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Spring Ephemerals

Round-lobed Hepatica flowers and leavesOne of the most wonderful experiences for the nature lover is seeing the first flowers of spring. These delicate plants rise from the dark earth to press their faces to the sun, lifting our spirits as they grow. They stand amidst the beaten, partially skeletonized leaves on the forest floor and offer us a soul-nourishing taste of color to counter the steady diet of brown and gray hues offered by the winter-weary forest. Early spring flowers also provide a glorious demonstration of survival adaptation in nature. (Click on all photos for large view).

Red TrilliumSnowdropsDutchman's BreechesThese plants are the Spring ephemerals, those perennial woodland wildflowers that appear before the leaf-out of the trees and shrubs. They must hurry to complete growing, flowering, and reproduction before the abundant sunlight is blocked from reaching the forest floor by the newly unfurling leaves overhead in the forest canopy. There is a six to eight week window of time for the plants to accomplish all this, so they jump out in front of all other plant growth in spring. This is a common reproductive strategy for such species that must compete for sunlight against the likes of tall trees and woody understory plants. A few examples of such flowers are Spring Beauty, Dutchman’s Breeches, Yellow Trout Lily, Hepatica, Bloodroot, Red Trillium, White Trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and Rue Anemone.

Rue AnemoneJack-in-the-Pulpit clusterThese Spring ephemeral plants are pollinated by Solitary bees (bees that don’t live in communal hives and commonly make nests underground or in hollow reeds), and some flies and honeybees. These are among the first insects you’ll see flying about in the bright spring sunlight streaming through the woods.

Soon the long awaited warmth of spring will finally catch up to the calendar, and then the burst of spring growth will begin in earnest! Perhaps then you can find the time to stroll through your favorite nature sanctuary, park, or green space, and look for these lovely heralds of the season. In their presence, I find my hope and faith restored.

Reader Comments (1)

As always, wonderfully illustrated with wonderful photos!
I shared this link with my Digital Photography students.
- Donald

April 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonald G

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