The Rue Anemone, or Windflower, Anemonella thalictroides, is one of the Spring Ephemeral flowers that live in woodlands in Pennsylvania. Their bright white flowers are quite noticeable on the forest floor.
Bright white flowers of rue anemone are stunning against the browns of the oak leaves.
Flowers sit at the top of a single stem 6 to 10 inches tall. Six to ten white petals encircle bright yellow-green stamens. The Audubon Guide on Wildflowers tells us that the petals are missing, so the white “petals” are actually sepals. The stamens are numerous.
White flowers of rue anemone easily sway in the wind, thus the nickname Windflower. Note in the upper center of the image above that a flower has already lost its petals as the developing seed head is noticeable.
Rue anemone has been flowering since at least 5Apr2010, when the above photograph was taken in the woods near Edgar’s Creek.
Apparently a common spring ephemeral, rue anemone is found flowering in oak-maple-hickory forests in April in Pennsylvania. This year we’ve seen rue anemone flowering in different areas for the whole month of April, but an individual flower may last little more than a week.
Another image of rue anemone flowering in the woods along the Middle Ridge Trail of Little Buffalo State Park, Newport, PA.
Above are three flowering rue anemone plants on a hillside in the woods. Blooming cohorts include early saxifrage, spring beauty and fairy wings. In the image above note the spent flower and the maroon, Round-Leaved Hepatica leaves in the lower right.
The flowers of rue anemone are held above a whorl of leaves with three or more rounded lobes. Basal leaves on long stalks are compound with three leaflets having three rounded lobes.
In the image above you can see the long-stalked, compound basal leaf with three groups each having three leaflets. There are six larger leaves in the whorl that the flowers emanate from. The flowers and whorled leaves arise from the same point, about an inch or two below the flowers.
Rue Anemone was still flowering in places along the Mill Race Trail and around the Day Use Area of Little Buffalo State Park, and along the country roads we took to get there on 30Apr2010. (Photos taken 18Apr2010.)
One of my favorite trees bloomed beautifully this year. The weather cooperated to stay chilly during the blooming period for the Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis. The redbud is native to the eastern US and as the Peterson Eastern Trees Guide tells us, Central Pennsylvania is the redbud’s northern-most limit.
I delight at seeing the redbuds each spring at the edge of the woods, peaking out with their rosy purple blossoms. Perhaps its the time of year – Happy Spring.
Redbud flowers arise directly from the stems. From a distance the blossoms appear to follow the lines of the tree. The result is a purple outline of many of the tree’s branches. Nice thin lines.
I think the redbud was probably the tree that made me realize that wild trees flower and can be beautiful doing so.
The flowering redbuds stand out where the corn field meets the woods at the base of the ridge. I look for them every Spring, but I’m sure that quite a few people zip down the highway without noticing them. Sad, don’t you think? Stop and smell the roses, people!
The redbuds flowered from at least the 10th, and probably a couple days before that, through the 23rd of April when some trees were noticed with leaves coming out. Rain on 24-25 April probably took down a lot of spring tree blossoms.
It’s hard to pin down the flowering times or blooming times of spring flowers. From year to year differences in weather patterns will dictate the blooming times of at least some of the Spring ephemerals.
We live in the Ridge and Valley Province of Pennsylvania, where you can change elevation in a matter of feet. Since elevation plays a role in temperature, it will also play a role in blooming times. From certain vantage points you can watch the tree leaves emerge in turn as you go up the mountain. In town, which is some 200 feet below our place on the ridge, plants can flower a week ahead of ours…forsythia, dogwood, azalea are examples from the past couple of weeks.
One of the earliest blooming Spring Ephemeral flowers is Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis. The days are often cold and windy at the time of year when the bloodroot blooms, but once the sun shines long enough to warm the ground bloodroot will emerge.
Bloodroot grows in eastern forests, especially moist soils in wooded areas. The Mill Race Trail at Little Buffalo State Park, Newport, Pennsylvania, is a great place to see this perennial spring flower blooming in early April.
