Nature is on the move! Yellow rumped Warblers, Pine Warblers, Phoebe and Woodcocks are leaving the Florida panhandle and heading north. Trees are budding throughout the southern portion of South Carolina and temperatures are flirting with 60 degrees. Yet, a whole range of plants found in the depths of our forest, meadows and wetlands are poised to sprout and go through their entire life cycle before our trees unfurl their first leaves!
Spring ephemerals; bloodroot, trilliums, bleeding hearts, trout lilies and Dutchman’s breeches will bravely weather the seesaw temperature fluctuations of early spring as they grow erectly to the warming rays of the sun. These plants will develop rapidly, leaf out, bloom their flowers, go to seed and collect the sun’s rays to gather energy for the following year’s growth by the end of April. Their presence will coincide with the fragrant flowers of cherry blossoms, American Plum, dogwoods, chokeberries and serviceberries creating a flush of colors and fragrances.
The Green Ribbon Trail and the Preserves of the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association are a great start to search for the spring ephemerals. One of my favorites is Bloodroot with its blood red stems and its intense white daisylike flower with a yellow center makes a great contrast against the still brown and grey earth. Only standing a few inches, when found, Bloodroot grows in small colonies reminding one of a small bouquet of short stems daisies. Search for them in moist, deciduous woods.
Trilliums, such as the Great White Trillium, is a stunning sight of delicate grace and elegance that may carpet a forest floor by the dozens. Common in deciduous and mixed forests, the Great White Trillium stands at 12-15 inches. The flower has three white petals and blooms stoutly for a week to ten days. Purple Trillium with its dark maroon flowers stands a little shorter but no less marked upon a dark landscape. The most unusual trillium to me is the toadstool trillium with its mottled leaves and bright yellow flowers that never quite open. Like Gentian, the toadstool trillium stands erect for weeks. The attractive leaves remind one of another spring ephemeral, toadstool lily!
Dutchman’s Breeches is one of my favorites! In the NJ Highlands, I have found whole colonies of Dutchman’s Breeches growing amid the furry duff of moss encrusted boulders and rock outcrops. The spires of Dutchman’s Breeches rise barely to 4 to 8 inches tall but with 100’s congregating together; it appears like a carpet. Like its cousin, Squirrel Corn, Dutchman’s Breeches can be found in rich moist deciduous woods.
If you are into the blue hues, a forest floor of Virginia Bluebells is a marvel to enjoy! Stately spires of bell shaped blue flowers against a pale green leaves bloom continuously throughout the end of April. They are rather aggressive and spread by runners under the ground. But by June, they will have gone dormant only to replaced by other wildflowers.
Spring wildflowers are not only aesthetically pleasing, but all important plants that provide food sources for butterflies, hummingbirds and beneficial insects. As beautiful as they are, please avoid collecting spring ephemerals from the wild. They are increasingly rare and already face an array of threats from deer herbivory to loss of habitat. Instead, introduce spring wildflowers into your garden and enjoy years of reliable, low maintenance flowers that benefit the environment.
This spring explore the Green Ribbon Trail and the preserves of the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association. Search for the spring ephemerals and let us know what you find.