Spring beauty, Claytonia virginica, is one of the first Spring Ephemeral flowers that I learned to recognize. It is a dainty little flower with five petals and stamens. The anthers at the tips of the stamens are pink, which seems to add to its delicate nature.
The loose clusters of spring beauty flowers may have one or more open blossoms and several other blossoms hanging down that are either spent or have yet to bloom.
Blossoms have five white rounded petals, many that have gray to pinkish lines, like the flowers in the image above. The whole flower may have a tinge of pink in addition to the pink anthers at the top of the five stamens.
Spring beauty can be found blooming en masse from middle to late April in central Pennsylvania. The dandelion was included in the image above for scale.
(Click on any of the images to see a larger view.)
Spring beauty gets about as tall as the grass and its linear leaves help to hide it among the grass. The flowers in the image above seemed to be coming out of hiding as they started to bloom for the day. Their blossoms weren’t all the way open, yet. Note the pink anthers and lines on the petals in these loose clusters of spring beauties.
Photos of this common spring ephemeral flower above were taken 18Apr2010 at Little Buffalo State Park near the covered bridge.
I was a little surprised to see it still flowering a couple weeks later. The above photo was taken 30Apr2010 in the same area. That makes the little spring beauty one of the longest lasting spring ephemeral flowers that I’ve ever seen.
The bright yellow roadside flowers of Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, have long faded away for another year. This Spring Coltsfoot bloomed during the last two weeks of March and the first week of April in South-Central Pennsylvania.
The yellow composite flowers remind one of dandelions, and so do the seed heads. After the flowers are visited by their pollinators the flowers produce their seeds in round heads, just like a dandelion, although the seed heads may be more compact in shape and not quite as round.
All it takes is a gust of wind or physical disturbance from a passerby to disperse the seeds of Coltsfoot. (Photo taken 18Apr2010.)
The fluffy seed head will stand easily a foot tall, so they are usually taller than dandelion seed heads that so many people hate to see in their lawns.
The hoof-shaped leaves of Coltsfoot will continue to grow throughout the spring and summer until they are quite large, even larger than your hand.
Seed heads and leaves of Coltsfoot. Photo taken 2May2010.
Dandelion seed heads are completely spherical and their jagged leaves are easy to spot. Photo taken 2May2010.
Because they have very different leaf shapes no one should mistake dandelion for coltsfoot should they be interested in collecting seeds for their own dispersal.
Pussytoes are common roadside flowers. To find them look along ditches or hillsides next to the road, or open areas in the woods. If you look for them, you’ll most likely find some as they tend to form mats. Flowering pussytoes are quite common in mid-Spring to Summer.
Several species of pussytoes, or everlastings as they may be called, are native to the Eastern US. Pussytoes are differentiated by their leaf structure and leaf arrangement.
Our example here is called Smaller Pussytoes, Antennaria neodioica. Its characteristics include the presence of one prominent vein instead of three veins in the basal leaves, and basal leaf shoots that are not long and prostrate. Also, the basal leaves turn upward at the tips which come abruptly to a point.
Basal shoots in the image above are turned upward and not prostrate to the ground. The abruptly pointed tip and single leaf-vein can also be seen. (Photo taken 18Apr2010.)
A very similar plant, Field Pussytoes, A. neglecta, has one-veined, spoon-shaped basal leaves that do not come to a point and longer basal leaf shoots that lie prostrate. Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide provides line drawings and descriptions that help to differentiate several pussytoes.
The flower parts are indistinguishable and comprised solely of disc flowers. Ray flowers are not present in this member of the Compositae, the composite or daisy family. The small white flowering head appears fuzzy or woolly, as do the leaves and stems.
Pussytoes cluster their flowers at the top of a woolly stem that might reach 6 to 12 inches tall. Six to eight composite flowers are very bright white.
Several pussytoes flower heads and a resting crane fly. (Photo taken 18Apr2010.)
Small leaves on the stem are lance-like and are held close to the stem. Basal leaves are somewhat larger than the stem leaves and have a broad tip that makes the basal leaf spoon-shaped.
The common name pussytoes is fitting as the flowers do look like pussycat toes and the flowers clustered together remind one of a cat’s paw.
Sometimes the pussytoes have a dozen or more flower heads clustered together.
(Photo taken 30Apr2010.)
Patch of pussytoes at the side of the road. Their white flower heads lean toward the sun. (Photo taken 30Apr2010.)
Pussytoes will continue to be seen flowering at the edge of the road or forest for weeks to come. They have an ability to form mats, where several plants grow densely in a small area.
The basal rosettes of pussytoes are close enough together and so dense as to form mats. This mat-forming ability makes pussytoes more noticeable along the roadside. (Photo taken 30Apr2010.)
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.)
A true Spring Ephemeral can be found now flowering in the woodlands. The trees are leafing in fast now, with only a few oak trees lagging behind the maples and many others that seem to be already in full leaf. Perhaps the leaves will still get bigger, but for the most part anyone would look at the woods and say that the leaves have emerged.
Take a walk under the oak trees and look around the leaf litter for blooming spring flowers. If you are lucky you might see the hot pink fairy wings, flowers of Fringed Polygala, Polygala paucifolia. Fairy wings are unique little flowers also known as Gaywings or Flowering Wintergreen.
Fairy wings arise from the ground on stems that support both leaves and flowers. The flowers start out as pink buds.
In the photo above, taken 13Apr2010, the central group of the four largest leaves is a wintergreen plant.
Fairy wings occur in the same habitat as Wintergreen, or Teaberry, Gaultheria procumbens. If only the leaves are present, there may be some confusion as to which plant is which. The bigger leaf with the round end is wintergreen. Its leaves alternate along a stem that is almost flat or prone to the ground. Fairy wings have upright stems and smaller, lighter green leaves that come to a point at the end.
Wintergreen often holds on to its red berry, even through winter, and usually has 3-4 oval, leathery, evergreen leaves that may be spotted or mottled with maroon.
(Photos taken 13Apr2010.)
Red berries of wintergreen made it through winter on several plants here. I guess the birds had enough to eat and saved these berries for last. Or maybe they don’t prefer the spicy-minty taste of the teaberry. Note that some of the wintergreen leaves are dark green and others are light green with maroon spots.
Fairy wings have a more upright stem with leaves smaller than wintergreen and that occur in a whorl around the stem. The leaves of these two woodland plants may confuse the casual onlooker as to their true identity, but the flowers are unmistakable.
A fairy wing flower looks like a tiny little pink airplane with a fringed propeller. Two side petals are like the wings of a plane, sticking straight out to either side of the blossom. The center petals are fused into a tubular shape, which makes the fuselage of an imaginary airplane.
Fairy wings in the image above, taken 18Apr2010, were at the far end of the Mill Race Trail at Little Buffalo State Park, Newport, Pennsylvania. The pink petals are still slightly curled at the edges as if the blossoms just then opened.
In the woods on our mountain ridge the fairy wings were blooming full on 23 April 2010. Dozens of fairy wing flowers captured our attention with their bright pink petals. The flowers get to show off at the tip of a short vertical stem.
The leaves and flowers share the same 3 to 5 inch stem. (Photo taken 23Apr2010.)
Three or four small oval leaves sit in a whorl right under the flowers. They point upward at the tips so it looks as if they’re meant to cup and protect the fairy wing blossoms.
You have to be in the woods to get the full impact of these little beauties. Sometimes you’ll see a couple here and there and then a great patch with dozens of flowers blooming in a couple of square feet.
Fairy wings look stunning among the brown oak leaves on the forest floor.