The flowers arise from an underground rhizome in a bud fashion. If you looking for bloodroot on the early side, you might see a few flowers still curled up tight before the blossoms open.
In the image above you can see the leaf curled around the flower stem below the small white flower bud. The sword-like mottled leaves next to the bloodroot are trout lilies that had yet to bloom.
As bloodroot grows the flower stem continues to elongate and the flower opens up. The leaf of bloodroot is still wrapped around the flower stem while the flower is blooming.
Once the petals of the bloodroot flower start to open you’ll be able to see the large canary yellow stamens.
As the bloodroot flower matures the leaf also continues to develop and pull away from the flower stem.
It would be cool to see bloodroot flowers under a UV light – I wonder if the gray lines on the white petals would light up to show the pollinators where to find the pollen. You have to inspect the flower really closely to see these lines, which are barely visible in bright sunlight.
Bloodroot is considered a Spring Ephemeral, flowering only for a brief time in early spring before the trees leaf out. If you get into the woods after the tree leaves emerge, you probably won’t find any bloodroot still blooming.
Bloodroot blooms for about a week, depending on the weather in early Spring. Here in Southcentral PA we see bloodroot the first or second week of April.
Bloodroot flowers have eight to ten, white, elongated petals that seem to be attached rather loosely. Any attempts at picking the flower or digging one up will result in the loss of petals. That’s probably why we don’t see bloodroot at garden centers. They’re too delicate for any handling and would never look good in flower arrangements because of that.
The flowers of bloodroot should be appreciated in their natural habitat or perhaps in a native plants garden.
Closer inspection of the flower shows that it comes up first, followed by a single leaf for each flower. The leaves emerge curled around the flower stem. After the flower has bloomed and lost its petals, the leaf will grow in earnest.
The large round leaf of bloodroot is a unique one with a deeply scalloped edge. In the image below there are about 16 bloodroot leaves.
Some of the leaves will get pretty large – as big as your hand, or 8 to 10 inches across. No two leaves seem to have the same exact design, although they all have 7-10 deeply cut lobes each of which are scalloped or have deep, rounded notches.
Peeking underneath the leaves you can see the seed pods forming from the old flower.
Bloodroot seedpods are circled in yellow in the image above. (Click on photo for larger image.) Eventually, the flower stem will bend down to the ground where the seedpod can release its contents. The bloodroot plant disappears, or cycles back to the earth, in summer.
(Photos of bloodroot flowers were taken 3Apr2010 and photos of bloodroot leaves were taken 18Apr2010.)
Bloodroot is named for the red juice that bleeds out from a cut or damaged root. The root itself is an orange-red color. Native Americans used bloodroot as a dye and to decorate their skin. If you rub the juice on your skin it will last a few days.
Peterson’s Medicinal Plants Guide tells us that, historically, bloodroot was used in the form of a root tea to treat coughs, laryngitis, asthma, bronchitis, lung ailments and rheumatism.
CAUTION – bloodroot is toxic – do not ingest.
A component in bloodroot, sanguinarine, has been shown to have antiseptic, anesthetic and anticancer activity. Today, it is used in commercial mouthwash and toothpastes as a plaque-inhibiting agent.
Went to drop off the car at the local garage a couple weeks ago for its annual inspection. The garage is located on a “river road” that travels along the Juniata River in Perry County, PA.
On Saturday, 3Apr2010, I had reason to travel the same river road (on my way to Little Buffalo State Park in Newport, PA) and it was then that I first spied these massive groupings of Dutchman’s Breeches. Until then I had not seen such a large grouping of these curious Spring ephemeral flowers.
Dutchman’s Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria, were blooming in mass quantities on high stone outcroppings and along the roadside. The stoney hillside coming up from the river bank is gradual in slope on the river side of the road, but once you cross the road the stone rises more vertical, making small cliffs in a couple areas that are probably 30 to 50 ft. tall.
