Trout Lily: When you walk through the spring forest, look down along the forest floor for the yellow drooping lily flowers of the trout lily. The green leaves, speckled with brown like trout, carpet the forest floor in the early spring in Coolidge State Park.
Bloodroot: One of the greatest treats in looking for wildflowers is to find a native poppy plant. What can this possibly be? The blood root flower, a small white flower with a yellow center (kind of like a big, low to the ground daisy), with a unique curled leaf can be found in moist forest edges in the spring. Look for these below a row of sugar maple trees next to a road. If you are having trouble finding these, they have been spotted in Branbury State Park.
Pink Lady Slipper: Look carefully for the rare native orchid, the pink lady slipper, under oak and pine trees in moist woods. Lady slippers are a treat to find—look for the two large green leaves on either side of the stem, and the pouched pink orchid flower hanging in the center. These have been spotted in Brighton State Park.
Trillium: Watch for the deep burgundy petals of the red trillium in the rich soils in Gifford Woods State Park. Later in the summer, this three leaved plants will have a red berry-like fruit where red flowers can be found in May and June.
Maidenhair Fern: You probably have seen all sorts of ferns in the forests of Vermont, from large, tall bracken ferns you could hide under to small hay scented ferns carpeting forest openings. If you know what to look for, you may be able to find the uncommon maidenhair fern. This fern has finely textured frilly fronds with curved stalks so that they appear to be large springs unwinding, or like curled locks of a maiden’s hair circling in the breeze. The wiry stems are a dark reddish brown and the frilly fronds are a deep green. These ferns are uncommon because they grow only in rich soils mostly on wooded slopes. Look for them in the forest at Emerald Lake State Park.
Pitcher plant: What is a plant to do when it lives in a highly acidic environment with no available nutrients to grow? Digest insects! The pitcher plant adapted to grow in acidic peat bog environments by trapping and digesting insects. Look for the pitcher plant in the peat bogs of Lake Carmi State Park and Peacham Bog in Groton State Forest. This tubular plant has a pitfall trap that lures insects into its watery depths. The sides of the plant’s vase shaped trap are slippery and have downward facing hairs that prevent the insects from escaping. The liquid at the bottom of the pitcher plant dissolves the insects and makes the insect’s nutrients available to the plant.
Eastern Hemlock: If there was a contest to find the best tree to sit under on the hottest of the dog days of summer, the eastern hemlock would be the victor. These large, evergreen trees provide nice shade in summer and shelter from storms in winter. You can know this tree from far away by observing its drooping limbs and leaders. The leader of a tree is the very top part of the tree, and only hemlocks have a leader that droops. Because of their many branching limbs, hemlock trees are excellent for climbing. Hemlocks grow very large and can live a very long time—over 500 years! The bark is deeply furrowed and dark brown with reddish inner bark underneath. The needles are short, flat and dark green with two white racing stripes on the underside. You can find groves of these beautiful shady trees in many Vermont state parks, including Little River, Emerald Lake and Woodford State Parks.
Sugar Maple: The most common forest tree in Vermont is also designated as the state tree. What is it? The beloved sugar maple. Vermont has the highest composition of sugar maple than any other state in the union. Industrious Vermont maple syrup producers tap over half a million gallons of sap from these trees every spring. Sugar maples are deciduous trees (they lose their leaves in the fall) with five lobed leaves with smooth edges. The bark on young trees is smooth and gray while on older trees it becomes furrowed and shaggy. We can thank sugar maples for our beautiful foliage because in the autumn they turn bright yellow or orange. You can find these magnificent trees in many state parks, including Mt. Ascutney, Half Moon and Mount Philo State Parks.
Paper Birch: The distinctive white bark of the paper birch tree makes it the easiest forest tree to identify. Look for white thin bark that peels in thin horizontal layers that looks almost like paper and rolls up into “scrolls” on the ground. The paper birch is the very first tree that will grow in most areas after a disturbance (such as fire). They live about 70 years and new birch trees cannot grow in the shade of adult trees. Paper birch release their small brown seeds in the winter when they are blown out over the snow surface by winter winds. These seeds are a popular food item with the winter birds of Vermont. Look for these small brown seeds on the snow after a windy day. Birch bark is used for many decorative items, such as baskets and wreathes, and it is also a great fire starter. Make sure you use only bark you find on the forest floor because peeling bark off live trees will cause permanent damage to the tree. You can find these beautiful trees in Silver Lake, Smugglers Notch, Lake St. Catherine and Lake Carmi State Parks.
Tamarack: The tamarack is a very unique tree because it is a coniferous tree—so it has needles and grows cones, but it is also a deciduous tree—so all the needles fall off each autumn. This unique deciduous coniferous tree is one of a kind, and you can find it in the swamps and wetlands of Vermont. Lake Carmi State Park and Stillwater State Park are two places to find lots of these interesting trees. Look for light green needles in clumps of 10-20 that feel soft in the summer and turn bright yellow in the fall. The tamarack bark is light brown and flaky with reddish inner bark underneath.