I love hiking in the woods. I find that moving forward step by step on a natural path while inhaling fresh air is therapeutic on many levels. I often wonder how many people really notice what is around them when they are walking in the woods. Have you taken note of the plants along your hiking path? Our natural environments give us great opportunities to observe some of our native plants as well as some of the invasive species that are infiltrating our forests.
During a recent hike in the woods near my home I found a number of wonderful native plants worthy of adding to any shade garden. Most of these plants are considered spring ephemerals. They grace us with their presence in early spring and disappear by early summer.
Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman’s Breeches) provides a delicate texture to the early spring garden with finely dissected foliage. The flowers resemble little pantaloons, which gives this plant its common name.
Erythronium Americanum (Dogtooth violet or Trout Lily) has spotted leaves that resemble a trout’s markings. The graceful, nodding yellow flower adds contrast to the striking leaves.
Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple) has umbrella shaped leaves. While many are solid green, some display impressive color and variegation.
Allium tricoccum (Ramps) provide two seasons of interest and food for the table. Sometimes called wild leeks or wild garlic, they can be harvested for tasty meals. I prefer to leave them in the ground so I can enjoy the adorable Allium like flowers that emerge in the summer after the foliage has disappeared. Polemonium reptans (Jacobs Ladder) grows to a 12-inch mound. In addition to the interesting leaf structure and delicate purple flowers, these plants happily seed around my garden.
Symplocarpus foetidus (Skunk cabbage) loves moist conditions and can often be seen along streams or in low areas. The flowers are quite impressive in form and color. Don’t worry, the plants only smell like skunk if you bruise the leaves.
Claytonia virginica (Spring Beauty) have narrow leaves and pretty white or pink flowers with dark pink veining. They naturalize easily and can be planted in lawns for an early season display of color.
Despite many wonderful native plants (I have only featured some of what you might see), there are some invasive plants as well. If you see them on your property, it’s best to remove them. By doing so, you’ll help save the forests and make room for other, more desirable plants!
Rosa multiflora (Multiflora Rose) is considered a noxious weed in Pennsylvania. These plants rapidly expand by seed and by a process called layering where the arching branches touch the ground, root and expand into an impenetrable thicket.
Berberis thunbergia (Japanese barberry) is a non-native woody plant that became popular because of its color forms and deer resistance. Barberry has escaped into the wild and is now disrupting natural ecosystems. Plant breeders have developed sterile varieties that produce no seed. If you are going to plant a barberry, I suggest you seek out one of the newer, non-invasive options.
Elaeagnus angustifolia (Russian olive) is tough and fast growing, quickly crowding out native vegetation. Originally planted for erosion control and valued for its deer resistance, this plant should be eradicated if found on your property.
Lesser celandine is one of the most aggressive weeds I have seen in recent years. Favoring moist soil, it colonizes quickly and produces inordinate amounts of seed. To make matters worse it also spreads by bulblets and tuberous roots. Many think the yellow flowers are pretty, but trust me, it’s best to eradicate this pest as quickly as you can before it controls your landscape.
The next time you hike through the forest, take notice of what’s around you. Cherish the wonderful native plants you see and learn how to spot invasive species Being good stewards of your own property is good for the soul, just like a walk in the woods.