Vermont Green-Up Values and Efforts

Highway trash, fast food packaging, beverage containers of cans and bottles lobbed out of vehicle windows, and grubby trash bags tossed or piled out back, all despoil Vermont’s beauty, environment, and health. I chaired the Green-Up activities in Caledonia County some 40 years ago and watched as schools set aside time to train outdoor Green-Up values, children proudly filling green bags, and neighbors working to clear out filthy and ugly rubble. A splendid spring sense of effort for our environment and communities.

Lycopodium.jpg

Lycopodium

Haircap Moss.jpg

Haircap Moss

Ramps.jpg

Ramps

Chlorophyll’s Green-Up

This April, I hiked several miles along sunny forest trails and was drawn to green organisms displacing rapidly melting snow. I felt that natural greening inspires our communal effort. Both occur in mid-spring and have annual cycles to enjoy. Sunshine and chlorophyll generate a host of natural green-up:

  • 1) Broad hayfields that have been buried by crusty March snow are now benefiting from the groundwater, the warming air, and more hours of sunlight. The fields rapidly generate vivid virid glows as grasses, sedges, and wildflowers offer a wealth of green tones;
  • 2) Fresh greens appear in coniferous forests with the bright new growth of tender twigs, new buds, and needles of widespread firs and spruces;
  • 3) Deciduous trees and shrubs green up at different times and with different colors of their buds, leaves, and stems:
  • a) Red Maples with their bright red buds, flowers, and twigs emerge before their spring green leaves turn autumn red.
  • b) White Ash buds and leaves are green, but their chlorophyll composition is mixed with other pigments, from yellow to red, to purple - colors that will appear in the variable ash trees’ fall foliage as the chlorophyll breaks down.
  • c) Bright green-yellow are the young leaves of poplars (aspens, “popples”) that also display smooth, gray-green bark that adds to the photosynthesis production of these young trees.

The Verdant Forest Floor

Patches of bright green in the spring forest may be many categories of plants, including mosses, Lycopods, ferns, odd lichens, and “spring ephemeral” wildflowers.

Mosses (Bryophytes) are ancient, non-vascular (no roots, no stems), green plants that require damp surfaces - soils, rocks, tree trunks, brick walls. With no vascular structure to transport water and nutrients into or within the plant, tiny moss leaves live or dead, absorb water and nutrients cell by cell through osmosis. The most spectacular mosses are the deep layers in bogs of Sphagnum Moss. These may be over 300 species. The upper layer captures light and builds the top green layers. The deep decaying mosses and other plants form peat, a fundamental substrate in many bogs up to 12 feet deep and other waterlogged conditions.

The familiar mosses gleaming green in the spring forest are species of Haircap Moss that may grow up to 6 inches tall and fade to brown as they dry. Low-growing, crisp mosses on rocks and tree trunks also tend to fade to brown and dry. In rare locations, lush, green mounds of dense mosses create what are known as pillow moss.

Lycopods are also known as “ground pines or cedars.” These are the slow-growing, creeping vascular plants that look like long fibrous pipe cleaners. They are also called “clubmosses” because of the unique club-like structure of their spore bundles on the upper part of their narrow fertile stems. But these plants are not in the family of mosses. Lycopods have been part of the earth’s ecology for over 400 million years, among the earliest terrestrial plants. Their attractive slow growth requires that their vivid green ground blankets should not be damaged in any season.

Ferns are lovely ground covers, but only a few stand green in the spring. Evergreen ferns in our forests include the glossy Christmas Ferns and the graceful Spinulose Woodferns. Both need sunlight, so these two are most often found in open patches and edges of the forest floor.

Lichens are the very pale green organisms we notice in the spring. These grow on tree trunks, stone surfaces, and stable soils, from mountain tops to beaches. They thrive with the arrival of more sunshine. Each lichen exists and survives as a combination of fungi and algae. The drab fungi provide the support structure and shape of the lichen and the green algae produce essential carbohydrates through photosynthesis. Most lichens attach to their substrate to obtain sufficient water and nutrients in all warm seasons.

Spring Ephemerals are notable green, leafy, wildflowers that in mid-spring will blanket forests where deciduous trees will shade them in later seasons. Nature’s “green-up” in April and May includes Wild Leeks (ramps), Spring Beauties, Hepaticas, Bloodroots, Cowslips, and a handful of other favorites that are indications that Vermont’s Green-Up has an inspiring partner.

So when you are doing your Green-Up duty, learn how to enjoy and protect the beautiful natural green of the season.