A quartet of coltsfoot

A quartet of coltsfoot, another early bloomer that’s easy to overlook as it looks kinda weedy from a distance and grows in wet marshy ground. But get close up and it shows off its lovely florets, not to mention its pretty good golf ball impression. Enough to make anyone smile 🙂

It was only last year that I truly appreciated the flowers of palmate coltsfoot for the first time. I’d taken photos of it before and generally thought it was a straggly-looking plant without much in the way of interesting flowers. After being put firmly right I decided that this year I would endeavour to take some photos that showed just how nice a flower it really is. My favourite photo is probably the first one, showing the florets as they begin to flower.

From a distance, the florets don’t look like much – just some dots on the end of green stems. Then there’s the fact it grows in wet places which likely puts off most people from getting anywhere near it in the first place. The second photo is my attempt to show this with the muddy stream I had to jump across and NW Marine Drive in the background. See what I mean? Why would anyone stop to take a closer look at these flowers? I’m sure I got a few strange looks from passing cyclists and car occupants as I stooped and crouched to get the angles I wanted.

The most obvious feature of coltsfoot when it’s in bloom is its golf-ball-like head of florets on a cabbage-green stalk, surrounded by a handful of leaves. This year I was pleased to find a really lovely golf-ball impression with the third photo. OK so it doesn’t look quite as much like a golf ball when viewed close up, but from a distance it’s quite convincing. I really like how the florets look a bit like birds’ nests complete with eggs in this photo.

Finally, like a floral firework, the florets open out to produce a veritable feast for pollinators with dozens of tiny flowers to visit. The fourth photo caught my eye as it looks a bit like a smiley face. Doesn’t it? 🙂

So there you go – a quick tour of an under-appreciated wildflower. Maybe it’ll tempt you to check it out for yourself?

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Spring colour

My Instagram feed seems to have taken on a monochrome look lately, so here’s some springtime colour for wildflower Wednesday

Flower roll-call:

  1. Pretty shooting stars – rare near Vancouver as they prefer drier conditions
  2. Skunk cabbage, also known as the swamp lantern – great name!
  3. Western trillium – barely blooming, I normally expect these to bloom before the fawn lilies
  4. Fawn lily buds – like glacier lilies, it’s not uncommon for them to produce a couple of flowers per stem
  5. White fawn lilies in bud and bloom – yay! The show is just beginning!

I start to get itchy photographic fingers about this time of year ever since I found my first fawn lilies at the very end of my photo-a-day project back in 2012. While Lighthouse Park is my favourite place to go look for them, I found a small patch growing in the Rainforest Garden at the UBC Botanical Garden a couple of years ago and – since I can get in for free – figured that it’d be worth checking out. And that’s exactly what I did last Sunday afternoon.

But it’s not just about the fawn lilies: the gardens have a little patch of Garry Oak ecosystem where other flowers bloom. Among the first out are the gorgeous pink shooting stars, and so perfectly named. In a few weeks it looks like the main flowers there will be nodding onion, but I’m hoping to find others too.

Of course, after a decade of hiking in BC, I now look forward to the sight (and, yes, smell) of the fresh skunk cabbage, their cheery yellow “lanterns” pushing up through marshy ground. And I always love seeing trillium – it doesn’t grow in abundance like it does in Ontario so it’s always a treat to find it growing. Again while Lighthouse Park has been my go-to spot for the longest time, I found many more blooming in Campbell Valley Regional Park last year.

On my travels that day I found a few more early flowers too, which I’ll save for another post. All in all, a pretty good afternoon, and it’s got me really in the mood for spring.

The time of flowers

Couldn’t resist going back for another photo session with the fawn lilies 🙂 I even found a pink one! And yes, just one, hiding out among the false lily-of-the-valley.

I just knew it would happen – the draw of documenting this year’s fawn lily display was too strong and I headed over to Lighthouse Park once again with a bit of time in hand so I could crawl around on wet moss and grass in my attempts to capture the perfect flower photo. Quite a few of the flowers were past their peak, and one patch in particular that I was hoping to capture had already flowered and were now well into their seed-pod phase. But I still found plenty to admire, plus I found a couple of new patches off the beaten path to carefully investigate next year.

After my recent escapades with getting flower photos I’ve decided that our next camera absolutely must have a tilting or articulating/fold-out screen. It’s simply impossible to look through a viewfinder that’s anywhere from 4 to 12 inches off the ground without getting wet, muddy, or trampling other plants. I used Live View on the SLR for framing where possible, but even then it’s hard to see a 3-inch (vertical) screen so close to the ground. Worse, the reflections off the screen make it almost impossible to see what you’re framing, what the camera’s focusing on, or what you’ve taken. So once again I ended up using the compact camera for more shots than I expected, despite it being trickier to focus correctly (by which I mean it’s harder to get it to focus on the correct subject).

