March Announces Spring’s Arrival and April Invites It In

Essay and photos by Joe Mish

There is magic in the first wildflowers which dare to dance in April’s cool breeze. Look closely at the pinstriped Spring Beauty to see the face of an impish sprite staring back.

March knocks on April’s door, and standing there on the dim lit stoop is a visage surrounded by swirling ice and snow, dripping mud and melting frost. Without hesitation, April invites the disheveled traveler in and notices a small parcel wrapped in green, wet with melted snowflakes. It is the gift of spring, and with it comes the remnants of the wintry month’s mercurial weather. As April encourages the sun to stay a while longer each day, the influence of March’s wintry heritage is diminished. A mere promise of favorable conditions is enough to encourage a veil of green to emerge from the cold ground in a resurrection of dormant life.

Within this transitional framework, the brilliant tints of green enliven the dull gray landscape to rouse curiosity and focus attention toward the earth. Energy is a key element in attraction and April is a time of palpable and boundless energy. The invisible movement of time appears betrayed as plants seem animated and grow before our eyes. Many spring plants have a narrow window of opportunity to emerge and mature, so their growth is accelerated.

Spring beauties are ephemerals which grow in isolated patches in open woods and among short pasture grass, their pink and white stripped flowers linger into May. Each short-stemmed flower is distinctly different in petal stripe and color. Some variants are almost all white with faint pink stripes, while a neighboring patch may be dominated by deeper pink petals and dark pink stripes. Color and pattern variations are the rule, which makes this flower so interesting. The variation in a way, compliments the vagaries of early spring weather and the individual character each April presents.

A calendar is not needed to know April has arrived. The appearance of native columbine on the red shale cliffs along the South Branch of the Raritan are as dependable a sign as any numeric score card. There is security in predictability and despite changing weather patterns, columbine remains faithful to April.

Native columbine is a delicate long stem, dark red, inverted, single bloom, composed of four or five individual vase shaped tubes, which collectively terminate in the appearance of a crown where the inverted flower meets the stem. Each tube within the red flower is lined with bright yellow. A distinctive broad, three lobed, pale green leaf adorns each stem and easily catches a breeze to help disperse seeds when the plant matures in early May. Columbine does not grow in profusion and is best described as being found in isolated villages, tucked in among the maroon cliffs. I wonder how many Aprils these cliff dwelling plants have seen, as their existence in such an austere shale environment is not conducive to random dispersal. I think of Brigadoon, a mythical village that appears once every one-hundred years, when native columbine appear during April, on the face of ancient cliffs, otherwise devoid of life.

April’s charm and promise find a spokesman in the form of Jack in the pulpit. As the name implies, this early spring plant appears to portray a minister standing in a raised pulpit, leading the congregation in prayer and praise for the gifts of nature. The personification of this unique plant, based on its shape and form, perfectly fit myth, magic, and folk lore promoting a human/ plant interface. The appearance of Jack standing in a pulpit, could be perceived as a reincarnation or memorial to a revered patriarch.

Any natural phenomenon begs for an explanation, and in this way, April delivers a lesson in the most critical of survival tools, creativity, and imagination. The earliest flowers to appear under April’s umbrella are a sign of hope as they stand in sharp contrast to the stark landscape about to awaken. Consider that flowers are living things that in some magical way, recruited man to further their propagation in exchange for a glimpse of eternal beauty, dreams and imagination. All combined to expand the universe of human potential with unbounded creativity and expression.

April has opened the gift of spring March delivered, and has swept its fresh green carpet clean of any wintry remnants tracked in when the gift was delivered. Conscious of its fleeting time allotted, April honors the delivery of the next month’s explosion of blooms by taming the weather and warming the soil. When may flowers arrive, April deserves a special thanks. 

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author.