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Precursors of Springtime
About North Georgia

by Mary Coeli Meyer, Ph.D.
exclusively for About North Georgia

Other pages on About North Georgia by Dr. Meyer:
Spring on Kennesaw Mountain
Toadstools or Mushrooms
Precursors of Springtime
Spring Has Sprung

Outside my living room window, a Hairy Woodpecker makes its way up the tree. It is committed to its task of finding food. Its attention is undivided. Tap, tap, tap-tap. Such concentration is admirable. If only I could focus my thoughts with the same intensity and look happy as well. Well, that's the little Hairy Woodpecker for you.

Not far from "Hairy", a Bluebird preens its peachy breast. This harbinger of springtime delights my eyes as well as my heart. I love its song. I love its color. There is a sweetness in its presence. More than that, it means that spring is on its way. Hallelujah and wonder of wonder's it only mid-January.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who realizes that spring is coming. A Pine Warbler flits from branch to branch also trying to find some tasty morsels. It doesn't have the same attention span as the woodpecker at least it doesn't look that way. No, it seems to arbitrarily dart among the boughs -- a little here, a little there, maybe here, maybe there. I wonder if its methodology is as productive as the woodpecker that actually looks before pecking.

With all this excitement above my head, I am compelled to get out of the house and investigate what else is happening with this really early spring. I hop in the car and drive to the local park -- taking the dog with me. It's a real case of "Wither thou goeth I shall go". She's a good little dog and makes a wonderful companion. We share many of these walks together, she points out the ground flowers and I show her the birds.

Just last week we were walking in our local park and, as dogs do, she was checking out a bush. Low and behold, the Henbit was ready to bloom. I couldn't believe my eyes. Here it is, January 18, and a flower is about to emerge. Henbit is so named because grazing hens are said to like it. Now, I haven't had any chickens in my backyard but I'll take the words of experts on this one.

Henbit has round scalloped leaves that whorl up a square stem. It's a winter annual that some folks think weed-like. Not I. For me it is an orchid. Looking little plant that lightens up the brown winter landscape and adds color to my life.

Not far from the Henbit is a Dandelion lending even more color to the landscape. I find this a dear little plant. The roots, leaves and blossom are herbal and edible. The herbalist will use the dandelion leaves and root to concoct a bitter tonic or diuretic. It is thought that the dandelion will cleanse the blood and the liver. Meanwhile, the gourmet will serve the leaves in salad; bread the blossoms and fry them in bacon fat or cook up a mess o'greens as a vegetable.

Then there are the little things you don't expect. This creeping little weed has a blossom that resembles a white cover and leaves that are mustard like. It looks like an early spring perennial. Try as I will, I can't seem to name the plant. None of my books seem to have an answer. Undaunted however, I reach out and ask for help at the University of Virginia.Tech. They have a fine "weed" department with a wonderful display of photos on their website. They think it's a Hairy Bitter cress. There is no reason not to agree. Notice the way the leaves are designed--mustards and cress share these qualities.

Thinking about spring preparations: I would like to recommend some really wonderful books for those of you who are inclined to want names to go along with the flowers. In my opinion, they make a solid contribution to a nature-lovers library. Armed with these 3 volumes, most every flower you can find is identifiable.

Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, Lawrence Newcomb
Wildflowers of the Southern Mountains, Richard M. Smith
National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, Eastern Region, Niering and Olmstead.

I also like to pack my knapsack with a magnifying glass so that I can really examine the geometry of the flower. I am always amazed at the magnificence of creation when I look at a blossom up close. Then, there is my notepad and camera. Both are recording instruments that help me to remember the little things that tend to move out of mind just as soon as I think of them. Once I have added a bottle of water and a few tissue, I am ready to go forth and have an experience.

See ya'all on the trail.

Wildflower CDEditor's note: Author and photographer Mary Coeli Meyer's first CD will help anyone and everyone interested in the wildflowers of North Georgia. They are arranged by color to make it easy to find the particular flower you have discovered (Ordering information)
Other pages on About North Georgia by Dr. Meyer:

Spring on Kennesaw Mountain
Toadstools or Mushrooms
Precursors of Springtime
Spring Has Sprung


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North Georgia -- it's a natural! From outdoor adventure to our natural history, About North Georgia covers the area with in-depth articles, photos, and insights into those great, little-known "secrets" of the area.

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Spring Has Sprung
Spring on Kennesaw Mountain
Toadstools or Mushrooms

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