It’s mid-winter as I write, but the days are lengthening bit by bit, and the colorful seed catalogs are arriving. Spring is in the air, and I love trudging about on my snowshoes, knowing that under the snow dormant bulbs await. Spring ephemerals and spring flowers in general are a powerful incentive to visit Landis during the season of renewal.
Spring ephemerals appear from snowmelt to leaf-out in the woodlands. For several reasons, they are rare and becoming rarer. Most of them are slow growing and do not spread readily. Just picking the flowers for a bouquet or stepping on a plant may damage or kill it. Deer graze them, and high deer populations have wiped out many wildflowers. Invasives like garlic mustard outcompete the natives. I was lucky to have hiked with Ed Miller. If they were there, he’d find them! I was also fortunate to have known Holly Emmons when she had a SUNY class on propagating wildflowers, and some of those plants we propagated flourish in my own woodland garden.
Dutchman’s Breeches, Squirrel Corn, and Bleeding Heart (all Dicentra sp.) are all native, though I’ve never found them in the wild. Unlike most ephemerals, these plants transplant well. Nick Zabowski has glorious Bleeding Heart available at our spring sales. Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginiana) is delicate pink and white and readily found in Nan’s Fern Glen, as are Hepatica (Hepatica sp.) and Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum). I’ve also seen Rue Anemone (Anemonella thalictroides) there. Trout Lily, or Dogtooth Violet (Erythronium), with its nodding yellow flower and dappled leaves reminiscent of a brook trout, are sometimes found throughout the woods in large patches, often with Trillium (Trillium). Brilliant yellow Marsh Marigolds or Cowslips (Caltha palustris) are abundant in the ditches at the bottom of the Glen and throughout the Native Plant Trail, thanks to Nan and Ed. They aren’t technically spring ephemerals, but they are spring flowers. Another is Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), a perhaps unlovely arum found in woodland swamps, and its relative Jack-in the-Pulpit (Arisaema sp), both not, strictly speaking, ephemerals, since the foliage persists past spring.
Additional interesting woodland flowers of early to mid-spring are Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Goldthread (Coptis groenlandica), and Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense). I’m particularly fond of Woods poppy or Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), with its lush lobed leaves and deep yellow flowers. This native is easily confused with Celandine (Chelidonia majus), an invasive that looks nearly identical. Celandine spreads easily and blooms even in deep shade all season, making it hard to hate. Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) has a dusty lavender flower and foliage that appears water spotted. Not a show stopper, but a lovely shady woodland addition.
Spring is always a marvelous time for a treasure hunt, and Landis is a perfect place to do it. Just remember to tread carefully and leave the precious riches for others to discover.
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Volume 40 , Number 1