But as I mentioned above, this visit had one little surprise in store for me. As I walked back to the parking lot, I noticed something pink at the far edge of a patch of false lily-of-the-valley behind a big cedar. I leaned against the split-rail fence, zoomed in, held the camera at arm’s length and took a snap just for the record. It really did seem to be the only one as I couldn’t see any other leaves. I’ll be sure to look out for that again on future visits, and, if no one’s looking, I just might hop the fence for a closer look…

Coltsfoot close up

I hadn’t appreciated just how cute the tiny florets of palmate coltsfoot could be, especially since it’s quite a straggly-looking plant that favours wet, swampy conditions

I was pleased to find this flower a few years back (and posted a photo last spring as well) on account of it being a favourite of a late friend of ours, but I had to admit I didn’t really see the attraction. It doesn’t grow in pretty areas – I’ve mostly found it in boggy ditches – the flower head looks kinda messy, like it’s unravelling, and the overall impression is of an unforgettable flower. So when I saw them growing this year along the Capilano Pacific trail, I stooped to take a few snapshots (more out of a sense of duty than anything else) but didn’t really pay close attention to what I was photographing.

It was only when I got home and looked through the handful of photos that I realized what I’d got: for once, I’d captured the coltsfoot flower at the moment it actually blooms. All I’d seen before was just the pre-bloom flower when the florets look like budding dandelions (or similar). The tiny pink-and-white florets are really quite pretty little star-like flowers. So maybe that’s why our friend liked them so much? Either way, it’s given me a whole new appreciation of this flower, and I’ll be on the lookout for its alpine relative when it blooms later in the year.

Signs of spring II

It may not look like much at the moment but in a week or so this will be a beautiful white fawn lily, one of my favourite spring flowers. There was no sign of any shoots when I was in Lighthouse Park a few weeks ago, but I was inspired to go looking for them again after I saw a similar photo from @plantexplorer. I also found a few salmonberry flowers down by the lighthouse, so despite our recent weather, spring is definitely on its way!

I was wondering how soon the fawn lilies would begin to poke up through the pine and fir needles given the very wintry winter we’ve had. Turns out they’re pretty much right on schedule (unlike last year when they were ridiculously early). I imagine I’ll be making a couple more trips to Lighthouse Park to catch their peak bloom, but I also want to check out another area to see if they’re growing there too as I have an indirect suggestion that fawn lilies may grow there too.

As soon as I started taking photos I immediately lamented not bringing my tripod. Bending over in the wet dirt (on a steep slope) trying to get a compact camera to focus on the right part of the green-on-green plant was an exercise in patience and frustration. I took a couple of dozen photos in order to get just 3 or 4 that I consider to have worked! After all, I can even set up the camera and just use my phone to control when to take the picture with no need to kneel in the dirt. Next time…

Signs of spring

Signs of spring – some cheery, curly witch-hazel blooms.

I love looking out for witch hazel blooms in January. They’re my primary indicator of spring, more so than the snowdrop and crocus bulbs planted in so many front gardens. When I worked at UBC, I’d walk past one particular tree on the way to the bus and enjoyed seeing the curly yellow extensions, a splash of bright colour in an otherwise grey winter. But I hadn’t seen any this winter so far, despite keeping my eyes open on my many walks around the neighbourhood. At least, I thought I was keeping my eyes open. As it turns out, I walked right past this tree several times, though in my defence it was usually dark and I was on the other side of the street. And yet somehow I hadn’t noticed the witch hazel in previous years either.

In any case, I was really pleased to find this tree and took a dozen or more photos to try and capture the cheer, hoping that the residents wouldn’t come out to ask why I was pointing my camera towards their home. And much as I like many of my earlier photos of yellow blooms against a blue sky, I love the depth of colour in this one.

I was surprised to find that I was decidedly not the first person to use the tag “witchhazelwednesday” on Instagram. Who knew that a few dozen others would decide on that tag? Fascinating 🙂

Bluebell patch

Vancouver’s very own miniature bluebell wood

Bluebells are synonymous with my childhood. Every year we’d all visit a patch of woodland not too far from home that would be carpeted with thousands of flowers. Of course, being young and innocent (and ignorant), we’d pick handfuls to take home to mum – something I wouldn’t even dream of doing these days, preferring to take loads of photos instead 🙂

And so it was a nice surprise to see so many bluebells around the city. Mostly they’re just planted in front gardens (where they come in white and pink varieties), but this little patch is on a small area of rough ground near the CP railway line on the Arbutus corridor. Most of the year it’s a postage stamp of grass edged by a tangle of scruffy blackberry bushes, but for a few short weeks it’s also an urban flower meadow, first blooming with crocuses and then a carpet (or at least a large rug) of bluebells.