Seasonal Highlights: Tuliptree Small-Stream Floodplain Forest in Rock Creek Park

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Spring Highlights

Carpet of wildflowers! Among the earliest to arrive and to disappear: Virginia springbeauty, yellow trout-lily, Virginia bluebells, Dutchman’s breeches. Yellow blooms of yellow trout-lily, northern spicebush, tuliptree (and the profuse, non-native invasive lesser celandine! Ecobit: Lesser Celandine in Rock Creek Park). White blooms of Dutchman’s breeches, mayapple, Solomon’s plume, blackhaw, southern arrow-wood. Greenish-white blooms of American bladdernut, Jack-in-the-pulpit. Blue blooms of Virginia bluebells. Pink or lavender to whitish blooms of Virginia springbeauty, violets. Maroon blooms of pawpaw. Greenish to purple hoods of Jack-in-the-pulpit.

Summer Highlights

Lush growth on the forest floor. Multiple kinds of ferns fully unfurled. Some lingering wildflowers. White blooms of Canadian honewort, white avens, broadleaf enchanter’s-nightshade. Greenish-white blooms of Canadian wood-nettle (don’t touch!), Canadian clearweed. Pink to whitish blooms of swamp smartweed. Yellow blooms of richweed. Orange blooms of jewelweed. Lime green fruit of mayapple, pawpaw. Pale green, inflated, papery seed capsules of American bladdernut. Red berries of Solomon’s plume.

Autumn Highlights

Ferns persist until frost. White blooms of white snakeroot. Greenish-white blooms of Canadian clearweed. Orange blooms of jewelweed. Yellow blooms of wingstem. Red berries of Jack-in-the-pulpit, Solomon’s plume, northern spicebush, American strawberry-bush, (and the non-native invasive shrub Linden arrow-wood). Dark berries of southern arrow-wood, blackhaw. Green or brown fruit of pawpaw. Yellow leaves of tuliptree, northern spicebush, American hornbeam, and American beech.

Winter Highlights

Good time to notice structure and colors of tree trunks. Majestic straight trunks of tuliptree. Smooth green, brown, and white loose "plates" of American sycamore bark, getting whiter towards treetop. Rusty brown, peeling, papery bark of river birch. Smooth, gray, “rippled muscles” bark of American hornbeam. Can you find the natural rattles of the American bladdernut’s brown seed capsules? Look for clues to the height of recent floods.

Spring Highlights

Migratory and resident birds drinking or bathing in slow parts of creek along sandbars in the heat of day. Belted kingfishers and wood ducks, seldom seen anywhere but near the creek. Some salamanders now laying eggs in seasonal wetlands, or attached to the bottom of rocks, or under rotting wood, or in pockets in damp moss. Ants, flies, or beetles pollinating the maroon pawpaw flower.

Summer Highlights

Mammals, birds, and amphibians making use of the cool water. Louisiana waterthrush bobbing its tail or pulling submerged leaves out of clear-running streams, looking for aquatic insects and other prey. Eastern box turtle (a small land turtle), foraging for plants or prey. Lungless salamanders active under damp leaves on rainy or humid, cloudy days. Dragonflies hunting insects.

Autumn Highlights

Migratory birds refueling on wild grapes and other food and water as they fly south through D.C. Raccoon tracks streamside, similar to tiny human handprints—evidence of nighttime activity. Beaver-gnawed trees and saplings.

Winter Highlights

Belted kingfisher perched above the creek, occasionally diving for minnows. Great blue heron, standing motionless in the water, or spearing fish. Other winter forest birds coming for a drink.