June 3, 2014

A Walk in the Woods: Dress Whites, Hoods, and Fruiting Bodies

Late May into June is a time for small white flowers in the woods, as though announcing a bridal season. First to greet me as I step into the dappled darkness are the elegant little starflowers: pointed petals, pointed leaves, a bright green center and spreading stamens topped with yellow spheres.

A carpet of green dotted with white is found further down the path. This is the bunchberry, which confuses us in that its white "petals" are actually bracts, and the flowers are in the center.

I see several flowers made up of clusters, round as above, or in spikes. I don't know what this flower is, but its tiny flowers seem to explode from the center, the stamens reaching outward into space.

I think this may be a foamflower. The camera's close eye lets me see the spectacular sight of the tiny many-petaled flowers and their very long pistil and stamens. (click to enlarge and see details)

The wild lily of the valley has a similar structure to the two flowers above, though with fewer elements. They look like little Sputniks spinning about.

This too, probably a red baneberry, has the outstretched stamens. I wonder if the tiny size of the flowers makes this structure more important in pollination. They are all lovely to come across on the woodland path, so delicate and light and airy.

After the frothy whites of the small flowers, what could be more different than the large, sturdy, green and deep-red Jack in the Pulpits. Their vase shaped forms and curving hoods create dramatic characters along the woodland path. 

There is more to enjoy than flowers in the woods, though in a way, mushrooms are the flowers of the fungi living underground. They are its fruiting bodies (I love that phrase) that carry spores for reproduction. And how magical they are, appearing suddenly, seeming from nowhere. And how especially wonderful when a choice edible like a morel pops up in the middle of the path, a single grand mushroom with its complex cap, like a mass of cave dwellings.

I am ending with an image that may seem quite ugly, a mass of old shelf mushrooms that must have fallen together from their tree. On the forest floor they look almost like an animal pelt, dark and worn and furry. I see something compelling in this decaying mass: a complex layering of texture and deep colors, contrasted with the warm-colored gluey surface of the interior. Decay is part of the cycle of life and death, having a beauty of its own.


  1. From Alesha CLayborn aleshaclayborn@yahoo.com
    Hi i just happened to recognize the picture third down from the top i believe. that small cluster of white blooms is a ginseng plant. My mom and I dig ginseng every season here in northern arkansas where we live , it has become an addiction im afraid. Those white blooms will later have berries, green at first and as we go into august they are red. they are beautiful plants and can bring a pretty penny you dig enough of the roots.