Speaking of Nature: Surprised by strawberries in the grass: Flowers will bloom whether you pay attention or not

Growing low to the ground, the flowers of the wild strawberry are easy to identify if you just happen to remember to look for them.

Growing low to the ground, the flowers of the wild strawberry are easy to identify if you just happen to remember to look for them. PHOTO BY BILL DANIELSON


For the Gazette

Published: 05-14-2024 11:47 AM

Every week I try to end my column with an inspirational line or two in the hopes of motivating my readers to get outside and see what’s going on in their own back yards. As I sit and peck away at the keyboard this morning I realize that the opportunities for this sort of outdoor exploration have somehow eluded me this spring. I feel as though I have been swept up in some sort of time jump and, as a result, I have missed everything for the past two weeks.

I can’t really blame this on my trip in April because I try to do something with that week off from school every year. I can’t really blame the weather because, on the whole, everything has been pretty nice. I went away, I came home, and then two weeks seemed to just slip by. The evidence for this comes largely in the form of sound.

I clearly remember the first time I heard spring peepers this year and it was made clearly rememberable by the fact that it came so early (thanks El Nino). With equal clarity I can remember the first time I heard American toads singing and there was one magical evening when both toads and peepers were in full song while I also heard a pair of Barred Owls hootin’ it up in the woods behind my house and a male Wild Turkey doing some impressive gobbling in the fading light. The thing about it is this: the magic seemed only to hit for one night. It wasn’t a week or two, it was just the once.

I suppose the warmer-than-usual temperatures that we have experienced all winter have probably had something to do with this, but I also have this nagging feeling that something else has been wielding an influence in the background; a force that is in play, but somehow remaining undetected. I find myself surprised when I go out into my yard because birds have arrived while I wasn’t paying attention and flowers have started blooming without my notice.

Here is an example of what I am talking about: Just the other day, in preparation for the garbage pickup that was scheduled for the next morning, I took a walk up the driveway with the garbage bin in tow. Along my driveway, on the right-hand side, there is a collection of interesting plants that I have curated in the way one might select plants for a botanical garden. This is a very fancy and highfalutin way of saying that I didn’t mow them.

Among the interesting little plants is the wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca) and I find the flowers of the plant so beautiful that I just cannot bear the thought of destroying them with the spinning steel blades of death that keep the rest of my lawn in check. As a result, the right side of my driveway “goes wild” for a good part of the season as I attempt to allow the plants to go through their full cycle of flowering and fruiting. Despite all of my efforts, I rarely end up seeing a wild strawberry fruit. I suspect that they are so delicious and so perfectly sized that the birds beat me to them every year.

Anyway, I’m walking up the driveway with garbage bin in tow and as I reach the strawberry patch I am amazed to find dozens of flowers in full bloom. When did that happen? Low to the ground with five snow-white petals that are attached to the plant by what appear to be impossibly slender filaments that give them the appearance that they are hovering next to the plant without actually being attached to it, the flowers of wild strawberries are the physical manifestation of elegance.

Once the flower has been pollinated the petals will fall off and the familiar shape of the actual berry will start to show itself. This starts out rather small and green and the anthers and pistils of the flower may still be visible for a time. Eventually, as the berry grows in size, the color will change from green to red and the fruit will be ready to eat. Remember that the entire notion of fruit is a contrivance engineered by plants to convince animals to help with seed dispersal. Basically, the plant is hiding its offspring in something delicious in the hopes that an animal will eat it and carry its offspring to a new place. Three cheers for plants!

Weekends are precious to most of us because it is only on the weekends that we can depend on being able to relax and soak up the sights and sounds around our own homes. A rainy weekend can contribute to the impossibly fast passage of time because we are deprived of the opportunity to get outside. It is for this reason that I genuinely envy anyone who has a porch or a balcony with a roof. The chance to sit outside, even on a rainy day, and listen to the world fill with birdsong is a real treat indeed.

So, as always, I encourage you to take a moment for yourself and get outside. Even if you have to open your garage and sit in a lawn chair, do it. Time is passing quickly and the birds don’t call a time out when it rains. The flowers will bloom whether you pay attention or not, so the next time you walk out to the mailbox make sure to take a careful look around you. You might just see something that you’d never noticed before, or somehow lost track of in the hustle and bustle of the modern world we live in.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 26 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts State Parks and he currently teaches high school biology and physics. For more in formation visit his website at www.speakingofnature.com, or go to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.