Late Frost with Early Flowers

by Mark Miles

With daytime temperatures in central North Carolina fluctuating between 80° F and 40° F depending on the day of the week, it’s difficult to decide what season we’re in. This is further complicated by the fact that we had frost in March (and may have it again in April), but we had 70° temperatures in January and February. On the whole, one may be inclined to assume that somebody with lots of money and no conscience is presently reverse-engineering the climate.

Still the plants are generally in agreement that spring, however fickle and indecisive this year, has arrived. Truthfully there were distinct signs of it by January, so this should come as no surprise to anyone with half a brain. And while many plants and trees have been damaged or stunted due to the late frost, plenty of others are in full bloom, which recently led me to take photos of the resulting botanical beauty.

Original prints by the author are now available on a limited basis.

Woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca) has always been a favorite of mine. From my earliest childhood, I’ve made a habit of picking the small crimson fruits in late May to taste the color of the season. (At the rate they’re growing this year, I may be able to pick them by late April.) They tend not to be terribly flavorful in this region, but I wonder if depleted soils are partially to blame for this. Additionally the leaves of the plant have been used to treat cough and diarrhea in historical times.

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Common chickweed (Stellaria media) is considered by many to be a pest, and there may be some validity to that assessment in some circumstances. However the plant is also a great source of nutrition for many foraging animals, including chickens, pigs, and rabbits. Historically chickweed has also been used by humans to treat coughs, hemorrhoids, and sore eyes. Personally I find its most redeeming quality to be the delicate white flowers which are so small they can almost be mistaken for specks of stardust.

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I must admit I’d never seen this particular plant before my March hike at Eno River State Park. Once I’d spotted it, however, I saw it everywhere. In fact it was hard to take a step in some parts of the park without risking the life of one or more of these dainty flowers. Only after a bit of research at a later date did I find the plant’s identity. Eastern spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) is a native to this region and also goes by the name fairy spud. The name alone would be enough for me to love the plant, but there’s more. All of the aerial parts of the plant are safe for human consumption and have been eaten by the Algonquin people, among others, for centuries.

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Original prints by the author are now available on a limited basis.

In my yard, I have two examples of peony (Paeonia spp). Due to the late frost and early spring, the leaves and blossoms are frail and skinny, but the plants are doing their best to compensate for their diminished size with an extra dose of magenta along the stems, leaves, and buds. I have a feeling the blossoms will also be diminished in size this year, but that won’t change the fact that peony petals can be steeped in hot water to produce an herbal infusion that’s reputed to be a delicacy in China. To top it all off, certain species of peony have even been used historically to treat convulsions, which makes it the most beautiful anticonvulsant I’ve ever seen.

References:

Dwyer, James and David Rattray, eds.; Magic and Medicine of Plants (Pleasantville, NY, USA: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1986); pp. 138, 339.

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29 thoughts on “Late Frost with Early Flowers

  1. Mel & Suan April 8, 2017 / 4:54 am

    Oh is it the petals of the peony the ants are getting at?

    • Mark Miles April 10, 2017 / 6:18 am

      Yeah, my understanding is that the ants help in opening the outermost petals of the peony.

      • Mel & Suan April 11, 2017 / 1:14 am

        Oh wow. Now that’s something new we learn! Thanks

  2. angelasommers April 8, 2017 / 5:34 am

    Beautiful pictures~

  3. JDB April 8, 2017 / 1:03 pm

    Lovely. I think this might be the first time I’ve seen the flowers of a strawberry plant, and it’s a bit of a surprise–although it shouldn’t be–that they’re white and yellow, not red or at least pink! As a physician, it’s always humbling to reflect on the resourcefulness of past populations in discovering the medicinal properties of various plants.

    • Mark Miles April 10, 2017 / 6:21 am

      Thank you. I’m often surprised to find how unexpected details emerge from close observation of nature. It’s truly humbling and inspiring.

  4. usathroughoureyes April 8, 2017 / 2:38 pm

    Can’t wait for those temps to reach this area Mark. Isn’t it something how after years of walking these plants just caught your attention.

    • Mark Miles April 10, 2017 / 6:23 am

      Yeah, I’ve never seen them in any of the areas I’m familiar with. It was only when I went to a new riparian zone that they became apparent. Nature never ceases to surprise. 👍

  5. katharineotto April 8, 2017 / 4:25 pm

    Mark, Thanks for the lesson in beauty and utility. While the flowers are great, I would appreciate seeing the whole plants, too, so that I might recognize them faster if they crop up in my yard.

    • Mark Miles April 10, 2017 / 6:25 am

      Thanks, Katharine. I may include photos of the whole plants at a later date, but I wanted this to be interesting to the novice, hence the focus on the eye-catching parts.

      • katharineotto April 10, 2017 / 2:30 pm

        Mark, I understand. I know how hard it is to capture in pictures everything you want to show. The flowers are indeed beautiful.
        I was especially curious about the flower you said was so small you risked stepping on it. I’ve noticed lots of plants with almost microscopic flowers and wondered if I should be paying closer attention..

  6. mycountryepoque April 8, 2017 / 6:37 pm

    beautiful pictures of spring! We were all dying to get rid of that long winter nights. It is here real, spring is with us. It was a hot day today over here. Thank you for keeping us updated with Spring season at your end of the pond. It was a great read.

    • Mark Miles April 10, 2017 / 6:27 am

      Thank youfor your kind words. It’ll certainly be much appreciated if/when the seasons straighten themselves out. Have a great week. 👍

  7. Touching the Tarkine April 10, 2017 / 11:20 pm

    As your spring flowers pop out with all their freshness and colour, our leaves are turning their autumn reds and yellows. Thank goodness for the seasons.

  8. goroyboy April 12, 2017 / 3:01 pm

    Nicely done:) Thoreau would be proud I’m sure(especially the picture of the ants on the peony).

  9. tasykes April 18, 2017 / 12:57 pm

    Thank you for visiting my blog. Many of the readers who “like” my posts seem to be obsessed with make-up, so it’s refreshing to have a fellow nature-lover stumble over my words.
    I miss the mid-Atlantic spring. Do you hunt morels? I have several morel posts from previous seasons on my blog.
    Let nature’s beauty in all its form care for your tender heart.
    love and light, Tamara

  10. susie April 25, 2017 / 7:15 am

    Very informative and lovely photos

  11. Saccharine Bliss May 4, 2017 / 4:37 am

    Wow! Those flowers are beautiful and heaps of learning about these flowers from this post.

  12. pennygadd51 May 6, 2017 / 10:26 am

    Lovely photos, Mark!

    • Mark Miles May 8, 2017 / 5:27 am

      Thank you, Penny. Have a good week.

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