Spring Ephemerals

 In Blog, Education

In these ear­ly moments of spring while trees are burst­ing with bloom­ing flow­ers, it’s easy to for­get about some of the tiny flow­ers that rest under­neath the trees on the for­est floor. These tiny flow­ers grow­ing amongst the leaf lit­ter are often referred to as spring ephemer­als. The word “ephemer­al” means tran­si­to­ry or quick­ly fad­ing. A spring ephemer­al plant is one that pops up quick­ly to take full advan­tage of lim­it­ed sun­light before trees leaf out and then set seed quick­ly before dor­man­cy to rest once again.

If you look close­ly, here are a few of the spring ephemer­als you might find on the for­est floor. The num­bers in the list cor­re­spond with the num­bers in the pho­to above!

  1. Blood­root (San­guinar­ia canaden­sis): Blood­root is eas­i­ly rec­og­niz­able by its large white flower with mul­ti­ple petals often with one leaf wrapped around the stem. Its name comes from the orange-red juices with­in the roots.
  2. Two-leaf tooth­wort (Car­damine diphyl­la): This plant can be iden­ti­fied by its four petaled flow­ers which bloom in a clus­ter on a sin­gle stalk above a sin­gle pair of toothed leaves, each divid­ed into three broad leaflets.
  3. Har­bin­ger of spring (Eri­ge­nia bul­bosa): One of the ear­li­est wild­flow­ers to bloom! Often only an inch or two in height, har­bin­ger of spring can be iden­ti­fied by its pars­ley-like leaves and tiny white flow­ers with con­trast­ing pur­plish anthers.
  4. Spring beau­ty (Clay­to­nia vir­gini­ca): There are two species of spring beau­ty in our forests, and you can dif­fer­en­ti­ate them by the shape of their leaves. Clay­to­nia car­olini­ana has broad oval-shaped leaves, while Clay­to­nia vir­gini­ca has long and nar­row leaves that look grass-like. Both have small flow­ers rang­ing from white to slight­ly pink with promi­nent col­ored strip son the petals, which help guide pol­li­na­tors to the nectaries.
  5. Dutch­man’s breech­es (Dicen­tra cucullar­ia): Dis­tinc­tive pan­taloon-shaped white flow­ers dan­gle from small stalks. Due to the flow­ers’ nec­taries being at the top of the flower, it relies heav­i­ly on bum­ble­bees for pollination.
  6. Hepat­i­ca (Hepat­i­ca nobilis): There are many dif­fer­ent col­or vari­a­tions of the Hepat­i­ca species. You might find them in pur­ple, white, pink, or oth­er variations.
  7. Yel­low trout lily (Ery­thro­ni­um amer­i­canum): This species has mot­tled purplish/brown leaves that pop up every year, but the yel­low flower of this plant can take 5–7 years before it pro­duces a bloom! Its name comes from the pat­tern on the leaf resem­bling the pat­terns found on native brook trout.

It’s always impor­tant to remem­ber to slow down and take time to notice the lit­tle things! remem­ber to be smart and stay 6 feet apart while you search for spring ephemer­als in our parks.

Hap­py Spring!

Pho­to Cred­it: Stephen Bucklin

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