Sunday, March 28, 2010


Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis) may not be the first wildflower in the Kalamazoo area, but I think of it as the true beginning of the season. (Perhaps because I often miss the blooms of Harbinger of Spring.) Hepatica flowers range from white to purple. The name Hepatica, reminiscent of hepatitis, comes from this plant's liver-shaped leaves.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Harbinger of Spring

Harbinger-of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa) may be Kalamazoo's earliest true wildflower. They are also known as Pepper-and-Salt. The flowers are tiny and easy to overlook. I tend to think of April 15 (tax day) as the start of southwest Michigan's wildflower season, which means I frequently miss these early bloomers. This year, I saw a post on the Kalamazoo Nature Center's Facebook page and went looking for them.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sign of Spring

The return of the red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is a reliable sign of Spring in Kalamazoo. After wintering in the south, the males fly hundreds of miles to claim their breeding territory. I often hear their calls before I see them. The females return later.

Richard Brewer has an interesting post on Signs of Spring in southwest Michigan.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kalamazoo Wildflowers

Last Spring, a blog reader asked me for recommendations on where to see wildflowers near Kalamazoo. Here's what I told her:

The Kalamazoo Nature Center (just north of Kalamazoo on Westnedge Ave) is the place I visit most frequently for Spring wildfowers.

Markin Glen County park, is also on Westnedge Ave, a couple miles south of the nature center & it's very nice for the early Spring flowers (Dutchman's Breeches, Spring Beauty, etc).

I'd also recommend Russ Forest Park in Cass county; I make an effort to visit it every Spring.

Also in Cass County is the Dowagiac Woods Nature preserve of the Michigan Nature Association which can be spectacular.

Sarret Nature Center
, near Benton Harbor, can be nice, too.

Many of the State Parks have good trails and nice wildflower displays. Muskegon's JP Hoffmaster State Park is probably the best known with its annual Trillium Festival. Warren Woods State Park is closer and should be good for wildflowers. Warren Dunes State Park has some nice wooded trails with wildflowers. (Most of its visitors stick to the beaches and dunes, but the forested areas are nice too.)

There's a nice webpage, Michigan Wildflowers, that has photos of many wildflowers blooming in Michigan

Enjoy your hikes!

Thanks to Stacy for asking the question.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Awake to Spring

Kalamazoo's chipmunks (Tamias striatus) may not be true hibernators, but they've just emerged from their burrows, where they spent the winter alternating between a deep sleep called torpor and eating stored food. Their relatives, the fox squirrels, were active all winter. Their woodchuck cousins are still underground.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

52 Michigan Weekends (Spring)

52 Michigan Weekends: Great Getaways and Adventures for Every Season
by Bob Puhala
2000 (3rd edition)

This guide has short trips for every weekend of the year. In an earlier post, I selected some of its Winter Weekends recommendations. Below, I've listed some Spring outings in West Michigan.

West Michigan Spring Weekends

1. Blooming Blossoms

Benton Harbor
"If the weather cooperates, you'll see hundreds of fruit orchard acres crowded with blossoms, heralding the much-anticipated arrival of strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and plums in this leading fruit-producing region."
Blossomtime Festival

2. Tulip Time

"Held in early May, Tulip Time continues to be one the Midwest's most wildly popular events, drawing nearly one million people each spring to this little town founded by Dutch immigrants more than 150 years ago."
Tulip Time Festival

3. Hey Dude

"The atmosphere at the ranch is casual and guests can do as much or as little as they like. Besides daily trail rides, there are barbecue cookouts, hayrides, and sing-alongs; archery and rifle ranges; tennis and volleyball courts; a heated swimming pool and an outdoor hot tub; a private lake with beach, paddleboats, rowboats, and canoes; and nightly entertainment."
Double JJ Resort

4. When Irish Eyes are Smiling

Clare Irish Festival

5. Harbor Country

New Buffalo
"The sun looked like an iridescent jewel as it winked brightly before slipping behind puffy white clouds. The clouds turned to mango pink as the sun disappeared from view, then changed to brilliant scarlet before the gold disk emerged again. Yes, sunsets here in Harbor Country, miles of sugar-sand shoreline stretching from Grand Beach to South Haven are breathtakingly beautiful."
New Buffalo: Whittaker Street boutiques, restaurants, New Buffalo Beach, golf
Grand Beach: quiet village, tree-shaded streets, magnificent sandy beaches
Union Pier: tiny hamlet, cottages, B&Bs
Harbert: Swedish bakery
Bridgman: Warren Dunes State Park, Cook Nuclear Power Plant
St Joseph: Silver beach, historic homes, pier, steep bluff overlooking Lake Michigan
South Haven: A great summer resort town, North Beach, fishing, Michigan Maritime Museum, Idler Riverboat

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Butterflys in Grand Rapids

Each Spring, Meijer Gardens imports thousands of butterflies to their conservatory for their Butterflies are Blooming exhibit. It's an impressive display that attracts hundreds of visitors daily. The glass-walled conservatory is huge-- 5 stories high-- and packed with tropical plants, from orchids to full-grown palm trees. Thousands of brightly-colored butterflies fly through the foliage. The butterflies arrive as chrysalises and, if you are patient, you can watch some emerge from their cases.

I try to see the exhibit every year. The hot, humid greenhouse can be a shock coming from the cold outside air, so it's smart to dress in layers. It's a very popular event, so, even on weekdays, it's fairly crowded. While it's not an opportunity for solitary contemplation of nature, the spectacle is worth it.

Butterflies are Blooming: March 1 - April 30, 2013

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
1000 East Beltline NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
(616) 957-1580 | Toll-Free: 888-957-1580

Admission $12 adults, $6 children.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Syrup Season

Late winter, when the sap begins to flow, means maple syrup is coming soon. It takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make a gallon of sweet syrup. Several places near Kalamazoo offer demonstrations of the process and celebrations of the season.

Kalamazoo Nature Center Maple Sugar Festival 2010

Kellogg Forest Maple Sugar Day

Blandford Nature Center Sugarbush Festival & Pancake Breakfast

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Maple Sugar Time

St Joseph County Parks, IN Sugar Camp Days

Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival

Or read the Michigan Backyard Gardener on making your own syrup.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Last to fall?

The American Beech (Fagus grandifolia ) is one of the few deciduous trees in Michigan to hold its leaves all winter. The leaves change color in autumn but rather than dropping they just slowly fade to tan on the branches. I'd never really thought about when they finally lose their leaves, but this week I noticed scattered beech leaves on top of the snow.

Friday, March 5, 2010

First wildflower?

Skunk cabbage spathes aren't true flowers but they are the earliest to emerge from the snow. This one had just sprouted in a sunny patch where the snow had melted near the Kalamazoo River. I've read that skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) can actually produce its own heat to melt through the snow.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hints of Spring

Looking outside, Kalamazoo is in the middle of winter. Icicles hang from the eaves and snow blankets the ground. Plowed snowbanks are still shoulder-high. But, there are some clues that Winter is ending: longer days, milder temperatures, and more sun.

Buckets on maple trees are the truest sign of Spring. The buckets collect sap used to produce maple syrup. Warm afternoons and below-freezing nights cause sap to flow, so even though it feels like winter the trees are awakening.