PORTER | “You’re all together to find out if they’re here yet!” Indiana Dunes State Park naturalist Jessica Rosier said to her group of hikers Saturday morning, trying to catch a glimpse of the year’s first wildflower.
Although there was no sighting of the elusive bloom of white, purple or pink, there was plenty of green, which indicated that soon wildflowers will be populating the forest floor.
“Because we have had a dry, warm winter, flowers have been slow to bloom. But in the spring, even a few days can mean a big difference in terms of color,” Rosier told the group, whose members came from Hammond, Portage and Chesterton to hit the trails.
One of the first species identified was skunk cabbage, a leafy green and maroon bulbous projection that sprouted through swampy dead debris.
“Skunk cabbage uses thermogenesis, so it breaks down its own roots to put out energy and heat, melting the ground around it and attracting insects to pollinate it,” Rosier said.
The flower, visible inside, is not the sweetest smelling blossom — the skunk cabbage smells like its moniker — and Rosier broke off a piece of the plant to give hikers a whiff.
Hikers searched for one of the first wildflowers to bloom each year in the region, called the Harbinger of Spring, but were not successful. Instead, they witnessed plenty of wild leeks, wild onion and spiderwort popping up along the trails.
“This is also called cow slobber or snot weed because when you break it open, a stringy goo that feels like glue or snot comes out. But later it blooms into a flower with purple petals,” she said of the spiderwort.
The wild leek also was abundant along trail 2 just past the Great Marsh off of Wilson’s Shelter, pushing up through mole tunnels in clusters.
“The Menominee Indians called these sikaku, which sounds like Chicago and is how the city got its name," Rosier said. "The leaves grow up to one foot tall and when the leaves fall off, a white flower will grow in its place.”