First Day of Spring–More or Less

And frosts are slain and flowers begotten

And in green underwood and core

       Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

Algernon Charles Swinburne

 March is the drabbest month of the year.  The snow has melted revealing vast expanses of brown grass and a winter’s accumulation of trash that’s been hidden beneath its white blanket.  March is completely unpredictable—warm and sunny in the 50’s or even 60’s one day, cold and raw the next.  Rain, wind, snow, and sometimes ice storms are part of the March package.  Some years Spring starts in March; other years, she stubbornly waits until mid-April.

First Day of Spring–more or less–through the Years

early spring patio

3/21/2013  My patio last year. It looks exactly the same this year.

winter aconite 2012

3/6/2012  Winter Aconite .  2012 was the earliest spring I have ever witnessed.  I  only have 3 or 4 of these early flowers in bloom so far this year.


3/6/2012  Snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii) in bloom by my back door.

Yes, I know these two aren’t native, but they are welcome because they bloom in March.  They are ephemerals and the whole plant disappears before the natives wake up.

Skunk Cabbage

3/17/2009  Skunk Cabbage  (Symplocarpus foetidus) at Bluff Spring Fen.  Earliest of all, it literally creates its own heat and melts the snow that covers it–its unusual flowers may emerge as early as February.   The yellow-green flowers, arranged in a knoblike spadex inside a green and purple-brown mottled, hoodlike spathe, are attractive to early pollinating insects and to those of us who are eager for the earliest signs of spring.   Skunk Cabbage is found in seeps, fens and marshes.

 carex sprengellii early spring

3/11/2010 Carex sprengellii in my garden.  Sedges green up early.

 carex pedunculata

3/12/2009  Carex pedunculata growing on a ravine slope at Trout Park in Elgin.  It resembles pensylvanica, but its blades are wider and darker green.  It appears to be evergreen.  It forms a mat, thereby preventing erosion.

pussy willow BSF

3/17/2009  Pussy Willow (Salix discolor), every child’s favorite symbol of Spring, opens its furry gray catkins at the beginning of March or some years as early as February.  Easily found on spring walks, it grows in shrubby marshes and wetlands throughout the Midwest, frequently in the company of other willows and Red-osier Dogwood.  With permission, we cut armfuls of branches to bring Spring indoors.  (The Pussy Willow sold in flower shops is usually Salix caprea, a European import.)  Salix discolor grows into an attractive, multi-stem shrub, 10-15’ tall, that is suitable to grow on home grounds in moist to wet areas. It doesn’t appear to be available at nurseries, but stems root quickly in water.

A source of ornament, sentiment, shade, and aspirin, the willows are a rich part of our history and landscape.

Dick Young

Kane County Wild Plants & Natural Area

BSF March snow

3/23/2008  Bluff Spring Fen.  Snow can be part of the March package even after the official start of spring.

Here are some entries from my Garden Diary late March 2008:

March 20 Finally saw a robin–a pair on my north parkway.

21 Snow!  6”!

25    Warmer, upper 50’s, but terribly windy–too cold to be outside.

Snow melted.

26 Lower 50’s.  Cut down and cleaned up patio garden.

27 Wet snow–35 degrees

hazelnut march

3/25/2007 Catkins on American Hazelnut in my back yard.

American Hazelnut

Golden pollen spills from the pendulous male catkins of the American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) lighting up savannas, woodland edges, and fencerows from early March until mid-April.  Growing 8-10’ tall, Hazelnut forms colonies by means of root sprouts.   Before European settlement it was the most prominent shrub in the Chicago region.  But the suppression of fire and the overgrowth of exotic honeysuckle and buckthorn has altered the composition of open savannas to the extent that Hazelnut is rarely found in the wild any more.  I’ve searched in vain in the Forest Preserves of northern Kane County, ever hopeful to see it in its native habitat.

 What have you seen in bloom this spring?   Have you seen catkins of Pussy Willow or Quaking Aspen or Speckled Alder?  Have you seen the first robin?   A flock of Red-winged Blackbirds?  Have you seen or heard the Canadian Goose or Sandhill Cranes migrating north?  Have you heard a Spring Peeper?  Let’s share early spring with each other.



12 Responses to First Day of Spring–More or Less

  1. Suzanne Massion March 24, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    I think our American hazelnuts are still asleep, but I saw a couple of early chipmunks the other day. Does that count Pat? Your images of past springs just brightened my day.

    • Pat Hill March 25, 2014 at 9:14 am #

      I don’t think Chipmunks migrate, but perhaps they hibernate. Does anyone know?

      • Suzanne Massion March 25, 2014 at 9:02 pm #

        The little rascals hibernate. Their burrows are everywhere in the back of our house near the foundation and deck. I think the recent brief warm weather had a couple venturing out to see if Mother Nature was serious about the thaw. Haven’t seen any since.

  2. Peggy Timmerman March 24, 2014 at 9:09 pm #

    Is there a common name for carex peduculata? It looks like it could be useful on hillside gardens.

    We have geese, redwing blackbirds and cranes all back in our marsh, even though our pond is still covered with ice. The cardinals and the tufted titmouse are singing, and a flock of cedar waxwings has graced us with their presence for a few days on their way north.

    • Pat Hill March 25, 2014 at 9:09 am #

      Its common name is Long-stalked Hummock Sedge according to Swink & Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region. It also says “This is a species of dry calcareous wooded ravine slopes.” so, yes, it’s vey good in controlling erosion on a shady hillside.

      Lucky you with all the visiting birds.

  3. mike March 25, 2014 at 8:25 am #

    I’ve a frog chorus in northwest indiana. lot’s of woodpecker drumming as well.

  4. mike March 25, 2014 at 8:26 am #

    I’ve heard a frog chorus in northwest indiana. lot’s of woodpecker drumming as well.

  5. Jason March 30, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    I love the hazelnut catkins. That is on a long list of shrubs I would like to have but don’t.

    • Pat Hill March 30, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

      The autumn foliage is stunning, the catkins made in the fall are beautiful against the snow–it’s a 4-season shrub. It was one of Jens Jensen’s favorite shrubs. Have you read his book, “Siftings”? I highly recommend it.

  6. Suzanne Massion March 30, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

    Today, a large flock of Sandhill Cranes flew over (probably 25 or 30). We heard them before we saw them. They were heading in a general northerly direction. We could hear them intermittently for two more hours. Been seeing Robins for several days. The Black-capped Chickadees are crying “Spring’s here, Spring’s here”. Also, I think I heard the chorus frogs in the ephemeral pond singing today.

  7. Pat Glen April 1, 2014 at 7:06 am #

    We have also heard and seen squadrons of Sandhills overhead. It’s really wonderful to wake up to the sound of birds singing again.

  8. Pat April 8, 2014 at 9:45 am #

    This is such an exciting time of year despite all the gray and drab. And no annoying bugs!

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