Spring Ephemerals

Spring Ephemerals

by Carissa Hudson

Spring is upon us and so begins the symphony of flowers. The earliest flowers to bloom are the spring ephemerals.  

Spring ephemerals are perennial plants that grow in late winter and early spring before there are leaves on the trees. During this period, the sunlight can reach the moist forest floor in abundance, signaling for these spring flowers to bloom.  

Most of these flowers only bloom until the leaves have grown on the trees, while others may bloom for a short time and then keep their leaves all summer. Some ephemerals, like bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) can be seen blooming for only one day in early spring. After it blooms, it will quickly die back into the soil until next spring. We had the amazing opportunity to catch bloodroot blooming in the Lily Pool this year!  

Plants like bluebells (Mertensia virginica ), found around North Pond Nature Sanctuary, bloom for only a couple of weeks and then keep their leaves for the rest of the summer. Red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) follows the same pattern of growth and can be enjoyed in the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool.  

Other fleeting beauties that can be found around Lincoln Park include prairie smoke (Geum triflorum), common violets (Viola sp.), great white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), and jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum). 

There is more to these flowers than just their looks! As the first blooming plants, they play an important ecological role in jump-starting the growing season. Pollinators coming out of hibernation depend heavily on these early spring flowers for food and energy. The rapidly decaying plant matter of some ephemerals helps to fertilize the soil for the next wave of plant growth.  

Climate change, invasive species, and soil erosion are threats to these important plants in their native ecosystems. Our ecological restoration team works hard to combat early invasive species like garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolate) to give these plants a fighting chance. We also actively plant native species every spring to keep the populations strong so that we can enjoy ephemerals for many springs to come.  

We hope you to see you in the Park soon! Hurry over so that you may catch a fleeting glimpse of these fantastic plants 

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