It is May, next door to summer, and sometimes summer itself makes its appearance in Illinois before May is half done. Hot weather hurries the migrating birds into the north, speeds leaf-growth on the trees, hastens the spring flowers into oblivion.
Mertensia virginica ( L.) Pers.
April - May. Hilly woods, bottomlands.
Yet the Illinois May can be slow and cool. It may be a period of soft rains in which the blur of wild crab apple flowers is like wet pink silk, full of the flitting of migrant warblers and the piping of white-throated sparrows among the leaves.
May is all these things. And it is the masses of bluebells in the alluvial bottomland woods, there where the creek or the river each year overflows and leaves rich black earth when the water recedes again. Now on a May morning the bluebells in the bottoms are crisp and bright blue, fluted bells with slim tubes and flaring skirts. The buds are apple-blossom pink; the expanding flowers are purple-rose: then they are that incomparable blue which no other flower in Illinois can quite approach. The pale green, thin leaves below these masses of dangling bells are oval and juicy on the stout, watery stems supporting masses of delectable lowers.
Bluebells grow from black, gnarled brittle roots set deeply in the heavy soil, as well as in the looser soil of wooded hills. The young plants in spring are dull purple; the tiny clusters of pale blue and pink buds come up with the leaves. The plants quickly grow, blossom, then the leaves turn yellow, the plants shrivel, retreat into the roots, and by summer there is no evidence, among the nettle jungle in the bottoms, of all those spring bluebells so lately gone away.