Spring seasonal change along Cuyahoga Valley National Park's Haskell Run Trail
Spring is a season to savor in northeast Ohio. Seasonal change seems to move slowly in March and April, followed by a burst of activity in May.
You can watch the season unfold by observing the progression of wildflowers through repeat visits to the same location.
In Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I recommend Haskell Run Trail, a half-mile loop that starts from Happy Days Lodge. This trails meanders through a forested ravine, a particularly rich environment this time of year.
Skunk cabbage is the first wildflower to make its appearance, sometimes even before the snow melts. Looking for circles melted into the snow can help you find the plant. It is abundant along Haskell Run Trail at the bottom of the ravine where you first come down the hill from Happy Days. However, you’ll need to look carefully to see its flowers. Leaves don’t grow until after skunk cabbage blooms.
What you might be tempted to call its flower is actually a spathe. It grows like a purple-and-brown hood over a small knob, called a spadix. The plant’s flowers are small, yellow blooms that cover the spadix. You need to look inside the spathe to discover the inconspicuous flowers.
Skunk cabbage grows where groundwater is present. The Cuyahoga Valley has numerous small wetlands fed by water held close to the soil surface by bedrock or heavy clays in the soil.
The shape of the wetland becomes more apparent as skunk cabbage leaves begin to grow, something to look for on visits to Haskell Run later in the spring. The leaves are large and egg-shaped, coloring in the wetland with rich green. As leaves emerge, also look for later-blooming flowers growing in the wetland, including wild violets and buttercups.
Harbinger-of-spring is another March bloomer that you can find along Haskell Run Trail. It prefers open woods and grassy areas, so you are more likely to find it at the end of loop in the grassy field near Happy Days Lodge. The flower also goes by the name pepper-and-salt, earned for its small white flowers contrasting with dark stamens.
As spring unfolds in April and May, diverse flowers bloom in a hurry to soak up the sun before tree leaves close the forest canopy and darken the ground with shade. The moister environment of the ravine, even away from the skunk cabbage wetland, encourages flower growth.
April flowers include spring beauty, a five-petaled white flower lined with pink, and cut-leafed toothwort, a four-petaled member of the mustard family.
In early May, some of the more colorful flowers appear. At the beginning of the trail, before heading down hill into the ravine, look for tiny, delicate bluets growing in the drier uplands. In the bottom of the ravine, look for bright pink wild geraniums.
Later in May, as the tree canopy closes, some more subtle flowers enter the procession, including foam flower and miterwort. Both have tiny white flowers that grow in delicate spikes. Only a close look will let you enjoy their lovely shapes. These flowers are easier to find on second half of the Haskell Run loop.
The flowers along Haskell Run clearly change with time. By becoming more aware of them, I hope you can also become aware of the changes within the environment that support flower diversity.
At first glance, the forest along Haskell Run may seem uniform, but it is full of variety. The skunk cabbage wetland, the ravine bottom lands, the drier uplands, and even the grassy field are four elements of this variety. Exploring variation across both time and space will open you to many wonders of nature’s diversity
Happy Days Lodge is located at 500 W. Streetsboro Road (Route 303), 1 mile west of Route 8 in Peninsula. Haskell Run Trailhead starts from the bulletin board in the corner of the parking lot closest to the building. For more information, call 440-717-3890.
Vasarhelyi is Chief of Interpretation, Education & Visitor Services for Cuyahoga Valley National Park.