And we thaw!
It's been a long winter. Cold, wet snow days with dreary gray skies, bone-brittling temperatures, and those long, silent nights have come and gone at last. Winter is a time of hibernation. A time of celebrating holidays, connecting with family over food and drink, bundling up and staying inside, and slowing the tempo. We aren't the only ones who wind down in the winter, many of our fellow animals do the same. And now as the sun finally makes her return, like the animals, many of us are finally coming out to play once again.
Every spring, the forest begins a thaw and reawakens. It is a magical time of year, the snow melts and the ground unfreezes, allowing a deep soak of all that melted moisture which wakes up all the plants: greenery, spring flowers, mycelium. Everyone comes back to life. On the east coast, we see all kinds of bloom during this time of the year. A walk in the woods is a colorful and temporary display of the change of seasons, one you should take advantage of because it only lasts a couple weeks!
If you are anything like me, you have been out in the woods these past couple weeks enjoying these warmer temperatures and reconnecting with nature you have neglected since November. Have you been seeing flowers and mushrooms and other things you don't recognize? Something about this season seems to have awakened a deeper interest in spring growth in many people. Let's talk plants.
One of my favorite things to see this year has been the bluebells. Bluebells pop up in early spring and quickly cover a forest floor in bulb-shaped blue flowers that grow a foot or so from the ground. These springtime flowers cast a violet glow in the woods and it is a magical treat to see. Similar to the silence the snow sweeps over a land, bluebells seem to hold with them a sort of silence too. If you take a walk in bluebell land, listen to the nature around you. Wind, birds, bugs. Everything is waking up once again.
Foraging for Morels
Now this one is a treat. One thing that only grows in the springtime is morel mushrooms. You may have seen them before, whether you are interested in foraging or not, however these guys are something special. They are a common thing to forage for because they are very identifiable with no close lookalikes and they are extremely tasty. They are difficult to find because they are small, they grow on the ground rather than on trees, and they are the same color as leaf litter so if you want to find some morels, you really have to search for them, but that makes it more fun.
Foraging for morels is like an Easter egg hunt, but before you blindly wonder into the woods and just start looking at the ground for hours at a time, let's go over some tips and tricks to thin your search.
A couple conditions need to be present for morels to grow:
-soil temperatures need to be above 50 degrees. Wait until the nights don't get colder than the 50s to start looking. A couple warm nights in a row plus a couple good rains provides perfect conditions for you to start searching.
-the right trees! If you want to find morels, find some woods that have poplars, sycamore trees, ash, elm, and cedar. Once you have picked a forest that sports these guys, narrow it down to dead trees. This is not necessary, but morels loooove dead/dying tree roots and have been known to pop up by the handful around the dying root systems of these types of trees. I look for an upright dead or dying tree (peeling bark, branches fallen, etc) and I start looking around the base and then slowly get further and further from the tree. If you find one morel, squat and slow your roll because odds are, more morels are lurking nearby! They travel in families!
-well-draining soil near water. Morels like loamy soil that drains easy, think sandy soil near riverbeds and creeks.
Now that you know about some morel-manifesting conditions, get out there and look! March-early June is the timeline you are looking at for morel growth, depending on the area you are in. They only grow a couple weeks in each region, so check a soil temperature map, or look online at what other foragers are posting, and during those few golden weeks, get out there and look! If you think you have found some, make sure you check with an experienced forager or post to an ID group to be sure before you start eating random things found in the woods!
Hunting for morels is a wonderful spring activity that forces you to slow down and reconnect with nature. Having something to look for gives you an excuse (not that you need one) to get out into the woods alone and enjoy your time with the earth. This is the perfect activity to pick up and get grounded. It serves as a sort of silent meditation and every time I wander into the woods, I leave happier than I came whether I have a handful of morels or not. Check it out!
Another plant that pops up only for a short window each year is the mayapples. These leafy green guys can cover a forest floor with a nice, soft green. It's really cool to watch them pop up, starting off as small stalks with bunched up leaves and then slowly unfurling and reaching tall towards the sun as the days go.
Mayapples are also a good indicator that it is time to search for morels because they grow in the same temps, so if you see these, start looking for morels too!
Last but not least: DAFFODILS!
Perhaps everyone's favorite springtime bloom, the daffodils are a wonderful sight to behold as we emerge from our hibernations. They are cute and bright, reminiscent of sunshine, and clearly the perfect home for a springtime fairy so don't step on any on the way out of the woods!
These are just a few things that grow in the spring, the list is non-exhaustive of course but the best way to start learning is to go outside and look around. Take this time to reconnect with nature and ease yourself back into it after a cold winter. There is not much better for your brain and body than spending some time in the woods walking around or sitting or just being, so take some time to do that and see what it can do for your mental health, creativity, work stamina, and happiness.