Thursday, April 14, 2011

In search of the ephemeral

Crocus flowers in bloom

Spring is a season for celebration. It is a time of bursting forth after a long season of gray dormancy. Such bursting forth is noticeable in eye-catching flowers like crocuses, daffodils, tulips, and hyacinth. Also there are trees that catch our eye with their beautiful blooms and blossoms, like magnolia, cherry and redbud. We can also hear spring coming alive, as the peepers and toads sing their songs of love, birds serenade us, and maybe we'll even hear a group of bees as they work on pollinating a blooming fruit tree. Birds can be seen carrying nesting material. Gardens start getting cleaned up and lawnmowers start roaring.

All of these, such obvious signs of spring.

There are, however, flowers out there that are not so easy to spot; flowers that, although small and fleeting, are very much an important part of the early spring landscape. These are the spring ephemerals. Their bloom time is short, sometimes lasting only a few days, if that. They take advantage of the fact that the trees are not yet in bloom and soak up all energy of the sun that a still-open forest canopy offers. And finding them requires some effort. You will likely have to get your knees dirty if you want to really see them, as seeing them from a standing position often does not afford you the best view of their true beauty.

Going on expeditions with those who know where to look helps, too!

Leavenworthia uniflora - Michaux's Gladcress. Had the morning been sunny, the flowers themselves would have been showier, but we made do with seeing any portion of these Ohio rarities at all. At right is the basal rosette that we began to see everywhere once we found the first flower or two.

The very unique leaf of the Virginia Waterleaf plant.

Common Wood Rush

White Trillium flower, ready to bloom

Spicebush blooms

Field Pansy in a sea of Dead Nettle

Mouse-tail (Myosurus minimus) - an Ohio rarity

Driving around rural Adams County, our caravan stopped here and there, pulling off the road to poke around in a field, a nature preserve, a cemetery, and a seemingly nondescript patch of land that's actually a lovely little cedar prairie. Someone would shout out, "What are we looking for?" "Something that looks different!" would be the reply. Eventually, a sharp eye would latch on to the object of our searching. And then, on hands and knees, we would each get down and look at the specimen, often not much more than an inch tall. We would look around, trying to find yet a better, more beautiful, more fully bloomed specimen.

Little Whitlow-grass, in fruit (Draba brachycarpa) - another Ohio rarity. This is a flower that grows best in dry, sandy soils, and benefits from regular disturbance. This was one of our cemetery finds.

Pennywort (Obolaria virginica)

White Trout Lily and Yellow Forest Violet. The forest floor was literally covered with Trout Lilies in flower and in fruit.

Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)

Now here I am, several weeks after our excursion into small and rare mustards (officially known as The Annual Adams County Ohio Lilliputian Mustard Expedition and extensively written about at Ohio Birds and Biodiversity, Weedpicker's Journal, Red and the Peanut, Nature Remains, and Indy Parks Nature Blog), internalizing some new botanical vocabulary, and making sure to pay better attention to even the tiniest of flowers on my own property. The season of ephemerals has just about passed, but I will keep a better eye out in years to come.


Beyond My Garden said...

Great portrayal of our spring beauties. My plan is to go searching in the morning before it rains. today in the sun would be better, but too many errands call me. Bloodroot seems to be my favorite.

Janet Creamer said...

Beautiful post, Heather! Great photos!

Kelly said... it, Heather! I still have more posts to write too. There's never enough time...

Heather said...

Nellie - I hope you were able to get out and locate some pretty flowers!

Janet - Thanks so much! And thanks for traveling to come hang with us.

Kelly - I know, NEVER enough time. This is probably the last Adams Co post from me, though.

Caroline said...

Some of those flowers are old familiar friends from the Adirondack woodlands where I grew up, I miss them this time of year, although we have some lovelies in the Black Hills of SD, too. We used to go on family expeditions looking for trout lilies, hepatica and lady slippers.

RuthieJ said...

you're *weeks* ahead of us! The trout lilies I saw the other day were only 1" leaves sticking out of the ground. Thanks for sharing spring!