Spring in New England is marked by rapid changes from winter to spring with the most pronounced transformation being the growth of the new leaves in the deciduous forests in mid-May.  With a restless and energetic dog to exercise, my opportunities to witness this transformation come almost daily.  She and I have found a favorite hike which combines a range of habitat and plenty of water.  The Wilton, CT Town Forest allows dogs and provides varied terrain and a large enough area to allow Sparkles her daily dose of exercise.

Town Forest

I’ve hiked in the outdoors my entire life so I am no stranger to seasonal change.  The Town Forest however has been a recent discovery and my experience was limited to the winter landscape.  I was therefore surprised by the extent of the changes over the past week.  Whereas the winter landscape offered extended views through mature Beech forest, spring growth had transformed that to a much more private and intimate experience.  It is almost like one walked into a new and different ecosystem.

But with the leaves out new opportunities were at hand.  Sparkle and I  made several new and exciting discoveries.  First was the blooming Rhododendron nudiflorum (Pinkster Bloom)  which is exciting not only because of the delicate nature of the flowers, but also because they arrive weeks before the shrubs foliage.  It received its name “pinkster”  from the Dutch of the New World from the fact that it blooms at Whitsuntide or Pentecost, the seventh Sunday after Easter.   Pentecost has its roots in the Greek “pentekoste” meaning the fiftieth day after Easter.   Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, is the 3rd Sunday in the Paschal lunar month and celebrates the third day after crucifixion – when Jesus ascends to heaven.   Traditionally, Easter season lasted until Ascension Day (forty days past Easter) but now is generally assumed to last until Whit Sunday.  Whit Sunday commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit in the form of flames to the Apostles, as recorded in the New Testament.  So translating those dates to the Calendar … Easter was April 12th, and Whit Sunday is May 31st.  So the Pinkster Bloom is a wee bit earlier this year than the Dutch must have encountered it way back when.  I was particularly excited that this shrub was not listed on the NY/CT Botany list of shrubs for the Wilton Town Forest.  A new discovery!

Pinkster bloom

I’ll be very excited to keep hiking the western blue trail as it passes on its way north though a beautiful hemlock forest.  I remember the days before the wooly adelgid and the incredible beauty of the Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) as the new growth of a lighter color comes in and presents the visitor with the beautiful variegated leaves.  Truly one of spring and summer’s great pleasures.  As the trail once again starts to dip I notice a size-able cluster of Cypripedium macrocanthus just getting ready to bloom.  I can’t wait! And don’t ask me to tell you exactly where unless you’re prepared to put a damage waiver in escrow.  Not too much further along I finally found my first Chestnut though we later found two more trees along the hike.  This was quite an accomplishment seeing as 85% of the trees were Beech, with an additional 5-10% being comprised of Birch or Hickory.  For those in the know, all of those leaves have at least some morphological resemblance to American chestnut.  At this time of year, the Beech are especially difficult to tell apart from Chestnut.  But I sent my sample photos on to Sara Fitzsimmons at Penn State (and the American Chestnut Foundation) and she kindly confirmed that she too felt they were American. I was particularly excited that this tree was not listed on the NY/CT Botany list of shrubs for the Wilton Town Forest.  New discovery number two!  This was only my second American chestnut found to date in Wilton.  The other is on the property of Franklin Wong.  I’m sure there are many more .. perhaps even one getting ready to flower and donate their genes to generations to come.  If only they will announce their presence.

American chestnut (Castenea dentata)

The last find is common but beautiful nonetheless.  The flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is one of my favorite of all flowers.   I love the shape and color and the little curls and colors of the petal ends.  And while unlike the Pinkster Bloom, the flowers of which arrive long before the leaves, the showy flowers of Cornus florida arrive in tandem, though much larger and showy than the leaves.  It is a beautiful accompaniment.

Flowering dogwood