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Wildflower Bloom Report

Spring's Bounty of Wildflowers

Posted on 5/5/2015 by State Nature Preserves
Large-Flowered Trillium


Ah, spring is finally upon us once again! The last breath of winter’s chill has withdrawn from our weary world, chased off by the sun’s waxing strength and presence. In the warming temperatures and increased daylight comes an ever-advancing tidal wave of emerald green. It washes over the landscape, leaving a flush of new life in its wake. The dormant trees awaken and unfurl their tender buds, migratory birds return from their southern winter homes and fill the air with a diversity of songs. However, few things encapsulate spring better than the emergence of our woodland wildflowers.


Bloodroot


Beginning in March, the thawed soil of our state’s woodlands give way to a profusion of ephemeral wonders that peak in late April through May. Dozens upon dozens of different species awaken from their seasonal slumber, grow and bloom, then set to seed and senesce back to oblivion all in the matter of a few months. A number of species have a very narrow window of opportunity to be seen at their prime, including the delicate blooms of the bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Its stunning whorl of snow white petals last only a day or two individually in early spring. It gets its unique name from the blood-colored sap in its stems and rhizomes.


Trout-lilies (Yellow Trout-lily, White Trout-lily, Goldenstar-lily)


Many of our native spring wildflowers are long-lived perennials that come back from an underground bulb or rhizome season after season. It’s a game of patience as some can take upwards of a decade to reach flowering maturity. One of those is the dainty trout-lily or fawn-lily with their fleshy, speckled leaves. Dense carpets of immature single-leaved plants can aesthetically cover the forest floor in favorable spots, waiting to earn that second leaf and flower in either golden yellow or creamy white, depending on the species. It’s important to remember never to pick the flowers of a trout-lily as that is a death sentence for that plant and many of our other spring ephemeral species


Dutchmans’ Breeches and Squirrel Corn


Two of our more unusual spring bloomers are the closely-related and often found together Dutchmans’-breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) and squirrel corn (D. canadensis). Both come with lacy, finely-dissected leaves of a delicate appearance in shades of green and silvery teal. Their names are as unique as their looks with one resembling a pair of pants drying on the clothesline, and the other’s corn kernel-like underground bulblets the desire of a common woodland critter.


Red and White Trillium


It wouldn’t be spring in Ohio without the appearance of the beloved trillium. These stunning wildflowers are some of the most popular and sought after of all spring’s masterpieces. Ohio is currently home to seven different species that range across the state in a variety of habitats. One of those, the large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) has the honor of being our official state wildflower and can be found in just about every county. Much like the aforementioned trout-lilies, trillium can take nearly a decade to flower and live for multiple decades upon maturation. So the next time you’re standing among an impressive display of these plants, consider the time and energy it took to give you such a sight to enjoy.


Wood Poppies


Speaking of impressive displays, the wood poppy or celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) in large numbers is a stunning sight to behold as well. Its fern-like foliage is adorned with large, fuzzy buds that unfurl into luscious globes of golden yellow. Wood poppies are prolific seeders and can quickly colonize large patches in their high-quality mesic woodland homes. Much like many other spring woodland wildflowers, a wood poppy’s seed contains a fleshy structure known as an elaiosome. Rich in lipids and proteins, the elaiosome attracts numerous species of ants, which take the seeds back to their nests as sustenance for their larvae. This in turn helps the poppies, trillium, spring beauty, trout-lily etc. spread their seeds farther and wider than they could muster on their own.


Marsh Marigolds


A heavy majority of the forest’s flowering plants have come to do their thing in early spring to reduce their competition for sunlight to a minimum. During the months of March, April and into May, the forest canopies are bare and/or just beginning to leaf out. This allows the herbaceous layer of the understory to harness its solar energy before the leaves significantly darken the woodland floor for the rest of the growing season. Without that advantageous timing, species like the marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) would never get its opportunity to flower in Ohio’s swamp woods and forested seeps.


Tiger Swallowtail on Wild Plum


The awakening of spring and its bouquet of wildflowers is a sight for the sore, winter-weary eyes of us humans to be sure but their purpose goes so much deeper. A seemingly endless number of birds, insects, butterflies, moths and mammals rely on the returning wildflowers and flowering trees as a source of nectar and nutrients upon their re-emergence. The wildflowers and their pollinators have done a symbiotic dance for eons. A silent but mutual contract agreement that allows our natural world to function in a stable, healthy manner.


Violets (Smooth Yellow, White Striped, Longspur)


When it comes to spring’s most diverse group of wildflowers, none can compete with the violets. Many may be fine with saying there’s a purple one, a white one and a yellow one but there’s so much more to it than that! Ohio is home to nearly 30 species of native violet and all follow the same irregular flower pattern but can vary wildly in their leaves, size and habitat. They may be small but their charismatic nature and sheer diversity make them a fun group to study and admire, even if only the ones common in your lawn.


Irises (Dwarf Crested Iris and Vernal Iris)


Irises aren’t only wildflowers of summer’s rain gardens and wetlands but spring’s woodlands as well. The dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata) and the state threatened vernal iris (I. verna) are both early blooming species that add a wonderful touch of purple and electric blue to our revived forests. Large clonal colonies shining in the bright morning sun are an especially memorable sight.

With spring in full swing across the state, I hope you find time to take to the woods in search of spring’s woodland wildflower bonanza. Many of Ohio’s fine state parks, state forests and state nature preserves are home to majestic displays that only last a few weeks a year and are well worth seeking out. You can check out the Division of Natural Areas & Preserves’ website for a frequently updated wildflower report from across the state. I also encourage you to check out our wildflower photography contest on our Facebook page as well. No matter how you choose to enjoy it, get out there and soak in spring’s beauty. I hope to see you out there!

Andrew L. Gibson