The Dutchman’s Breeches were in full bloom and really shone white in the sunlight. As we passed by them in the car you could easily see the white blossoms on their flower spike hanging above the plant greenery.
Dutchman’s Breeches have all their flowers in a row going up a curved flower stalk, in the manner of the old time garden favorite Bleeding Hearts, Dicentra spectabilis, a close relative of Dutchman’s Breeches. Comparing one to the other you can see similarities in the way the flowers hang from their flower stems.
While the Bleeding Hearts dangle down from their flower stem, the Dutchman’s Breeches appear to be hanging on the clothesline with their feet up!
Note the highly divided, feathery leaves. This closeup image shows the “pantaloons” hanging from the flower stalk. The unique flower of Dutchman’s Breeches makes identification a simple matter. No other flower looks quite like a hanging pantaloon. Another related plant, called Squirrel Corn, Dicentra canadensis, has a similar flower, but instead of two “legs” sticking up it’s blossom has a rounded end that makes it look like a kernel of corn.
We’ve seen Dutchman’s Breeches blooming from the 3rd to the 18th of April this year, so there’s at least a two week time period to observe their flowers, which is kind of long for a Spring ephemeral. Once you know what they look like, they’re easily noticed – even while driving by at highway speeds – by their flowers on the upright flower stalks.
Apparently, Dutchman’s Breeches prefer a wooded, hillside habitat. We’ve seen several areas with mass groupings of them and all were on a slope in wooded areas.
Dutchman’s Breeches on a east-facing hill on the western side of the Juniata River. (Photo taken 10Apr2010.)
Dutchman’s Breeches on a west-facing hill on the eastern side of the Juniata River. (Photo taken 7Apr2010.)
Blooming on the same west-facing slope were Dogtooth Violet or Trout Lily, Cut-Leaved Toothwort and Spring Beauty. This slightly shaded, moist area next to the river was still receiving runoff as we saw some water flowing down the rocks to the river.
Skunk Cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, is quite noticeable this time of year as its enormous leaves dominate the wetlands. Go driving around the countryside and where there are creeks, backwaters, or the edges of rivers in woodlands look for the very large, bright green leaves of this perennial plant.
Skunk cabbage occurs in the wetland areas near the Mill Race Trail where you can see other spring ephemeral flowers at Little Buffalo State Park, Perry County, Pennsylvania. (Photo taken 3apr2010.)
No flowers are visible in this image of skunk cabbage plants growing at the creek’s edge. (Photo taken 3apr2010.)
The flower of skunk cabbage is a strange one. It is the earliest flowering plant of the season by coming up as early as February. Actually, several very small flowers are grouped together in a special structure. Pollinated by flies, these posies stink like rotting flesh some say, but I don’t have any experience to make that comparison. Let’s just say, skunk cabbage has an appropriate name!
Skunk cabbage flowers appear to be miniature yellow fringes dotted on a ball which is housed safely inside a leathery sheath. The sheath is referred to as the spathe and the ball of flowers inside the spathe is called the spadix.
As the flowers become pollinated and the growth activity of the plant continues, the temperature inside the spathe becomes warmer than the ambient temperature. It gets so warm in fact that skunk cabbage flowers have been observed to melt snow from around the plant.
The spathe in the image above – at the lower right of the plant – shows the typical mottled colors of maroon, brown, yellow and light green. The spadix cannot be seen through the opening of the spathe in the image above, but the tiny flowers are visible (in person) if you inspect inside the spathe.
Peterson’s Wildflower Guide lists skunk cabbage under both green and miscellaneous brown flowers. (Remaining photos taken 5apr2010 at Edgar’s Creek.)
The skunk cabbage plants in this creek-side group are large enough or old enough to have flowered. Note that the yellow-circled areas mark the flowers at the base of the leaves.
Leaves of skunk cabbage rise out of the ground all rolled together and rise up vertically as they emerge from the ground.
