A walk through the enchanted woodland

Published 10:18 pm Tuesday, April 10, 2018

By Biff and Susan Andrews

We love to walk at Lone Star Lakes, because it offers a wide variety of options for our interests. There are beautiful lake vistas to enjoy. You can walk on the road or on trails through the woods, over hills that meander along the water’s edge. It’s got it all: shady walks, sunny fields of wild flowers, a walking trail through a maze of young sycamore trees, equestrian trails and even an archery course.

Now is a great time for a walk if you want to see some spring ephemerals. A spring ephemeral is a plant that emerges in early spring and completes its growing cycle by the time the leaves on the trees are completely out. One of our early spring plant favorites at Lone Star is the May Apple (Podophyllum peltatum).

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We have been watching for the May Apples to emerge on recent visits to Lone Star for the last few weeks, and now they are out in force. The path that meanders through the archery range and down to the “lake of the woods” behind the range is an enchanted garden of little plants that look like brilliant emerald green umbrellas emerging from the rich woodland soil. Just a caution — there are times when the archery club has events or there are folks doing target practice, so check the signs for dates and times at the range or Google the Kingsboro Bowmen event schedule just to make sure the coast is clear for your visit. You might even get interested in taking up archery.

The early spring sunlight makes these unusual plants sparkle and shine in the otherwise densely wooded landscape. It makes you think of Sherwood Forest. May Apple plants cover the ground in all directions, interrupted only by the unfurling heads of the lacy ferns that will take their place when the trees are fully leafed out and the May Apples are finished for the year. Breathtaking!

What’s more exciting is that they will soon be in bloom. These are interesting plants for a number of reasons. They only have one bloom per plant. Plants with one umbrella have no flower. Plants with two umbrellas have one flower but no more. Then that one flower produces a cream-colored oval fruit, the apple.

Another reason they are interesting is that they don’t have or need a pollinator — or if they do, no one seems to know what it is. Some research suggests they self-pollinate. They regenerate from their seeds and by the corms that grow under the ground that basically make clones of the same plant, forming a monoculture. So unlike the other flowering plants that boldly reach up for the bugs and bees, the shy and dainty single white flower of the May Apple is located under the umbrella leaves facing down.

Lastly, everything about the plant is poisonous except for the ripe fruit. Tricky there — the fruit is poisonous when green, and the seeds of the fruit are toxic either way. The taste of the fruit is described by the experts as being very sour or bitter. It is sometimes called “wild lemon” for that reason and can be used to make jelly.  Don’t even think about it if you are not an expert in the wild foods department. You’ve got better things to eat that are a lot easier to deal with and taste way better.

We were lucky enough to visit this enchanted woodland path with two little girls whose imaginations were filled with fairies and gnomes, shooting arrows and other spring ephemera of the mystical woodland sort as they walked and talked and peeked under the umbrellas, where they found a broken fletch (that’s the feather part of an arrow), and were later thrilled to find three enchanting Suffolk rocks later at the playground. Wonder who put them there?

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.