Plants Bloom Early in a Spring Surprise

Bulbs and wildflowers are blooming now along with some early Spring flowering trees. Not many trees nor bulbs bloom in their entirely before April begins, but this is proving to be a different kind of year. Spring of 2012 is early and at times was way hot for March.

Early bloomers that have already finished showing off for this year include:

Some plants seem to be mixed up regarding their blooming times. Some individuals have already bloomed and died back, while others of the same kind growing nearby are just now blooming or have yet to push out their flowers. Hepatica is a good example. Some hepatica plants that are already spent were blooming last year on 14 April, three weeks later than this year. A few hepatica had both spent blossoms and flowers in bloom on 29 March 2012.

Three hepatica plants past blooming. The flower stalks can be seen with their three maroon sepals.
Three hepatica plants past blooming. The flower stalks can be seen with their three maroon sepals. Photo taken 30 March 2012.
Hepatica americana blooming with three flowers.
Hepatica americana blooming with three flowers. Photo taken 30 March 2012.

Other flowers that have bloomed for at least a week or longer and that are still blooming include:

A few plants have their flower buds developed and are getting ready to open today or in the next few days, including:

  • tulips
  • blueberry
  • wisteria

Still other plants are just beginning to flower, including:

  • bluets
  • azalea bush
  • violets
  • ground-ivy or gill-over-the-ground
  • strawberry

Other plants are starting to develop as their greenery is growing, but their flowers will take a couple of weeks at least to show up, including:

  • mayapples
  • elderberry
  • brambles, raspberry, blackberry, roses
  • herbs for the kitchen

The end of March has to be the earliest I’ve seen Mayapples poking out of the ground.

Mayapples poking out of the ground very early this year.
Mayapples poking out of the ground very early this year. Photo taken 30 Mar 2012.

I’m curious to know with the extra warm weather and all, what early bloomers have surprised you this year? Tell us where you saw some early blooming!

Early Spring in the PA Mountains

Spring has sprung a little early this year. The calendar says it starts on March 21st but we’re seeing all the signs already. Meteorologically speaking winter is December, January and February, so any time in March we should start seeing Spring happening.

We have been hearing the flocks of Canada geese and swans flying north for a couple of weeks now. Robins have appeared and are singing loudly from the oak treetops. It occurs to me that I haven’t seen juncos for a while now, so maybe they’ve flown back to Canada, too.

The crocuses started poking their heads out of the ground and yesterday was the first day to see them blooming. A different type of bulb, anemones, bloomed last week. We call them “early crocuses”.

Early crocuses or anemones in bloom.
Early crocuses or anemones in bloom. Photo taken March 6, 2012.

The anemones have thinner petals whereas the later crocuses have wider petals that are rounded at the tips. The linear leaves are very similar with the white midrib, but the anemone leaves are also thinner.

Crocuses showing off their wide petals in bright white and purple.
Crocuses showing off their wide petals in bright white and purple. Photo taken March 13, 2012.

The temperatures here in the eastern US are about 20 degrees warmer than usual, so many trees have popped their leaf buds. Maple trees, elderberry canes, wild roses and blackberries have all pushed out their leaves. The elderberry leaves have grown the most so far, but with warm weather predicted for the next ten days or so, we expect the pollen levels to shoot up from lots of tree activity.

In the woods hepatica isn’t blooming yet. I did see one flower bud at the soil surface when I checked them yesterday, so I suspect that hepatica may bloom early this Spring.

Hepatica not quite blooming yet this year.
Hepatica not quite blooming yet this year. The maroon-tinted leaves remain from last year. Photo taken March 12, 2012.

Hepatica americana is a favorite of mine and since it’s growing wild on our property, you know I’ll be checking these plants often until they bloom.

Spring Ephemeral: Hepatica americana

One of my favorite spring ephemeral flowers makes an appearance in woodlands of the Eastern United States during April. Hepatica americana, or just hepatica, is a perennial spring-flowering plant.

Hepatica is a Spring Ephemeral because the plant grows, flowers and completes its life-cycle before the tree canopy is filled in with leaves. Once that happens the amount of sunlight reaching the forest floor is nil. Most plants won’t be able to receive enough sunlight in the woods, but the Spring Ephemerals start out early enough to prosper.

