It is April and spring is should to be well underway with flowers in the woods, trees putting out leaves, bees flying about, and frogs calling from the woodland ponds. But here in northern Minnesota you wouldn’t know it with the cold weather, occasional snow, and bleak landscape with only the conifers for greenery. There is still snow in the woods where the trees are thick and block the sun. The ground remains frozen except in the sunniest of sites and so none of the forest wildflowers have come out of dormancy. Even so, trees and shrubs are beginning to awaken albeit about 30 days late. The earliest of these are tag alder (Alnus incana ssp. rugosa), American hazel (Corylus americana), beaked hazel (C. cornuta), and tea-leaf willow (Salix planifolia). Following closely is the quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) but only some groves (clones really) are flowering. Red maple (Acer rubrum) flower buds are swelling and I expect they will be in full bloom in a week. So far none of these shrubs or trees have produced any leaves. That will come later when flowering is over and temperatures are warmer at night.
Trees that flower in the early spring are mostly wind-pollinated a good strategy since insects may still be in hibernation or slow to move about. Tea-leaf willow is an exception and produces abundant pollen and nectar which attracts small wasps, solitary bees, beetles, and flies. These insects pick up pollen from the staminate flowers and transfer it to the pistillate flowers. Tea-leaf willow plants are either staminate or pistillate so the insects need to go from one to the other in the right order to effect pollination. The flowers of tea-leaf willow are fragrant and so lure the insects to them. But if insects are scarce like they are this year tea-leaf willow can still pollinate some of its flowers by wind pollination. Red maple is insect pollinated and has thick nectar-secreting glands in its bright red flowers to attract bees and other nectar feeders of many kinds. For a few days there will be a red glow in the forest canopy while the red maple is bloom.
Rain is forecast for early next week but the chances for a good downpour are very low. This is not a desirable situation as the low humidity, dry grass, and constant winds make fires more likely. A couple of rainy days and nights would certainly reduce the chances of a fire. Sunny weather isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
So far I have heard no frogs in the woodland ponds and am wondering where they are. In past years wood frogs have begun calling in mid-April even when there was a bit of ice on the ponds. There ought to be some by now with the warm weather. I hope this isn’t an indication of a problem.