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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A Fleeting Beauty: Spring Ephemeral Wildflowers

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The mantle of winter seems to have finally lifted from our beloved Arboretum. Now that the snow is gone, what can we expect to see in its place? The first few weeks after the last snowmelt are the perfect times in which to go searching for spring ephemeral wildflowers.

The term “spring ephemeral” refers to plants that have evolved to emerge early in the spring, before leaves appear in the canopy. This strategy allows the plants to take advantage of the high levels of unhindered sunlight that reach the forest floor before leaf-out. When the leaves do emerge and the forest undergrowth begins to return, the cost of maintaining leaves or flowers becomes too great, and the ephemerals die back, most to all above ground traces of the plant disappearing until the following spring.

So what should you look for? One of the first species to emerge is hepatica (Image 1). It typically has six petals with colors from violet to white. A single plant can produce multiple rounds of blossoms in a season, and coloration usually becomes more faded with each subsequent flowering. Look for hepatica along the floodplains of Spring Creek in the Upper Arb and on the hillsides of Stork Forest.

Another plant for which to be on the lookout is white trout lily (2). These plants have one nodding flower, with six white petals that curve up, back toward the stem. Their leaves are elliptical, mottled silver and green, and appear to resemble leaping trout, hence the common name. Look for them in upland woods and floodplains.

Dutchman’s Breeches (3) is a true hallmark of spring. These flowers have two long, upward-pointing white spurs, which make them look like pants hung out to dry. There are usually 10-12 flowers per stalk. Look for them on the hill opposite Bell Field.

Other species that will soon be growing are the invasive blue blanket flower Siberian squill (4), the delicate white blood- root (5), and if you are truly lucky, a pasqueflower (6), the earliest bloomer of the prairies.

Stay tuned for the upcoming Photography-Spring Flower Nature walk led by the Student Naturalists on Sunday, May 6, leaving from the Arb Kiosk at noon!


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