The spring ephemerals have arrived

Published 12:36 pm Wednesday, March 21, 2018

What is a spring Ephemeral, you ask? Ephemerals are plants with extremely rapid life cycles. They are among the first in the plant world to push up from the cold earth in the spring. They bloom, achieve pollination and set seed in rapid succession as the trees leaf out and the canopy above them fills in. All of this activity can happen in a matter of days for some species.

In Virginia, you are most likely to find spring ephemerals in wooded lots where there is a deep, rich ground cover over the winter months and the soil is moist. I have spotted a few of them as early as the first week in March. However, you would be most likely to spot some blooms in the later part of the month and very early April. Most of them are masters of disguise, blending in to the ground cover very cleverly. Usually it is a peripheral glimpse of a brightly colored flower that will attract you to their whereabouts, even then, when you stop and turn to have a look, they seem to vanish from plain sight. Their beauty and existence is truly “fleeting.”

Bluebells, dutchman’s breeches, trilliums, lady slipper orchids, bloodroot, trout lilies, toothwort and bluets are the most common spring ephemerals that you may find in Virginia. Most all have adapted some very unique survival techniques. Some reserve their much-needed energy on cloudy days when the air temperature is cooler by closing their flowers. Some have specialized structures within the flower that allows only certain pollinators access, which helps ensure their seeds will not get cross-pollinated. Unfortunately, their numbers have been dropping due to loss of habitat and growing deer populations.

My favorite ephemeral is the trout lily. It was the very first spring ephemeral to catch my eye while meandering through the woods and it served as my introduction to and interest in woodland plants. My column, “Finding blooming beauty” from March 22, 2017 recounts that experience.

Although the air is still cool and the wind brisk most days, there is still much to be admired in the woods. I am always amazed at the number of plants I find springing to life in the leaf cover this time of year. Just last week I found may apples, bloodroot, two different species of wild ginger, many different ferns and an abundance of trout lilies during a very enjoyable woodland stroll.

I am much more conscience now of our diminishing natural wooded habitats. If you are fortunate to be able to meander through one on a nice day, I highly recommend it. Nature has much to offer us.

Dawn Conrad is a columnist for The Kenbridge-Victoria Dispatch. She can be reached at conrad. gardenmuse@gmail. com or