Don’t get me wrong, I love spring, but the first signs of green to shoot out of the leaf litter stink! While this spring seems to be on fast-forward, with many woodland wildflowers appearing almost to six weeks early, the first plants to sprout in Lake County were still the stinky duo of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), and Chicago‘s supposed namesake, wild leek (Allium tricoccum). The Native American tribes of this region called the plant in question “shikaakwa” or “chicagoua”.
When the first days of March roll around in northern Illinois, many of us search desperately for the first signs of spring. For some, it may be the green “sprouttles” of spring beauties thrusting themselves out of the leaf-matted soil. For others, it might be hearing the two-toned territorial call of a chickadee or the pungent smell of skunk cabbage. For many, it may just be the feel of mud squashing under their boots on the hike to find any and all signs of early spring.
For me, the first sign of spring is not something you can see, hear, smell or feel. It is what is happening in silent mystery beneath the bark of the sugar maple trees—the first run of sap. This typically occurs in Lake County around Valentine’s Day, far before anyone is thinking about spring.