2017-04-27 / Life in Leelanau

Spring splendor: Forsythia, first plants liven up landscape

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

THE BRIGHT yellow blossoms of the forsythia are a welcome sight after a long winter. THE BRIGHT yellow blossoms of the forsythia are a welcome sight after a long winter. Spring has sprung.

The drab, brown coat of dormant grass has been cast aside for a fresh carpet of green.

And with each day that passes, additional color is added to Leelanau’s landscape — both native and nonnatives species.

Among the first to show life is the amazing serviceberry, a staple in any edible landscape, that can be found all over the Great Lakes State.

“There are 13 species of serviceberry in Michigan,” said Chris Garthe, plant specialist with the Leelanau Conservation District.

Serviceberries are member of the Amelanchier family and include the common serviceberry or juneberry and the domesticated “Saskatoon.”

They appeal to local landscapers and homeowners because they grow well in Leelanau’s sandy-loam soil and they offer four seasons of interest — beginning with their flowers that bloom in March and April, just before the nonnative forsythia.

THE YARD of Ray Stachnik of Cedar has come to life with daffodils, hyacinths and forsythia. THE YARD of Ray Stachnik of Cedar has come to life with daffodils, hyacinths and forsythia. According to folklore, they are called serviceberries because their blooms signal that the ground has thawed enough to dig graves for burial services.

The flowers are followed by red, blue or deep purple berries, which are edible — for both humans and wildlife. In the fall, the leaves change to yellow, gold or red, depending on the variety. In the winter, the silvery trunk and branches brighten the winter landscape.

Serviceberries were among the more than 10 varieties of shrubs and small trees featured in the Soil Conservation District’s spring native seedlings sale.

“We ordered 230 and sold all of them,” said Tara Knapp, natural resource technician with the district. “They’re a great way to add diversity to your landscape. The birds love them.”

Lacking a trained eye, you might not be able to spy serviceberry along the roadside or in your neighborhood unless they are blooming.

Two other native plants may be a little easier to see.

Redbud (or cercis canadensis) grows to between 20 and 30 feet in height and flowers in April and May — usually appearing before leaves are out.

Its pinkish-purple blossoms are among the most showy of spring.

Motorist traveling M-22 about five miles south of M-204 will be able to glimpse the blossoms on the former estate of the late Emelia Schaub, a Leelanau County icon.

The arrival of spring is welcomed by National Park Service interpreter Peggy Burman.

“It’s my favorite time of year. It’s warm and there’s no bugs,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

While early, leaves are just starting to bud, but the forest is alive with activity.

“Hepatica is out now and there are butterflies and moths at night,” she said.

Hepatica, also called “liverleaf,” are among the first wildflowers to show themselves in the woods in the spring, as is Toothwort, a member of the mustard family.

Both appear before trees get their leaves.

However, as the weather continues to warm the better-known wildflowers will also appear. Spring beauties are out and will be followed by Dutchman’s breeches, trout lily and trillium.

All can be found in the north country and throughout Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. But it’s not just native plants that occupy the park landscape.

Domestic plants, put in the ground well before the park was established, also dot the landscape.

Forsythia bushes and their brilliant yellow flowers can be found in areas previously occupied by homes.

Interestingly, forsythia are used as a “phenological” indicator that spring is here. In less technical terms, the plant’s life cycle can tell you something else will soon occur.

In the case of forsythia, development is strongly affected by soil temperature correlating with an old wives’ tale that it is also the ideal time for planting farm crops.

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