By the end of May, the woods has largely greened. Leaves that began to emerge early in the month with a few shrubs have extended to the treetops. I usually find elderberry, gooseberry and honeysuckle are the pace setters with opening their new leaves. These shrubs are followed by trees of quaking aspens and willows. And then, the whole woods takes on this new color.
In late May, we see even the large oaks, maples and basswoods leafing as well. This new canopy giving shade that we may appreciate on warm days also affects more of the forest.
The spring migrants that were fairly easy to see when the trees were devoid of leaves are now harder to locate. Fortunately, they sing and we are able to find this bird movement.
And there is plenty happening among the forest flora in late May. Spring wildflowers that had thrived on the forest floor earlier as sunlight reached them are now replaced by the next ones: the shade tolerant plants. Walking here now, I see starflower, wild lily-of-the-valley, bunchberry and blue-bead lily. All do well in these new conditions.
Besides giving flowers to the scene, these plants produce plenty of leaves. The woods is very green now, both in the canopy and the understory. In addition to these flowers, ferns have unrolled from their fiddleheads that emerged from the ground a couple of weeks ago. With enough moisture and adequate temperatures, ferns will grow up to 2 feet or more by now.
We might also find seedlings of some trees as they try to grow among all the other plants. I usually note the tiny maples, but their abundance varies on different years. And the mosses are still thriving. But here, too, are growths that are not green.
Fungi abound in the woods of the Northland, but spring is not a good time to find much variety. Though varying due to moisture, our mushroom season normally begins in about mid-July and continues through the late summer and early fall. However, we do get some May fungi.
I have often found the enlarged growths of a jelly fungus during a wet time in May. There is a variety of color, but I'm delighted to find the bright-yellow one known as "witch's butter." Among the spring wildflowers on the ground are bright-red scarlet cups. Well-named, they look like a cup and are very red.
Perhaps the best-known mushroom of May is the morel (not really a mushroom). Found in much of the deciduous forests of the state, they (there is more than one kind) are not as frequent in the northeast. Another one, the false morel, is much more common in our area.
I find these strange looking growths each spring as we go from May to June. They are a regular member of the coniferous forest community at this time. A stout white stem of one to three inches long holds up a brown structure often called a cap, but with plenty of folds and convolutions on its 2- to 4-inch size, it does not look like the cap of other mushrooms.
With all of these folds, false morel (Gyromytra esculenta), is sometimes called "brain fungus." Like the morel, spores are formed in the openings on the cap. For some reason, fungi are often seen as a source of food, but unlike the morel, false morel is best left alone, adding to the rich forest floor of late May and early June.