A Walk in the Woods

I was primarily hunting for ramps (Allium tricoccum) – like I do every year – and failed to find any. (Also just like every year.) But there are other signs of wild edibles waking up from winter slumber.

Unfortunately even in this tiny patch of woods, the invasive species are rampant. I suspect the lack of ramps may be due to being displaced by the much more adaptable plants like daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.) which carpeted the forest floor.

Daylilies as far as the eye can see
Daylilies as far as the eye can see

I found a few spring beauties (Claytonia virginica), though nowhere in the quantities as I did from the one year I dared harvest some to try. Like ramps, spring beauties are “spring ephemerals”, popping up and flowering in the brief window in the spring before the trees’ leaves have a chance to grow in. Given how much of their habitat had been encroached upon by garlic mustard in particular, I may never again dig up the flowers for their tiny edible spuds, no matter how tasty they are.

Spring beauties
Spring beauties

The garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) was positively everywhere, in every space where it could get even the smallest foothold, continuing its inexorable march to world habitat domination.

Garlic mustard invading the forest
Garlic mustard invading the forest

I also found this example of garlic mustard together with creeping Charlie (aka ground ivy, Glechoma hederacea, also invasive, just slightly less so), which I thought helpful to show the difference in shapes of their leaves.

Creeping Charlie leaf (center) compared to garlic mustard (upper right)
Creeping Charlie leaf (center) compared to garlic mustard (upper right)

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) shoots had only just started to come up. Do I care? I didn’t find mayapple fruit to be worth the effort the one time I tried it, but it’s still a good indicator of biodiversity. The garlic mustard hasn’t choked out everything yet.

Mayapple shoots
Mayapple shoots

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is beginning to bloom, one of the earliest shrubs I know to do so. Hopefully there isn’t a late freeze again this year, which has happened on several previous occasions impacting the availability of fruit in the fall.

Spicebush in bloom
Spicebush in bloom

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) (also non-native) is beginning to come up as well. No sign yet of its native cousin, Canadian wood nettle (Laportea canadensis) which will eventually fill these woods as well.

Stinging nettle
Stinging nettle

Wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius) and blackberries (Rubus spp.) competed for the same habitat, but we found many more wineberry canes.

Wineberry cane
Wineberry cane

For every one blackberry cane, there were over a dozen wineberries.

Blackberry cane
Blackberry cane

And there were no signs of black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis) canes anywhere.

Even more frequently (and painfully) encountered than wineberry? Wild rosa (Rosa multiflora) was EVERYWHERE. This past winter, I tried to harvest and use rosehips for the first time, but I waited too long by which time not enough fruit remained to use for anything. Until I manage to, wild roses will remain a thorn in my side.

Wild rose
Wild rose

I had also been on the hunt for watercress (Nasturtium officinale) – also non-native – but found chickweed (Stellaria media), throughout the creek instead, presumably because it is much more aggressive.

Massive clumps of chickweed
Massive clumps of chickweed

Along with all the other wild edibles I failed to find, I also found no sign of “real” wintergreen or Eastern teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens), nor even the spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) I learned about a few weeks ago.

And of course, no woodland walk would be complete without a check in on my nemesis: Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum). Sure enough, the reddish brown shoots were just beginning to come up.

Japanese knotweed beginning to come up
Japanese knotweed beginning to come up

Time to dig out those recipes! We’ll be eating really well soon!

What food, wild or otherwise, is growing in your area this spring?

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