As the leaves get bigger and bigger they open up more and more. Skunk cabbage leaves are enormous as they can grow 1 – 3 feet long and half as wide.
Crushing a leaf releases the same rotten odor that the flower gives off. Nobody wants to eat this cabbage! However, Peterson’s Edible Wild Plants Guide tells us that the thoroughly dried leaves collected in very early spring can be used as a cooked green or reconstituted in soup. CAUTION – If the leaves are not dried well, calcium oxalate crystals – which are removed only by drying completely – will burn and cause inflammation. In fall the roots can be collected and dried completely to make a flour.
I remember reading about the Trailing Arbutus and that it could be found at the Box Huckleberry Natural Area of the Tuscarora State Forest in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania.
When I took a day-trip over there on 3 April 2010, it took a while to find them. But I finally did!
Near the entrance of the Box Huckleberry Natural Area is a side road called Arbutus Lane. Very close to the spot where Arbutus Lane meets Huckleberry Road is a patch of trailing arbutus. The patch of arbutus we saw was about 2 ft by 3 ft in size under the trees at the border of the State Forest.
Trailing arbutus, Epigaea repens, sometimes called the “Mayflower”, is a member of the heath family, just as the huckleberry is. They do occur in the same habitat, shady places under trees. These perennials both have oval-shaped evergreen leaves, but arbutus leaves are 2-3 times bigger than huckleberry leaves.
Arbutus leaves that last over winter may turn brown at the ends.
Flowers are partially tucked under the old leaves and may not be visible to the casual passerby. Here, the shiny trailing Arbutus blossoms were quite noticeable in the sunlight among the old brown leaves, even though they grew so near the ground.
In the photo above there are four flower clusters, three of which are mostly hidden under the arbutus leaves.
A cluster of two or more, five-petaled, white blossoms appear like partridgeberry blooms with their elongated bell shape. The five petals flare out at the ends of the trumpet-like bell. They also smelled wonderfully sweet.
Now that I’ve seen trailing arbutus I’ll be more likely to spot it in other places, especially when the plant is not blooming.
Peterson’s Medicinal Plants Guide states that Native Americans used a leaf tea to treat kidney and stomach disorders. Arbutus was also used as a folk remedy for urinary problems. Arbutus itself might not be toxic, but a chemical formed in our bodies – as a result of drinking arbutus tea – is toxic. We can’t recommend drinking this tea, so we’ll just admire the trailing arbutus on the trail.
The morning of April 3, 2010 was a beautifully sunny one. We drove straight through Newport via the River Road where we saw some beautiful stands of Dutchman’s Breeches and they were flowering just profusely. They are really pretty with their little flower frond held high in the air. They made me stop and turn around they were that pretty. Since it was private property we didn’t take time to ask to get a picture because we were on the way somewhere.
Anyway, we continued on through Newport, PA on Route 34 south to New Bloomfield, turned left at the town square and continued on Route 274. About where the houses end at the edge of town, we turned right onto Huckleberry Road and about a half-mile down the road came to the Box Huckleberry Natural Area, land protected by the forest service.
The Box Huckleberry Natural Area is a 10-acre site in the Tuscarora State Forest.
The Box Huckleberry Natural Area of the Tuscarora State Forest has been managed by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry since 1974, and is located in Perry County, Pennsylvania. Route 34/274 are half a mile away and New Bloomfield is 1 1/2 miles away. Take the Newport/Route 34 exit of Route 322 and continue south on Route 34. When you turn onto Huckleberry Road there is a small pullout for a parking area. The creek across the road feeds into Trout Run.
Walking up the steps into the natural area you come to a trail where there is a map posted. No pamphlets available. Rules and regulations are posted by the Forest Service. To be highlighted among these rules is that you shall do no picking of flowers according to the rules on forest products.
The trail is well-worn with pine needles, pine cones, leaves or moss covering the trail in places. It’s a short trail running maybe half a mile up and over a hill. In a few spots you could see the tire imprints of a mountain bike rider that rode through the trail recently.
