Spring's Woodland Carpet
After months without greenery, in late April, the first colour emerges in Biei's woodland.
Biei's winter is long, lasting from December right through to March. But even when Biei's winter ends, there is still snow on the ground and no greenery to be found anywhere. Even the hills are devoid of colour, as Biei's farmers have to plant the crops that make up this year's patchwork pattern. As such, Biei's hills make for quite drab viewing in Spring!
However, after long weeks of brown earth, finally, colourful flowers start to return to Biei's woodlands around late April. You won't find them by looking up at the trees, however... you must look down at the woodland floor, where Mother Nature spreads out her spring carpet.
Let's find out more about Biei's beautiful late April woodland flowers!
Please do not pick any wild flowers in Biei. Some of these plants are poisonous when handled while others are vulnerable species. Please also respect designated footpaths, boardwalks, fences or ropes where in place to protect these flowers. Thank you for your cooperation in helping us to preserve Biei's spring beauty for future generations.
1Asian Skunk Cabbage
Wow, what is this beautiful fantasy?! Clear, pure water floods the forest floor, bright green leaves and pure white lilies blooming all around... Is this a magic forest?! The fairy's secret realm?!
Actually, these beautiful flowers have quite an ugly name... Asian Skunk Cabbage! Despite the strange name, they are not related to cabbages at all, nor are they stinky! They are a relative of the lily and grow in marshland or wetland. They are found in Northern Japan, Sakhalin and the Kamchatka Peninsula.
The white part is a kind of leaf-- the flower is actually the yellow stem in the middle!
The flowers require very clean water in order to grow, making them rare in our modern age, even here in Biei.
The best place to see them in Biei is Bibaushi Forest, a small, carefully-preserved woodland just behind Bibaushi Elementary School with a magnificent field of skunk cabbage. A boardwalk takes visitors through the beautiful wetland, the flowers blooming all around you!
The sound of a running stream and the sunlight and trees reflecting off the clear water's surface compliments the flowers perfectly.
Fun Fact: Bears often eat the roots of the Skunk Cabbage after hibernation! It helps them to pass waste after their long sleep. As bears are not common in Bibaushi, maybe that is one of the reasons why the Skunk Cabbage there grows so well?
In Japanese, fawn lilies are known as "Katakuri" and they grow all over Japan. The plant grows quite abundantly in here in Biei, but it is vulnerable in other areas of the country where development has destroyed much of the natural woodland they call home.
When they are in bloom, you can see this flower poking out of shaded banks around the hills! You can't miss them-- their bright purple flowers and unusual "inside out" shape makes them stand out from other late April flowers.
Looks kind of like my umbrella on a windy day!
For the best view of fawn lilies, head to Seidai Dam park on the outskirts of Biei. Here, a small woodland grove is home to a vast carpet of fawn lilies. You can walk through the sunny glade surrounded on all sides by pretty purple flowers!
The flowers seem to stretch on forever...
Seidai Dam is also a great place to enjoy cherry blossom viewing just a week or two later in early May. So many spring flowers at Seidai Dam!
Like a scene from a Japanese painting...
Corydalis are widespread throughout the Northern Hemisphere, but are most concentrated Asia. Their name in Japanese is Ezo-Engosaku. The Ainu (Hokkaido's indigenous people) often use the bulb of corydalis in cuisine. Like fawn lilies, you can see them on shaded banks and in woodland groves around Biei's hills.
The trumpet-like shape of the flowers are unusual and stand out very clearly on the woodland floor! The species also exhibits slight colour variation so the flowers can be blue, purple or pink. When they grow together, you might see several different shades all at once! It is a beautiful sight and pleasing to the eye.
Here you can see two shades of the flower, blue and purple!
Corydalis bloom more or less at the same time as fawn lilies and they can often be found together. The contrast of the magenta-coloured fawn lilies against the cool blues and purples of corydalis is so beautiful!
A match made in heaven!
These cheerful yellow flowers are found across Japan and are among the first to bloom in areas of direct sunlight around Biei. The flowers emerge before the leaves.
Not only can they be found growing wild all over the hills and throughout forests, but they are a favourite in gardens too. You can find this flower in spring simply by walking around Biei's urban area and admiring the gardens of locals!
In Japanese, Amur Adonis is called "Fukujuso", meaning "long fortunes plant". The golden colour is said to resemble a coin, and it is a common motif around the New Year when everyone wants to usher in wealth for the days ahead!
A bright, gold medallion growing in the woods... who needs money when you have beautiful flowers?
One of the characteristics of this plant is that during the night or on cloudy days, the flowers will close up tightly, waiting for sunshine to return. Come to think of it, as well as looking like a coin, don't you think it also looks like a bright, shining sun?
The forest floor is alive with colour. Before long, that colour will leak into the hills and dye them with a beautiful patchwork pattern.