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!

Dogtooth Violet is a Yellow Trout Lily

One of the Spring woodland flowers that is quite common is the yellow-flowering Dogtooth Violet, Erythronium americanum. It’s also called the Trout Lily because it blooms in early Spring when the trout are spawning.

The dogtooth violet has six long, narrow petals that are bright yellow on the inside with streaks of red to brown on the under or back side. The petals are swept back or reflexed which makes the yellow stamens stand out. A single flower rises up on a short flower stalk about 4-8 inches.

Foliage consists of one or two sword-shaped basal leaves. Leaves are thick, noticeably variegated, and entire, having a smooth margin. Photos taken 26 April 2011.

Mottled leaves and swept back petals of the Dogtooth Violet.
Mottled leaves and swept back petals of the Dogtooth Violet.

The trout lily is often seen near streams and other wet, woodland areas. Look for it in areas where the Skunk Cabbage grows.

Trout Lilies can often be found near Skunk Cabbage in wetland areas.
Trout Lilies can often be found near Skunk Cabbage in wetland areas.

Trout lilies will often be found in massive quantities. Along a back road in central Pennsylvania a large group was spyed among brush in a swampy area near a creek.

Wetland habitat of trout lily is shared with skunk cabbage and mayapple.
Wetland habitat of trout lily. Trout lily in foreground and center of image with skunk cabbage. The taller greenery in the background is Mayapple. This area is lowland as noted by the rising hill in the background.

This could have been a beautiful display if the overgrown brush was removed. There were several lilies per square meter.

Many trout lilies growing in the same habitat.
Many trout lilies growing in the same habitat.
Mass of Trout Lily in Juniata County, PA - at least 50 lilies in bloom.
Mass of Trout Lily in Juniata County, PA - at least 50 lilies in bloom.

(Click on photos to see larger images.)

Like other Spring ephemerals this massive display of our native trout lily in bloom would probably hide on a cloudy day. We noticed the wetland flowers by the glint of their bright yellow flowers open in the sunshine.

Spring Ephemerals Bloom in Mass Quantities

The middle of May brings the end of Spring ephemerals in central Pennsylvania. These early spring flowers are done with blooming by the time the tree canopy fills in with leaves. Once the trees leaf-in the small woodland plants can’t get enough energy from the sun to continue growth. Their greenery dies back and the plant goes into a dormant period until the following year when late Winter warmings stir them back to life.

A neat thing about early woodland flowering plants is that they often bloom en masse. Hundreds of flowering plants in a small area is a sight to behold, especially when the rest of the landscape is still brown and grey. Photographs cannot do these beautiful scenes justice. One has to be there in person to experience the thrill that can only be suggested via photography.

Mass of Virginia Bluebells along the Swatara Creek, Dauphin County, PA.
Mass of Virginia Bluebells along the Swatara Creek, Dauphin County, PA. Photo taken 5 April 2006.
Mass of Marsh Marigolds in Gifford Pinchot State Park, York County, PA.
Mass of Marsh Marigolds in Gifford Pinchot State Park, York County, PA.
Mass of Dutchman's Breeches in Perry County, PA.
Mass of Dutchman's Breeches in Perry County, PA. Photo taken 21 April 2010.
Mass of Bluets in Perry County, PA. Photo taken 7 April 2010.
Mass of Bluets in Perry County, PA. Photo taken 7 April 2010.

Places north of Route 80 in Pennsylvania, or at higher elevation, still have a little time to see the Spring ephemeral flowers.

It can be a very uplifting experience to see the natural beauty of the country. When you go, don’t forget to take the camera!

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!

Redbud Trees Flower Purple at the Edge of the Woods

Close up of flowers of Redbud Tree(Cercis sili...
Image via Wikipedia

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!

Redbud trees blooming at the woods edge.
Redbud trees blooming at the woods edge. Photo taken 10Apr2010.
Redbuds flowering in Pennsylvania.
Redbuds flowering in Pennsylvania. Photo taken 13Apr2010.

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.

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Mill Race Trail: Shoaff’s Mill, Bloodroot and Spring Beauties

At the Day Use Area of Little Buffalo State Park in Newport, Pennsylvania there is a lot to do. Besides picnicking and grilling at the provided picnic tables and pavilions, you can appreciate nature and a couple historic sites by walking the Mill Race Trail.

Mill Race Trail is wide in most places, mostly flat, and only a half-mile long, so it can be considered an easy hike. From the parking area head away from the lake and toward the covered bridge. Pass through Clay’s Bridge, a covered bridge that was originally located one mile west of its present location. It had to be moved when the dam for Holman Lake was built. The bridge was built across Little Buffalo Creek a little upstream from the lake.

Nearly everyone can enjoy the Mill Race Trail. It’s an easy walk in the woods that traces the waterway serving the old grain mill, Shoaff’s Mill. The mill is an attraction in itself. The water wheel is supposedly one of the biggest wheels around. The steel wheel measures 32 feet across. (All photos taken 3 April 2010.)

Shoaff's mill large steel water wheel.
Shoaff's mill large steel water wheel.

Water released from Holman Lake is diverted down the “mill race” to the water wheel. It is this race of water that the Mill Race Trail follows. Water flowing over the wheel turns the wheel and the mill grindstone. The water wheel also operates gears, pulleys and ropes that assist in transporting materials from floor to floor of the mill.

Shoaff’s Mill is still operational and demonstrated the third weekend in October during the Old Fashion Apple Festival. If you walk the Mill Race Trail, you can’t miss it! Be sure to check out the collection of grindstones or millstones at the front of the mill.