The nature trail has a moderate climb and a few steps in appropriate locations to help you up the trail.
The Box Huckleberry, Gaylussacia brachycera, is like a low-growing blueberry. The plants are green everywhere with their evergreen leaves shining in the sunlight.
Small oval leaves are leathery to the touch, with a shiny slick upper surface and a paler rougher surface on the underside of the leaves.
Huckleberry blossoms are just starting to come out now. The flowers are similar to blueberry blossoms because the bell-shaped white flowers hang in clusters.
Most plants have tight pink buds for flowers, not opened blossoms. Blossoms that catch an early morning sun might be opening, but not very many huckleberries are blooming just yet.
I came over here to find a trailing arbutus as I had never seen the “mayflower” before and it’s been reported to be at this location. Trailing arbutus, Epigaea repens, has rounded evergreen leaves and five pointed bell-shaped blossoms in pink or white. I combed the area in and around the pine trees trying to find trailing arbutus but with no luck.
A couple groups of striped wintergreen were close to the trail in the shaded areas, especially on the hillsides. This land is pretty much covered with white pine and hemlock which creates deep shade and the perfect type of area for the box huckleberry.
Box huckleberry has not spread to areas underneath the more open canopy of the deciduous trees on the far side of the hill. The areas with more sun reaching the ground, like the far side of the hill from the entrance, might be the natural limit of the huckleberry due to the lack of shade.
I found it interesting that the only known colony or plant in North Carolina is associated with mountain laurel, just as the PA plants are.
Besides the striped wintergreen we saw the single leaf of the dogtooth violet but no blooms, and wintergreen – some still with their red berries. Where the box huckleberry grows almost nothing else is growing as it heavily carpets the whole area. Rattlesnake-weed with its heavy, purple-veined leaf ribs were seen at the edge of the shady area near the entrance.
A major curiosity is that the entire box huckleberry colony is actually one giant plant that is estimated to be at least 1300 years old! It grows by expansion of roots at a rate of about 6 inches per year. Currently, the New Bloomfield Box Huckleberry, as it’s referred to by the forest service, is about 8 acres in size. There’s another box huckleberry plant not too far from here that is reportedly over 13,000 years old, which makes these plants some of the very oldest organisms on the planet.
Worthy of protection, don’t you think? The box huckleberry has a threatened status in Pennsylvania and is protected by virtue of being in the State Forest.
Under Title 17 Pennsylvania Code, Part 1 Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Subpart C State Forests, Chapter 21 General Provisions, under Forest Products part 21.31 Prohibitions. The following activities are prohibited…
Cutting, picking, digging, damaging or removing in whole or in part a living or dead plant, vine, shrub, tree or flower on State Forest land without written permission of the district forester or designee, except that edible wild plants or plant parts may be gathered without authorization if they are gathered for one’s own personal or family consumption. Dead and down wood for small camp fires may be gathered without prior authorization.
I would interpret that to mean that we can’t take any clippings or cuttings of the plants themselves, but we could come back and sample the fruit without getting in trouble. I wonder if huckleberries taste like blueberries…hmmm, maybe we’ll come back to this berry patch in June.
Round-lobed hepatica appears to bloom over a couple weeks time, with flowers coming and going according to the weather. Rainy, overcast and cooler weather hold back their blossoming.
Like a lot of flowers hepatica blossoms close up at night, too. This daily opening and closing of blooms is probably related to changes in temperature. Springtime evenings are cool and even cold, so perhaps there is some advantage to the plant in keeping the reproductive parts warm by closing up their petals.
The colorful “petals” of hepatica close up around the stamens overnight. The photo above was taken at 11 am and shows the blossoms just opening up in the daylight. Note that the three rounded bracts are visible.
Close-up photo of morning hepatica blooms taken 1 April 2010. The same hepatica flowers at about 6 pm the previous day were fully open (photo below taken 31 March 2010).