Thom Smith searches for spring wildflowers

Ever wish that you were first name friends with the wildflowers that begin coming up in April and fill the woods with color in May?

May is a season of its own. In these short weeks while the spring sun warms the soil, and light reaches the ground before the trees unroll their leaves to shade it, ephemeral wildflowers are opening in the woods.

One of the broadest spectrums in the county blooms at Bartholomew’s Cobble in Ashley Falls, owned by The Trustees of Reservations since 1946. Hundreds of plant species have been found on its rocky knolls or cobbles, its floodplain along the Housatonic River, and in its woods, hayfields, pastures and meadows.

If you visit in May you will see sarsaparilla, baneberry, wild geranium, daisy fleabane, golden ragwort, foamflower, violets, bishop’s miterwort, Solomon’s seal and false Solomon’s seal, Canada mayflower, cuckoo flower, golden Alexander, white trillium, nodding trillium, bloodroot, wild ginger, May apple, tree bladdernut and more.

Through May 13, local guides bring visitors onto the trails in the annual Wildflower Festival, a busy time for pollinators, staff and volunteers.

On Saturdays and Sundays, they will lead guided tours of the Ledges Trail, showing

views over the river, plant life (changing day by day as new flowers brighten and fade), and rock outcrops with small kid-friendly caves. More than 250 species of birds have also been identified at the Cobble since it came into the hands of The Trustees in 1946.

Why so much in so small an area? The geology plays a part. S. Waldo Bailey, Botanical Warden at Bartholomew’s Cobble between 1946 and 1963, wrote in an early guide, “Soil conditions vary widely over the Cobble area from the sweet or limey, on or adjacent to the limestone ledges, to the neutral and acid in the open and much of the wooded areas. Such marked variation in the soils within the [then] 44 acres of the Reservation helps to explain the great variety of plant life there.”

He never tired of showing visitors the area’s botanical champions.  With more than five miles of well kept walking trails, it has taken decades to discover the 800 species found on what is today 329 acres and was declared a National Natural Landmark in October 1971.

I fondly recall spending Sunday afternoons exploring The Cobble back in the mid 1950s with Bailey, his wife May and daughter Pricilla. After gaining his confidence I was shown the rarest specimen on the property, a fern hybrid named Scott’s spleenwort. It has since disappeared, I’m told.

But in June, as the flowering slows down to about 40 species, the ferns are at their peak, and as summer progresses I have seen more than 30 kinds of grass-like sedges, black-eyed susans and meadow flowers in July, and more in August and September until frost — the goldenrods alone are spectacular in late summer, about 16 different species here, and thirteen or so different kinds of asters.

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