Mourning cloak butterflies are the first butterflies of spring. Unlike most butterflies, mourning cloaks hibernate through the winter as adults, often beneath the loose bark of trees. The first warm days of spring, or mild winter days, bring them out. They are able to find sufficient nourishment by seeking out the nectar of early blooming shrubs or by using tree sap. Mourning cloaks are easily identified when seen flying through the forest. They are about the size of a monarch butterfly, but dark brown with a yellow stripe along the trailing edge of their wings.
Spicebush is the forsythia of the forest. Both these spring shrubs bloom at the same time. Both are yellow. But forsythia is a gaudy garden variety. Spicebush is true to its nature, more subtle. Its flowers are so tiny they would probably be overlooked. But spicebush rarely grows alone, painting broad brush strokes of muted color beneath a still leafless canopy.
Shadbush, or serviceberry, is an understory tree that blooms later in the month. At first glance it may be mistaken for a dogwood. But dogwoods bloom later, and their white flowers have four round petals. Shadbush have five longer, narrower petals. Shadbush were so-named because they bloom at the same time that shad are running upriver.
Got a Question? Ask the Naturalist
© Friends Of Governor Dick, 2002