White flowers of Hepatica americana open in the sunshine.
White flowers of Hepatica americana open in the sunshine.

Check out some other hepatica pictures in the video below:

Hepatica April 2011 Video

Hepatica is a delicate woodland flower with white, pink or lavender flowers that open in the sunshine. The purple to maroon flower stalks have long, soft hairs. Petals appear long with rounded tips. Stamens are cream-colored and of different lengths.

Hepatica leaves are larger than the flowers and usually have three rounded lobes, reminiscent of Mickey Mouse Ears. The leaves tend to lay flat on the ground, often hiding among the leaf litter.

Late Last Bloomers of Bloodroot and Hepatica

We all know a cardinal when we see one, so we can recognize the species and tell it apart from robins and redstarts. But can any of us profess to know individual birds? I would argue no – not without also observing behavioral differences or actions unique to the individual.

Well, if we think about the same idea and apply it to plants, how can we tell individuals apart from one another? If planted or observed in prior years one has a pretty good chance of remembering where an individual plant put down their roots. However, without the common location from year to year I doubt many of us could recognize individual plants within a species.

As behavior doesn’t really apply with plants we look for other characteristics that sets them apart from the rest. We say, “these are the early blooming variety of tulip” or “those hardy fruit trees are the ones resistant to such-and-such pox.” With wild plants I’m sure there are examples of sub-groups of species that appear differently or that have certain characteristics that set them apart from the average wild herb.

Here, we have two examples of late-blooming spring ephemeral flowers.

Little bloodroot blooming under older bloodroots.
Little bloodroot blooming under older bloodroots.

The little bloodroot in the image above was seen on 30 April 2010. Note the large leaves of bloodroot that overhang the little late bloomer. The seed pod of a prior blooming bloodroot can just be seen to the left of the large flower stalk on the right of the photograph. Bloodroot bloomed in South-Central Pennsylvania from 3 April to 18 April 2010, although only one tattered bloom was seen on the 18th.

Once the ground gets warm enough to sprout the bloodroot plants, it’s like a mass blooming. The blooming may last for a week, but no longer than that except for singular plants here and there. The same is probably true for hepatica.

Late blooming hepatica with mottled leaves.
Late blooming hepatica with mottled leaves.

The hepatica blossom above is the latest one yet, spotted on 30 April 2010. In the image above one hepatica plant has three light green leaves and a second plant, lower on the hill with the bloom, has mottled leaves. The mottled-leaf plant has one spent blossom visible on the left. Hepatica bloomed here a little earlier than bloodroot from 24 March to 3 April 2010.

Individual variation is at play. Microhabitat variation wasn’t the cause of these late-blooming flowers as we saw others in same location that had already bloomed as witnessed by spent flowers and/or the presence of seed pods.

The lesson here for all of us is that when we go out and observe nature or look for wild herbs, we need to remember that we’re there only for an instant in time. Many variables play on the growth, or lack thereof, of plants and animals. Timing can be everything. Next week or last week might have been the best time to find what you’re seeking, but that doesn’t mean a total loss.

Like they taught us in school – Stop, Look and Listen! To that list I would add Smell! You never know what treasures lie ahead, so venture on!

Spring Ephemeral Flowers Bloom For All to See

Spring Ephemerals have had my attention for the past few weeks. I truly enjoy watching Spring take hold in the form of spying on my flowery friends. As the various plants arise from their winter sleep they sprout and put forth their beautiful blossoms for all to see.

The Spring ephemeral flowers by their very nature are fleeting in appearance. You can see them one day and be glad that you did for the next day they could be gone until the next year. Part of my delight stems from the fact that I know most people will never go to the woods to see these beauties. Can I possibly derive pleasure from knowing that people will miss out on these beautiful displays? Not really, but I do feel privileged somehow.

Instead of keeping all the fun to myself, I’ll keep posting pictures here to share with everyone. Soon, I’ll be offering an ebook or e-course on Spring Ephemerals, so stay tuned!

Some years I’ve totally missed out on seeing some favorite flowers because one thing or another kept me from taking time to hunt them. This year I’ve vowed to get to the woods to see my favorites, which I have been lucky to do so far, and to find a few new friends.