From the water wheel follow the path that the water would take to get to the mill. Look for the Mill Race Trail sign and follow the arrow.

Trail sign for Mill Race Trail at Little Buffalo State Park.
Trail sign for Mill Race Trail at Little Buffalo State Park.

The wooded hillside in the photo above is a great place to see bloodroot, spring beauty and trout lily flowers in early April.

Bloodroot flowers on the forest floor.
Bloodroot flowers on the forest floor.

Look for individual bloodroot plants to flower before their leaves are out. A single bloom is followed by one leaf for each plant.

Large grouping of bloodroot flowering.
Large grouping of bloodroot flowering.

Bloodroot flowers have eight white petals and bright yellow stamens that project from the center of the flower.

Spring beauty is another of the spring ephemeral flowers occurring in these woods. Spring beauties have leaves that look like grass and they’re about as tall. The flowers are small, the size of a nickel or dime, with five rounded white petals that may or may not have pink lines. The anthers at the stamen tips are very noticeably pink. Spring beauty flowers bloom in clusters, but often only one flower is open at a time.

Spring beauty blooming in April.
Spring beauty blooming in April.

The mottled, thicker leaf on the left in the image above is the leaf of a trout lily that has not yet bloomed. Trout lily flowers appear for a very short time after the bloodroot has begun flowering.

Mill Race Trail follows the mill race.
Mill Race Trail follows the mill race.

The image above looks back toward the mill. Note the mill race on the right.

Water gate at the head of the mill race.
Water gate at the head of the mill race.

Water level in the race, and therefore the amount of water going to the mill, is controlled by a gate that you can see in the image above. Note the red blaze on the tree that marks the Mill Race Trail. From here you cross over the mill’s water source and follow the path to the right.

This part of the trail is a little more natural, so watch for those tripping rocks and roots.

Mill Race Trail goes through a wooded area at the far end of the trail.
Mill Race Trail goes through a wooded area at the far end of the trail.

Looking back up the creek is a scenic view under the hemlocks.

Mill Race Trail along the creek.
Mill Race Trail along the creek.

The end of the Mill Race Trail empties out into a wide path. Go right to get back to the covered bridge. Either side of the trail in this section has plentiful spring ephemerals flowering in April. If you go, look for bloodroot, spring beauty and trout lily spring flowers.

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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Hepatica, a Spring Ephemeral in Hardwood Forests

Here’s a spring blooming plant that you won’t see unless you go into the woods during early Spring, called hepatica. Hepatica americana can be found among the leaf litter beneath the trees of oak-hickory-maple forests.

We see the flowers here in Pennsylvania during the last part of March through the first half of April. Hepatica is one of the Spring Ephemeral flowers, only blooming for a short time in early spring before the trees leaf out.

Native to forests of Eastern North America, hepatica is a perennial with some medicinal properties. The Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants indicates that hepatica was highly sought after in the late 1800s for its revered ability to soothe the liver. A liver tonic craze saw tons of hepatica harvested here and abroad. A common nickname for hepatica is liverleaf.

Native Americans made a leaf tea for liver and digestive ailments. Folk tradition used hepatica tea for coughs and fevers, also. We don’t harvest it for anything, we just appreciate it being there!

Taking a walk in the woods, you’ll first be able to spot the dark green, shiny leaves, or the rounded edge of a leaf. Moving a few leaves aside will uncover the thick, waxy clover-shaped leaves.

Round-lobed hepatica getting ready to bloom.
Round-lobed hepatica getting ready to bloom.

When the leaves are new they arise in an erect posture. Once the leaves grow to full size – a couple inches or more across, the flower stem relaxes so that the large rounded leaves lie prostrate to the ground. Most often you’ll see the larger, older leaves that overwinter still hiding among the leaf litter when the flowers are present.

Angular-shaped leaves of hepatica.
Small angular-shaped leaves of hepatica.

The young leaves also have a more angular shape than the mickey mouse ears of the older leaves. Leaves and stems are fuzzy with hairs when young and lose the hairs at some point.

Fuzzy, hairy stalks of young leaves and flowers of hepatica.
Fuzzy, hairy stalks of young leaves and flowers of hepatica.

The pastel flowers sort of jump out at you when you finally see one. The purple, blue, pink or white petals are so perfect, in symmetry with the white stamens. The colorful petals are actually sepals. Green bracts underneath the flower head are rounded or pointed, depending on the kind of hepatica.

Single blue hepatica flower open with round-lobed leaves.
Single blue hepatica flower open with round-lobed leaves.

Hepatica flowers are delicate and easily beaten down by wind and rain. Truly ephemeral. Great hepatica images from the US Forest Service.

Sharp-lobed hepatica, H. acutiloba, has pointed, tri-lobed leaves and bracts. Round-lobed hepatica, H. americana, has rounded lobes on its leaves and bracts. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service classifies these two hepaticas as varieties of one species, Hepatica nobilus, with the sharp-lobed variety as H. nobilus var. acuta, and the round-lobed variety as H. nobilus var obtusa.

In the vicinity or same microhabitat of the hepatica plants pictured here, we find downy rattlesnake plantain, a member of the Orchid family. Its perennial, cross-veined leaves are hiding among the leaf litter, but they can be found all over the north- and west-facing hillsides. At this time of the year you have to know where look for it and move leaves aside to see it. Rattlesnake plantain is easier to spot in the summertime when there is less leaf litter.

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