I was going to do a post on spring ephemerals, but not all of the plants that follow are true spring ephemerals. Some plants however-even shrubs and trees-can have flowers that fit the definition of ephemeral, which is simply “lasting for a very short time.”
Our native bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis ) has just started blooming. This is one of my favorite spring flowers. If we’re lucky and the temperatures don’t get too warm we might see two weeks of bloom.
A closer look at bloodroot. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful or perfect flower.
Yellow trout lily (Erythronium americanum ) has also just started blooming. These flowers have three petals and three sepals. All are yellow on the inside but the sepals have brown / bronze on the outside. Trout lily blossoms open in the morning and close in the evening, so you have to time your visits accordingly. The place that I go to see them has many thousands of plants there and I’m hoping to see great masses of them all blooming at once this year.
Trout lilies might stand 5-6 inches tall so getting a peek inside the nodding flower can be difficult, but I always try. The flowers are pollinated by ants, so they don’t have to raise their faces to the sky.
The tiny pinkish white blossoms of trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) are also just starting to open. These are one of the most fragrant flowers in the woods and are the favorite of many a grandmother. Mine called them mayflowers and she loved them. This plant isn’t a true ephemeral because its leaves appear year-round, but its flowers are fleeting.
Native fly honeysuckle (Lonicera Canadensis) is one of the earliest shrubs to blossom. Its greenish yellow flowers are interesting because of the way they are joined. The flowers give way to oval red fruits which are also joined, but don’t share a single ovary like those of partridgeberry. Each blossom lasts only one day. The National Park Service uses this small shrub quite a lot to improve wildlife habitat, but in my experience they are rarely seen in local forests.
Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) are going strong after a slow start. I’m hoping to see large masses of these soon. Depending on how quickly it warms up, these flowers might appear for only a week. I’ve noticed that they do not like hot weather.
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is another plant that seems to dislike hot weather. Dryness is also a potential problem for spring ephemerals as the wilting stems in this photo show. We haven’t had the usual April showers here this spring, so we might be in for a dry summer.
I think I’ve had more trouble getting a decent picture of American elm (Ulmus Americana) flowers than I ever have with any other flower. I know of only one tree with flowers on it and every time I go near it either the light isn’t right or the wind is blowing a gale. I’m going to keep trying but meanwhile this shot will have to do.
Ferns may not fit anyone’s description of ephemeral, but anyone who has tried to find the spring shoots, called fiddleheads, knows that it isn’t long before they have turned into fully formed fronds. We’ve had some warm weather recently and in just the last few days ferns have suddenly started growing fast. I think the ferns pictured are common ladyferns (Athyrium filix-femina.)
Our native bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are always a welcome sight in spring but they usually come up in lawns so they get mowed off before they mature. In my lawn they have time to mature though, because I mow around them. These tiny flowers usually range from white to pale blue, but every now and then a clump of darker blue can be found. These were growing beside a road. Though bluets are categorized as ephemerals in some books I’ve seen them blooming throughout summer in cool, shaded areas.
Red trillium (Trillium erectum) has many common names. Some call it purple trillium and some flowers seem to be more purple than red, like the plum colored one in this photo was. Another common name is wake robin, because the flowers are supposed to appear at the same time as robins do. Yet another name is stinking Benjamin, and I remembered why it had that name when I was taking this photo-phew! Red trilliums are pollinated by flies and one scent that is attractive to flies is rotting meat, and that’s what they smell like. It’s a beautiful sight, but don’t stand down wind.
If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.~Annonymous
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