Activities that help us to appreciate nature – like looking for spring ephemeral flowers – would make for great family outings. If you’re trying to be “green-minded”, gather your kids or friends and take your next activity to a state park or forest where you can picnic and have some inexpensive fun. There are all sorts of things to do and observe that don’t cost more than your transportation of getting there. Here’s a few ideas to get started –

  • Set a goal to find five new flowering friends each season.
  • Walk or hike in the woods or on a nearby trail and observe nature.
  • Find a favorite flowering plant and observe it through all four seasons.
  • Make a photo-collage or screen-saver of your favorite flowers and leaves.
  • Find wild flowers that are red, white and blue, or your favorite colors.
  • Locate a berry vine and watch the flowers develop into yummy blackberries or black raspberries. Then, make jelly!
  • Get outside and just enjoy the fresh air.

Some of my old favorite spring ephemeral flowers include Round-Leaved Hepatica, Spring Beauty, Trout Lily, Bloodroot and Dutchman’s Breeches.

Spring flowers that I hadn’t before seen or identified include Early Saxifrage, Bluets, and, no doubt, there will be more to be appreciated in the years to come.

Spring ephemerals are just about done flowering for 2010. The trees are at least 50% with leaves developed, so the time for spring ephemeral flowers is almost over. Time for one more walk in the woods!

Spring Ephemeral Flowers at Little Buffalo State Park Newport PA

Take Route 34 exit off Route 322, go south on Route 34 through Newport, PA and just after a sharp bend in the road to the right (near the feed mill), turn right onto Little Buffalo Road. Continue for a mile or so and turn left onto State Park Road. Pass in front of the Blue Ball Tavern Museum and cross the one lane bridge. Turn right onto the first lane and proceed to the parking area on the left.

Map of the day use area in Little Buffalo State Park
Map of the Day Use Area in Little Buffalo State Park

The red path shows how to get to the Day Use Area and where to park. The yellow circle marks the best place to find Spring wild flowers in Little Buffalo State Park.

The Day Use Area is set up for picnics with plenty of picnic tables and pavilions, grills, a playground, and easy access to trails and scenic overlooks.

Walk toward the creek and through the covered bridge. Take the Mill Race Trail if you want to see the Spring wildflowers. It’s an easy trail, only one-half mile long, and it is the best place to see the Spring Ephemeral flowers at Little Buffalo State Park. You’ll see some wildflowers on the hillsides and other flowers in the lowlands near the creek. Shoaff’s Mill is an attraction in itself – the water wheel is supposedly one of the biggest in existence!

Spring Ephemeral flowers blooming on 3 April 2010 –

  • skunk cabbage
  • round-lobe hepatica
  • spring beauty
  • bloodroot

Also saw the sword-like leaves of the trout lily, but its yellow flowers were not visible yet.

Spicebush trees or shrubs were blooming along the far end of Mill Race Trail near the creek. Bright yellow clusters of flowers bloom all along the length of the branches before any leaves appear.

If you’d like a more challenging hike, stop by the visitor’s center and pick up a map of the park. Try the Volksmarch 10K loop, the Buffalo Ridge Trail, or the Fisherman’s Trail.

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Four-lobed Hepatica Leaves Show Individuality

In reviewing the many pictures I’ve taken of hepatica in the woodlands I found a couple instances where the leaves were four-lobed instead of three-lobed.

Lower leaf of this round-lobed hepatica is a four-lobed leaf.
Lower leaf of this round-lobed hepatica is a four-lobed leaf.
Upper leaf of this round-lobed hepatica is a four-lobed leaf.
Upper leaf of this round-lobed hepatica is a four-lobed leaf.

Some leaves will have four rounded lobes instead of the typical three rounded lobes, although the fourth lobe seems like an afterthought. Chalk it up to individual variation.

If you sit long enough in a clover patch, you’re bound to find a four-leaf clover!

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Hepatica Flowers Close at Night

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.

Round-lobed hepatica blooms open in the daylight.
Round-lobed hepatica blooms open in the daylight.

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 of round-lobed hepatica flowers opening in the daytime.
Close-up of round-lobed hepatica flowers opening in the daytime.

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).

Round-lobed hepatica blooms fully open after a sunny day.
Round-lobed hepatica blooms fully open after a sunny day.
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