Rotten meat on the forest floor? Runways to guide bees to nectar? Who would have thought these two things go hand in hand with spring wildflowers?
Spring wildflower season is one of my favorite times of the year! It is short lived, it changes daily and often times it goes unnoticed. There is no specific week that spring wildflower season starts or that you will find it in its peak. It truly varies from year to year.
Spring wildflowers have a very important job to do and they must do it before the trees in the forest begin to develop leaves. The plants must grow large enough to produce a flower and attract a pollinator before the entire forest floor finds itself blanketed in the shade of the canopy. If the plants are successful, they can then spend the summer developing the seeds of the next generation and producing enough energy to sustain themselves through the long cold winters of northeast Ohio.
Often times, you will hear a naturalist refer to our spring wildflowers as being ephemeral. This quite simply means that they last for a short time and it is so true for our spring woodland wildflowers. There are even a few spring wildflowers that will bloom for only one day and then they are gone until the following spring. They leave us anxiously waiting and watching the forest each April and May, hoping to catch just a glimpse of this spring phenomenon.
While many of them are not large and showy, they are all beautiful and unique in their own way. I will share just a few of my favorite ones with you and I hope that you will sneak out this week for an hour or two to slowly walk through the forest and find those flowers that still remain, tucked in amongst the wild leeks, just waiting to be pollinated.
Bloodroot is one of our showy spring wildflowers and it is very short lived! It spends its early days with its leaf wrapped around the bud, protecting it from cold, frost and even snow. When it finally is ready to reveal itself the flower will open up ready to be pollinated. One cold or windy night can leave us with empty flower stalks the next morning.
Twinleaf, like bloodroot, does not give us very long to appreciate its beauty. Twinleaf is known to only bloom for a few days. It is one of the wildflowers that tempts us to get out daily to see if the flowers are ready to open. If you are lucky enough, you might find a large patch in bloom at one time!
Spring beauty is such a tiny, delicate flower that has so much detail hiding within the petals. Take a moment to get down very close to this flower and admire the detail and the vibrant shades of pink that adorn each petal. These markings attract pollinators right to the center of the flower, they are much like the lights along a runway that guide an airplane in to land.
Early meadow rue makes my favorite list because of the tiny little tassels that dangle down below the male flower. These tassels contain the pollen necessary to pollinate the female flowers. Instead of relying on insects, as so many other wildflowers do, the wind carries the pollen from a male plant to a female plant. These delicate flowers go unnoticed by many a passerby.
Jack-in-the-pulpit is at the top of my list! I simply love searching the forest floor each spring for this beauty. It can be found a little later in the season and makes me look in anticipation, each week, as I go out searching for the newest blooms. Jack-in-the-pulpit bends its flower tip down, masking it from hikers and dog walkers all throughout Cleveland Metroparks. If you do notice one be certain to gently peek inside and see if it is all green or if it is one that has deep purple running down it. These flowers actually attract flies to pollinate them. They do this by emitting a foul smelling odor, which we know flies just love!
Wild ginger is one that is even more obscure than jack-in-the-pulpit. The flower of wild ginger actually lays on the ground between two leaves. It is color is dark red to brown much like raw, rotten meat. It attract flies and beetles for pollination. The leaves of this plant will continue to collect energy from the sun all summer long and will last until the first frost.
Trillium are a favorite amongst most of the people I hike with. This flower is showy and sticks around for more than a day or two. The large white trillium is even our state wildflower. My favorite thing with the trilliums is to find those that are not nearly as common in Cleveland Metroparks. We certainly have a few areas that are brimming with large white trillium and even several red trillium. Because of that, I often find myself in search of the white variety of the red trillium and the even less common drooping trillium.
The white variety of the red trillium has white petals and white anthers (the part with the pollen), but if you look deep into the flower you will notice that the center of it is a dark red. This tells me that it must be a red trillium with white petals.
The drooping trillium seems to bloom shortly after the large white and red trillium. This flower is distinguished from the large white trillium by the white pollen on the anthers. (The large white trillium has yellow pollen.) For me, finding this flower is like succeeding on finding everything in a hidden picture.
I certainly cannot forget the bluebells! There are places in Cleveland Metroparks, and surrounding park districts, that appear as if the bluebells go as far as the eye can see. They range in color from deep purple, to blue, to pink, to even white. They seem to be a little more durable and last a little longer than many of our other early bloomers and they certainly put on a spectacular show!
I certainly hope you take a little time to get out and explore the world around you! Happy hiking, happy exploring and happy trails!