By Robert Vogl and Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association
Introduction: We have been managing our woodland for over 30 years since we first discovered garlic mustard growing there. We had learned that many such weedy plants thrived in nutrients provided by burning fossil fuels. Our response was to promote renewable energy as an alternative and to develop a solar electric education kit which we used to teach students and their leaders about renewables.
We also approached the garlic mustard problem directly, burning in early spring and pulling all that we could find between the spring and summer semesters. The additional benefit was that, in addition to reducing the weeds which crowded out spring wildflowers, soil chemistry was improved, increasing the vigor and quality of blooms.
From a degraded woodland filled with weedy woody and herbaceous growth, the land became a beautiful site visited by those who wanted to see for themselves what woodland management could accomplish.
The woodland today: Our dutchman’s breeches patch is a fairyland – rolling hills carpeted with thousands of soft green mounds of lacy leave and stems with butterfly-shaped flowers rising above them. A tiny blue butterfly alights on one, its white underwing looking much like a flower itself, creeping upside down for a taste of nectar. When it is finished, it spreads its wings and a bright blue butterfly floats away.
Colonies of wood anemones are randomly scattered in the woodland. There are hundreds of these patches of bright white stars; when we moved here, there were three plants. This is a little piece of Earth that we have loved; it loved us in return.
Only a few toothworts, lacy leaved with four-parted hanging flowers, are still in bloom.
Patches of creeping leaves and pink spring beauty surprise the eye.
The oak buds are swelling. As they open and shade the forest floor, the spring ephemerals will fade away.
It happens every year – the spring ephemerals cover the forest floor, their leaves and flowers carpets of beauty. It’s hard to believe that they were all underground all summer, fall and winter waiting for their moment in the sun. Soon they will disappear, seeming to have melted into the soil. The parade of summer plants will follow – leaves of cinquefoil, tall lettuce and sicklepod hint at what is to come.
Some of the early spring flowers are not ephemerals, although they bloom with them. Red and white trilliums, twisted yellow bellwort and blue and yellow violets will remain green through the summer. Violets will continue to offer occasional, delightfully surprising blooms through October. Bloodroot, with their large, round, clasping leaves and strange seedpods, provide evidence that these very early plants with pure white, square blossoms and just as pure gold stamens have already bloomed. Hepaticas with their leathery three lobed leaves have also had their day, their shy pink, blue and white blossoms hanging above furry leaf buds.
Soon, scattered jacob’s ladder and oceans of solomon’s seal will be spectacular.
A cardinal sounds its pure, whistle-like song. A bluebird, slightly hoarse but equally as beautiful, is also heard. In the distance, a woodpecker hammers on a dead tree, the forest reverberating with its enthusiasm. Sandhill cranes fly over a distant cornfield.
We go to the woods to fill our minds and spirits with beauty that will last through the hot days of summer and the icy blasts of winter. Early spring is magical. Spring in the woodland is sacred.