Ephemeral Favorites with Intriguing Stories

Jan waxes poetic about the beautiful wildflowers springing up around our grounds…

The fairyland quality of the vernal woods draws many wildflower lovers.   Oak-hickory woodland floors are sprinkled with subtle hues of ephemeral wildflowers dancing with the wind.   Ephemeral means “here today, gone tomorrow” – the perfect description of these hardy,  mostly perennial wildflowers who rush through their entire growing season in the brief window of spring when sunlight can reach the forest floor just prior to tree leaf-out.  Once the tree canopy fills with leaves, these gentle little beauties have completed their bloom cycle and disappear, returning to dormancy to wait for next spring.

No time to wander the woods? You can enjoy many of these amazing little flowers along the trails near the barn.  Here are a few of my favorites and their interesting stories.

Wild ginger peeks out from beneath its protective leaves

As you approach the barn, enjoy the welcoming bluebells along both sides of the walkway.  Around the rocks at the side of the front door  fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves have poked through the ground cover.   Wild ginger is preparing to bloom but don’t expect a dazzling show.   Its maroon colored cup-shaped bloom will hide under the fuzzy leaves and embrace the ground where it invites a pollinator inside to dine.  Beetles and slugs are the invited pollinator guests.  

Sneaking under a trout lily for a better look

From the vantage point of Prairie Gate Bridge behind the Sugar House you will see a dense patch of lancelet-shaped, speckled, dusky green leaves poking through the oak leaf litter.  This is trout lily or dogtooth violet.   Look closely for the delicate white star-shaped blooms.  Some years there are none but this year trout lily has sent up its flowers.  A plant has to be seven years old before it flowers.  Trout lily has two strategies for ensuring future generations.   One is by flowering and producing seed but the other strategy occurs underground and is asexual.   The patch continues to spread when the deeply buried bulb sends out long shoots to produce new plants. Hundreds of plants may grow in the dense patch.   

Nodding trillium

On the sides and banks of this ravine you will find many other species:  spring beauties, nodding trillium, bloodroot, anemone, windflowers and bellwort.   By mid-May the umbrella-leafed mayapples will be sporting their waxy-white blossoms.  Red columbine will nod in the breeze inviting arriving hummingbirds to feast on nectar tucked deep within the tubular flower.   Often bumble bees raid this sweet treat.  Too large to fit inside the flower and unable to reach the nectar, bumble bees bite into the base of the flower and steal nectar without returning the gift of pollination to the plant.

Enjoy your walk and visit often.   As the seasons unfold, there is always something new to behold.

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