With the Spring Equinox on March 20th, spring has officially sprung in Massachusetts! Signs of spring are everywhere; perhaps the most obvious are the flowers appearing from under leaf litter. The first flowers to pop up are typically crocuses, which are naturalized in New England and often planted in developed areas. Walking through the woods, it is possible to find native plants in bloom, including Lady Slipper Orchids, which are endangered in Massachusetts. It is illegal to pick these plants, so they can only be seen in their natural habitat. Many species of Lady Slipper Orchid bloom in early to mid-spring, though some rarer varieties bloom into June and July; while they vary widely in appearance, they all look orchid-like, with two stiff leaves near the ground and a single stem carrying a bloom. Another beautiful native flowering plant is the genus Trillium, of which there are four species in Massachusetts. Also called the Toadshade, these plants have a single showy flower raised above a trio of leaves on a single stalk. In addition to groundcover plants, many trees are now in bloom! Look out for small red flowers on Red Maples, pink and white flowers on dogwoods, and a variety of brightly colored flowers on fruit trees and magnolias.
The presence of flowers coincides with the return of native pollinators. Massachusetts is home to a wide diversity of pollinating insects, including bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, moths, and others. Perhaps the most recognized pollinator is the European Honey Bee, however, this introduced species is not as efficient a pollinator as native species. Native bees can be difficult to spot because most are extremely specialized; for example, the Blueberry Bee only pollinates blueberries. Luckily, native wasps are much easier to observe. Social wasps, like hornets, yellow-jackets, and paper wasps, are aggressive and best observed from a distance. Solitary wasps, which tend to be much larger, are not aggressive; while they are able to sting, they are unlikely to do so, making them perfect for observation. As the weather warms, look for Black and Yellow Mud Daubers, which look as the name suggests; Blue Mud Daubers, which are large, slender, and blue; Great Golden Digger Wasps, which are distinctly red-tinted and have a black stripe on their abdomen; and Cicada Killers, which are wider than the others listed and are black and pale yellow. These wasps can often be found visiting flowers, digging homes in the dirt, and eating other insects.
A variety of other insects are soon to emerge from local freshwater ecosystems. Dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies, dobsonflies, and a host of others live in ponds and streams as nymphs and metamorphose into their flying adult forms in spring and summer. There are many types of beautiful dragon- and damselflies in Massachusetts with names to match. Take, for example, the Ebony Jewelwing damselfly, which has black wings and an electric blue body. The hatching of these species coincides with a reptile and amphibian population boom. Vernal pools form in forested depressions in early spring and host the larvae of frogs and salamanders. As they develop into adults, they migrate to a variety of other habitats. Look for salamanders, such as the small Eastern Red-Backed Salamander or the Blue-Spotted Salamander, under rocks and logs in forested areas. Look (and listen) for frogs, including Wood and Green Frogs, near ponds and streams.
These are just a few of the myriad changes brought on by spring. However you do so, enjoy the warmer weather and longer, brighter days!
Photo courtesy of Shihab Moral ’22