Visitors who braved the cool weather these past few weeks on walking trails near the east edge of the Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids were rewarded with a glimpse of our first signs of spring: the appearance of Snowdrops at the base of a few trees.

A particularly large and beautiful patch of these hardy bulb flowers blossomed at the base of a tree on Trail 14 in March, and there are a number of clumps of sprouts of Snowdrops along this trail that should be blooming soon.

“Snowdrops got their name from their ability to bloom so early, with lovely white blossoms ” the center’s Master Naturalist Kristin Tindall says. “It turns out these spring flowers are not native to Michigan, and they are usually planted in gardens like daffodils and tulips.

“So how did they get into the forest at Blandford? The answer may be that squirrels dug up the bulbs from a neighboring yard and ‘replanted’ them like they do acorns.”

Thanks to a combination of factors on Trail 14, there are several “sun traps” for the plants that have been known to appear as early as February. The south-facing slope gets more sunlight than other nearby areas, the higher elevation prevents cold air from settling in as it does near Brandywine Creek, and the area enjoys some protection the wind. This microclimate retains enough heat enough to allow the Snowdrops to be among the first plants to bloom.

Tindall says that the Snowdrops are the harbinger of spring at the center, so it won’t be very long before all the native wildflowers start popping: first the Ramps (aka Wild Leeks), then actual Harbinger of Spring, Spring Beauty, Bloodroot, Trout Lily, and Dutchman's Breeches to name a few.
Tracking the timing and progression of spring flowers and other natural phenomena is called phenology, and Tindall keeps a phenology journal of sightings like these throughout the year at the center. Scientists can use information reported to sites like eBird, Frogwatch, and Journey North to learn about particular populations and how they are adapting to climate change.