Found in the Fells – April


Spring is now in full development with new life showing everywhere. More change occurs  in the Fells woods during April than one might realize. At the beginning of the month there are buds on just about every woody plant, and by month's end several will be leafing out.  Woody plants have of course a big advantage in that they don’t have to start from scratch. In fact on warm days going back to February the sap has been running, making the buds fatter, and now several species of tree will blossom this month. These are not the layman's 'flowers' with petals, but the florescence of the Red Maple and Pussy Willow, and the dangling catkins of birch and alder are quite attractive, and all in bloom in the Fells in April.


      Red Maple at Long Pond

           Red Maple in flower at Long Pond, 04-25-03.  

At ground level, stream banks are where most greenery is to be found in early April as various water-loving plants get a head-start because of the relative warmth of the water compared with the still cold ground. Look for the bright green shoots of Indian Poke, Veratrum viride, with their beautiful ribbing, and the round leaves of Marsh Marigold.

Suddenly it seems we're aware of birds everywhere with both dawn and evening chorus. The cute Nuthatch is running up and down trees and swooping from one to another; and robins will strut along the trail in front of you.

       turtles            garter snake                                                                                                Painted turtles sunning at Long Pond  4-02-06                           Garter snake     Thamnophis sirtalis    4-03-05

        photo:  Anne Hamlin


The 'quacks' from vernal pools can have you looking for ducks, but it will probably be the call of wood frogs early in the month, and by month's end many tadpoles to be seen wriggling near the pools' edges.  And remember the Salamanders congressing at the end of March? You can now see blobs of eggs lying on the brown leaves at the bottom of vernal pools.

And not only are amphibians about but reptiles as well, choosing any sunny day to warm up their blood and get going. Garter snakes are very common. But don't worry - they are not poisonous.  

Then by mid-month in some parts of the Fells - certainly Virginia Wood and near Bellevue Pond - comes a true beauty, one of the early spring ephemerals, Bloodroot, so called because the root, if cut, bleeds red. This delicate white-petaled flower with deep yellow anthers stands wrapped in its 'quilted' blanket of leaves on a frosty morning waiting for the sun to warm up before it opens. Another early beauty is Round-leaved Hepatica, sadly not very common in the Fells but it can be found on the south slope of Bear Hill.  These flowers are termed ephemerals and indeed have a brief moment of glory whilst the sun reaches the woodland floor, and then are gone as quickly as they came.

      Bllodroot     Hepatica

              Bloodroot    Sanguinaria canadensis                         4-15-05               Round-lobed Hepatica   Hepatica americana    4-18-05

Around the third or fourth week of April the woodland floor, which has been a dull brown ever since the snows melted, almost miraculously develops large patches of bright green. Most of this is the result of the leaves of Mayflower pushing up and filling out. Others leaves developing now are wood anemone, wild columbine often in cracks on rocks, and on higher drier ground - Pussytoes with its small heads of furry white flowers.

The streams and swampy ground, which saw the first activities at the beginning of the month, towards the close are entering a second phase of development and color. The bright green leaves of skunk cabbage are now getting very large marking  water courses clearly from a distance. Above them is the gangly shrub Spicebush with its bunches of tiny yellow flowers along the leafless branches catching the sun.  And Marsh Marigold, whose leaves have been developing for some time, blooms. In royal England it is called Kingcup reminding us that it is not a marigold (daisy family) but rather a top-of-the-line buttercup, definitely looking regal in its boggy habitat.

Marsh Marigold

Marsh Marigold       Caltha palustris                           4-27-03

By the last week of April large patches of Trout Lilies, with their brown spotted leaves, can be seen at Bellevue Pond and at the west end of the blue trail by Whitemore Brook. These delightful small lilies reflex their yellow petals on sunny days exposing dark red anthers. See Spring Gallery.

Special find. At the end of April, 2005, in Lawrence Woods, I stumbled upon what turned into several patches of Cut-leaved Toothwort  Cardamine concatenata. This is not a rare plant but what was unusual was that it had not been reported growing wild east of the Connecticut River in Massachusetts before. I say 'wild' because the plant has been used as a garden plant and this probably explains this isolated occurrence. In other words, although a native of New England, in this case it is probably a garden escape but now happily established in the Fells.


 Cut-leaved Toothwort    Cardamine concatenata    4-29-05