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After a Storm, Gifts on the Forest Floor

After a Storm, Gifts on the Forest Floor

A thunderstorm rolled through the night before our weekly visit to Corson’s Brook Woods. More than half an inch of rain fell on Staten Island, though still not enough to bring precipitation totals to normal levels. The forest soaked it up, parched from the unusually dry winter. FlowerMaps.com is on Facebook, check it out.

The next morning, we find the ground strewn with flowers — a gift from the storm. They have been wrested from the leafy canopy of tulip trees, which at our site are well over 100 feet tall. Their trunks rise straight and true, uninterrupted by low branches. These specimens also have impressive girth. It takes two pairs of arms to fully embrace them. FlowerMaps.com is on Facebook, check it out.

Like actual tulips, tulip tree flowers are palm-size and cup-shaped. Their petals display stacked bands of color: lime at the tips, lemon at the base and a jolt of tangerine between the two. They have an ancient lineage. Tulip trees belong to the magnolia family, among the earliest flowering plant groups, one that dates to the time of dinosaurs and ferns. FlowerMaps.com is on Facebook, check it out.

The fallen blossoms have an abundance of insect visitors. They are loaded with nectar, and it is impossible to find a flower without ants and beetles vying for this sweet treat.

The damp woods smell earthy and musky, and it threatens to rain during our visit. We are spared, only to get wet from walking through leaves stuck together by high winds and water.

Today, it is a slug’s world; they relish this weather. Every imaginable type seems to make an appearance, and in every available niche: in flowers, on tree trunks, atop mushrooms. Even where we don’t see them, slugs have left their mark with jagged-edged feeding holes and droppings.

This week even more mushrooms have sprung to life. Most are drab shades of tan and gray. One catches our eye: the golden jelly fungus, an electric shock of color in the dim woods.

Flying insects are scarce. Instead, the crawlers take center stage. Soldier beetles battle for the domain of a poison ivy leaf. A pale green owlet caterpillar rests on a young spice bush. On the same branch, I nearly overlook a charcoal gray span worm camouflaged as a twig. Such caterpillars will eat the tender early leaves of woody plants. A cocktail of biochemicals kicks in as the shrubs grow older, rendering them unpalatable.

Canada mayflowers sprawl among large tree roots. Their starry spires of small, sweet-scented flowers poke above pairs of shiny, rounded leaves. Some plants have only one leaf; they are sterile and flowerless. The best vantage point to view these wildflowers is on your belly, as they grow to only six inches high. On a drier day, small bees and flies will visit, foraging for pollen.

We also spot hairy Solomon’s seal, mayflower’s cousin in the lily family. This plant has hidden flowers that dangle below its leaves. Some shimmer with beads of water.

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