NATURALLY – George & Elizabeth Churcher
Roadside Verdure June 7, 2017
One of our favourite books is “The Forest Unseen — A Year’s Watch in Nature” by David Haskell. In this book, the author describes, by reviewing his frequent visits over a year, the natural events unfolding on the forest floor within a circle just a little over one metre across. His tiny research plot was located on a woodland slope in southeastern Tennessee. As the title of Haskell’s book implies, there are an abundance of happenings in the natural world around us that escape our notice.
Especially in the Spring — the season of newness, birth, growth and rejuvenation — Mother Nature is working relentlessly, sharing with us an unending documentary of her handiwork. The changes are happening on a daily basis or even on much shorter time scales. It’s so easy to become almost overwhelmed by all of the events going on, so we have to take a step back and simply enjoy our observations, remembering that all we can do is sample a few things among the many. As we walk along the trails and roadsides, our senses become aware of some of the happenings — we may see a plant in flower, buds opening on a shrub, a spider in her web or we may hear a bird singing from his perch high up in the tree. Perhaps we are able to identify the plant, the spider or the bird — but maybe not. The search must continue! — And so, we learn little by little from Nature’s textbook. It all adds up to a wonderful and relaxing hobby and it’s all free!! When we do our “citizen science” surveys in which we gather data for nature organizations, we have the added satisfaction that our observations contribute to the store of knowledge about various species and that this information may help to protect them in the future.
Over this Spring season, we have been observing the events occurring in the plant world along a stretch of Hunt Road, just west of its intersection with Morton Road. While we are not conducting any kind of systematic study here, we enjoy just cruising along and spontaneously getting out of the car to examine the lush and profuse plant growth. — And we may add here that many of the road edges in our Municipality of Tweed are showcases for all kinds of plants. For now, we’re just stopping at random, at different times and looking at the plants.
— So let’s visit the roadside. The dictionary defines “verdure” as “the fresh greenness of growing vegetation” or “a flourishing growth of vegetation”. That’s exactly what we see! The roadside stretch where we pause to capture a glimpse of nature’s grandeur is almost tropical when examined closely. Crammed into a short distance are many plants, mostly perennial. As the season goes along, the conspicuousness of the different species changes. Presently, on this morn of May 28th, a quick reconnaissance revealed several species of plants, all growing together in profusion. We saw Red Baneberry, a member of the Buttercup family, with its leaves divided into 3 parts, each with sharply toothed leaflets, and its tiny, white flowers so artistically arranged in a fuzzy-looking cylindrical cluster. For a moment, our thoughts lept ahead to August and September when we will witness the transformation of the flowers into red berries. As the plant’s name suggests, these tempting fruits should not be eaten. Within centimetres of the Baneberry, we spotted another member of the Buttercup family, the Sharp-lobed Hepatica. Its delicate flower petals are no longer visible: fruit clusters are beginning to form. Its most visible feature now is its clumps of leaves, in which each leaf resembles a lobed liver.
Shifting our attention to a plant towering over the Baneberry and Hepatica, we began to examine a shrub which we soon realized was a dogwood. The characteristic feature which helped us to arrive quickly at our conclusion was its paralleling and curving leaf veins. An even closer look at the leaves led us to give the plant its specific name, Alternate-leaved Dogwood. Why? It is the only dogwood to have alternately arranged branches and leaves: all the rest have opposite branches and leaves.
Looking down again, we marvelled at the diversity that we had not yet explored. The brilliant yellow of the Downy Yellow Violet added bright yellow to the tapestry of greens. The expansive Lily family was represented by False Solomon’s-Seal, with its staggered, parallel-veined leaves and terminal flower cluster, with buds just preparing to burst open. Growing closer to the ground-level were plants of the Two-leaved False Solomon’s-Seal or False Lily-of-the-Valley, also with flower buds ready to unfurl. We’ll return in a few days to enjoy their showy white floral display. Another lily, Bellwort, which a short time ago could be identified by its drooping yellow, lily-like flowers, was beginning to form its top-shaped, three-lobed fruiting capsules. — But it can always be distinguished by its parallel-veined leaves, clasping the stem.
Could there still be more to see? We were not disappointed! Shifting our eyes to the left, we saw the intricate lace of fern leaves. There, at our feet, were clusters of the little Oak Fern, easily recognized by its 3-parted leaf: each of the 3 sections is triangular (pictured). — And scattered around us, several other plants just kept emerging as we stood and looked down. There were saplings of Red and White Oaks, Sugar Maples, Beeches and Basswoods. For us, the question always remains, “How many more species did we not see?”.
Stopping and taking a little time to realize and enjoy the great diversity of life that surrounds us helps us to value our rich natural heritage. A brief escape along the roadside — the roadside verdure — takes us away from the responsibilities and cares of life and transports us into a realm of peace and beauty. These moments connect us to our natural world and bring enduring, simple pleasure.
Previously published in the Tweed News