The Forest in Spring: Breaking Dormancy, Shadbush and Marsh Marigold


Spring is a time of resurgence as the outdoors seemingly wakes from the long slumber of winter. Warming temperatures and lengthening days signal plants to begin the process of breaking dormancy. Most plants rely more heavily on day length to signal the break of dormancy but temperature often also plays a role. One of the first steps in the process is the swelling of both leaf and flower buds. As spring approaches sugars that were stored in the plant begin to move, water is once again taken in which leads to the swelling of buds. Within these buds there are tiny embryonic cells that begin to divide and form the new leaf, stem or flower specific to that part of the plant. After a certain amount of time these buds swell to the point of bursting at which point the new leaf stem of flower emerges from the bud. This is known as bud break.

As you walk around the Forest this spring take the time to notice and appreciate some of our early spring bloomers. One of the earliest and most welcome of these are the Shadbushes (Amelanchior arborea and Amelanchior canadensis) also known as Serviceberry and Juneberry. These small understory trees bloom mid-April with relatively ornate white flowers. This common tree can be found spread out along most of our trails. The berries of this tree are described as tasting similar to blueberries and an abundance of recipes can be found online.

Another early spring flower is the Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris). This small yellow flower blooms in late-March to mid-April in wet swampy areas, as the name implies. This perennial plant has been used medicinally for many years. It must be properly prepared as it can be poisonous when not properly cooked. When used properly it can: reduce pain, swelling and inflammation, induce sweating, vomiting and coughing and when used topically increases circulation to the skin (causing redness of the skin). However, even if not needed for medicine, it is certainly a lovely spring flower that one can enjoy on a spring hike through the Forest.