Lorraine Keil

Three Sweet Aromas
Few of our northern spring wildflowers evolved much of a scent, but these three plants buck the trend. Each exhales a sweet aroma to satisfy your snout in May.

1. Perhaps our most obvious native spring bloom, honeysuckle sports a robust cluster of flowers and an aroma that packs a wallop. Look for it in open areas or light shade–even in sand. Many assume honeysuckle is an imported ornamental, but native varieties of both the shrub and vine were here before civilization.

2. The trailing arbutus is rare and considered endangered, but the floral fragrance rewards your search. Look for the leathery leaf and delicate pink and/or white flower low to the ground in forests of hardwoods and softwoods. The plant is delicate and persnickety, generally vanishing when its home turf is disturbed.

3. The spring beauty’s delicate five-petal blossom lives up to its name, as does the fragrance it exudes. Spindly stems and tiny flowers give the spring beauty a vulnerable mien. Look for it in mixed hardwood forests.

Flower information courtesy of naturalist Alice Van Zoren and Cindy Retherford, education specialist at the Grand Traverse Conservation District.

HikeOne trail, many fragrancesCome May, the soils and waters of Grass River Natural Area gush with new life–and the smells they effuse. For a bracing nasal elixir, step along the Sedge Meadow Trail, suggests Melinda Bagley, education coordinator. The two-miler takes you to a swamp, a meadow, a river and into an upland forest–each with scents of their own. Early on, inhale the perfume of cedars, warm and fragrant in the spring sun, and then wander into the openness of the trail’s namesake meadow, an expanse of sedges rich with the smell of percolating water this time of year. Walk along the river and enjoy the fresh scent of open water–so refreshing after a long winter. As the trail moves along, it heads upland where maple flowers lend a sweet odor to the forest air. Look for them fallen on the trail, like tiny reddish bottlebrushes. Pick one up and give it a whiff. And finally, train your binocs on the leaves above to see thousands of bees, like you, drawn to the maple’s sugary scent. Open daily from dawn to dusk; on Alden Highway (C-618), a couple miles east of Torch Lake, 231-533-8314.

Photo(s) by Lorraine Keil