where we scared each other to death in the woods; me by making one explode out of the undergrowth with furious wing-beats. I had the privilege of watching a family of pileated woodpeckers dining on some stumps and logs right next to my driveway. There are frogs and toads galore and we even have a resident gray tree frog like we did in NH. I hear it singing frequently from the gutter on the roof and others respond back. Oh and then there are the spiders –
That big momma is a fishing spider and she lives on our dock with a few sisters, each 3 to 3 1/2 inches including those marvelous legs. They’re nursery web weavers and that’s what she’s done here; woven a protective net for her hundreds of babies. They’re between the metal frame and the wooden dock segments themselves. I’m the only woman in the world that would be happy about this, I think. And of course there are other kinds and my spider ID book rarely stays put.
So my adventure begins in my own backyard once again.
It is wonderful, but posting is going to be a problem. I have really terrible internet here at home. There is no cable or any other high speed connectivity and so a cellular connection with 20gb per month is all we have. Not nearly enough to upload high res photos like I’ve always done. So I need to go to the library and use the wifi there and that will only be once a week or even less. If you tap into any of my online galleries like Flickr or Smugmug, it will be a big batch load instead of a trickle of a few photos per day. Just the way it is. I think I’ll go down to the dock and cry about it. ; )