Lockport Nature Trail


(This 996th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on April 25, 2010.)


The odd flower of wild ginger


I salute the Town of Lockport and former supervisor John B. Austin for creating the nature trail at 6655 Slayton Settlement Road. Established in 2001 from an old quarry, this park is an excellent partner to the City of Lockport's Gulf Wilderness Park.


Kalista Lehrer, one of the fine botanists of the Niagara Frontier Botanical Society, guided me on a walk along that nature trail on a recent sunny mid-April morning.


When we began our hike the temperature was still in the 30s, but by the time we finished two hours later my jacket felt too warm. We found the trails up the rocky slopes well maintained and, especially for this time of year, remarkably dry. Others were hiking the several miles of well-marked paths, some just out for the exercise but some, like us, there to see the wildflowers.


And what a botanical bonanza we found. This is, of course, the time of year when spring ephemerals are blooming, racing to acquire the sun's energy for reproduction before the leaves mature on the surrounding trees. As soon as shade recasts the forest, the time for many of these plants to flourish will have passed, their lovely blossoms will have wilted and died and they will have retreated into quietude to wait a full year for another brief season in the sun.


At the top of the first steep section of the trail Lehrer pointed out two patches of Dutchman's breeches, well-named because the white flowers do look like rows of tiny, upside-down pantaloons hung from a clothesline and ballooning in the wind. There is an odd feature of this name, however: it makes you giggle whenever you see this wildflower, a contradiction to its appearance for it is really one of the most attractive plants in the woodlands. I wonder if we wouldn't think even better of it if it had a more conservative title.


Later we would come upon a relative of Dutchman's breeches, another member of the fumitory family, this one called squirrel corn. Without the blossoms, Lehrer told me, she could not tell the two plants apart, and indeed they both have delicate fern-like compound leaves below their blooms. The white flowers are similar too but the squirrel corn's are usually described as heart-shaped. They are the same shape as the pink bleeding hearts of my wife's garden. Wayne Gall tells me that the name squirrel corn relates to the appearance of this plant's bulbs.


"Maybe we should have waited until this afternoon," Lehrer remarked as we passed large areas of green on the forest floor. "The spring beauties are not yet out." But no sooner had she said that than the lovely little blossoms of these plants began to pop open, adding white dots to that ground cover. Most of the wildflowers we would see can be described as delicate, but to me the spring beauties are perfect embodiments of that word. The lilac cast to their blossoms and the near microscopic yellow central breeding parts added to this quality when I looked at them close up.


Trout lilies also opened their drooping yellow blossoms. I remember these flowers by one of their alternate names, dog-toothed violets, a name assigned by colonists to this North American species because of their experience with similar European flowers. Dog-toothed refers to shapes on the roots of those European relatives, but there is no excuse for the name violet. Equally inappropriate is another name for these plants: adder's tongue. Even its scientific name is off: Erythronium means red, far wide of the mark for this yellow blossom.


Large-flowered or white trillium


Then Lehrer pointed out individual plants. Cut-leafed toothworts, that name perfectly describing its leaves. Spring cress, its four-petal white flowers similar to the toothworts but its leaves quite different. Blue cohosh, so named for the blue berries that will appear later, but to me the young plants have a blue cast as well. Bloodroot flowers that remind me of those of strawberries. Wild ginger with its odd triangular flower at the base of its stem. And even a few trilliums the deer had not yet grazed.


Insects too were out: a bumblebee and an American beauty butterfly were also attracted to these lovely wildflowers.-- Gerry Rising