Road Trip

I spent April 2 through 9 on the road visiting trout lily (Erythronium americanum) populations in VA, PA, and NY, in hopes of running experiments to test the ecological consequences of pollen colour variation.

I was too late for peak flowering at Riverbend Park in Fairfax Co, VA.  I was, however, right on time for the bluebells, Mertensia virginica, a happy consolation prize.  The Trillium sessile were also pretty neat.

The population at Bellaire Woods, Lancaster Co, PA, was just ready to flower when I arrived. But — my arrival also coincided with record breaking cold temperatures.  I attempted a pollinator array on April 6.  It seems 10C was just warm enough for flowers to (try to) open, but not for pollinators to fly.  Over two hours of observation, I saw just one bee visit one flower.

Bellaire Woods pollinator array

Pollinator array. Gusts of wind kept exposing the foam base, which should be covered by leaves.

Finally, and not surprisingly, I was too early for trout lily flowering at Six Mile Creek, Ithaca NY: the reproductive individuals were only beginning to emerge.  I identified some promising populations, though, and look forward to returning in a week or two to try again.


Trout lily in the snow. That’s a reproductive individual emerging in the foreground.

Working with a spring ephemeral isn’t easy. These plants offer but a small window of opportunity each year, and the whole venture can be thrown off by a bit of inclement weather.  But any time I feel the slightest bit of disappointment, I have only to look at the forest around me, awakening after a long winter, and I’m reminded that I’ve got one of the greatest offices on Earth.

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