We’ve received plenty of rain in April (over 5 inches according to the Ecology Center weather station) and some of our earliest spring flowers are showing themselves. It’s a wonderful time for all ages to head out on a hunt for spring flowers in the woods and meadows. The reward is the sight of buds breaking and if you’re lucky, some spots of floral color adorning the monochromatic woods.
It’s a great time of year to identify red maple trees – if you see a red blush of color at the tips of branches, it’s a red maple. And check out the flowers up close – they’re lovely! Because red maples are wind-pollinated, they put out their blooms first, before the leaves, so pollen has better access to the flowers. Nature is so clever!
With the help of our plentiful April rains, the spring ‘ephemerals’ (flowers that don’t last long) are in the works, some already pushing out of the ground. These early bloomers are taking advantage of abundant sun reaching the forest floor before trees leaf out and capture all the sunlight.
These early bloomers are a special treat to see after a long winter. Get to know them better by paying attention to: leaf shape and how leaves are arranged on the stem; flower color, shape, and number of petals; where it’s growing (wet or dry, sunny or shady). Bringing a blank book and sketching what you find is a great way to focus on these details. Also look for the early spring pollinators visiting these blooms. They don’t have much to choose from this time of year!
Don’t pick these native flowers as many are slow-growing and play an important role in the landscape. You can purchase some native flowers that are raised from ethically collected seed (i.e. taking a small number of seeds and leaving most in place). Check out the Wild Seed Project and Native Plant Trust as reliable sources.
Read on for information about just a few spring flowers that will be gracing our landscapes soon. Do your own research to learn more and enjoy a hunt for these beauties with a friend during May.
Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is one of the earliest bloomers, perhaps because it has the ability to put out heat that can melt snow around the emerging flower. Look for its unusual maroon hood covering a spike-like structure in wet areas.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is already blooming in some locations. It puts out a perfect, creamy white flower that closes on overcast days. Deer love these early herbaceous plants after a winter of eating twigs, so if you’re unlucky you may find just a cut stalk where the flower was.
Trillium (Trillium erectum) has whorls of three leaves along the stem, and red and white flowers, although the red are more common. It takes a trillium plant 15 years to produce a flower, so don’t pick them!
Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) leaves have begun to show themselves, so keep an eye out for their nodding yellow flowers soon. Their name comes from the mottled leaf which resembles brook trout markings. They can be found in woodlands and meadows.
Large bunches of tiny bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are a cheerful sight in open woodlands, meadows, and even lawns. Look for their white with blue-tinged flowers with a yellow center in spring and into summer. They are an good early source of nectar for native bees.
Starflowers (Lysimachia borealis) have small, delicate white flowers that typically (and somewhat unusually) have seven petals. The leaves are whorled around the stem and they often grow in large colonies in woodland areas.
Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) has delicate pink flowers growing from (and often under) low-growing, leathery leaves in sandy, acid soils. Its seeds are dispersed by ants, so they don’t spread quickly! (See photo at top of post.)
Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) lives in moist shady areas. Look for three leaflets atop a foot-tall stem. Its unusual green and maroon striped flower is worth searching for. A fascinating feature is its ability to transform from male to female, depending on the abundance of nutrition. When growing conditions are good, it puts out female flowers. When conditions are less favorable, it puts out male flowers. It takes a new plant five years to flower.
Additional Resources on Native Flowers
Native Plant Trust website and demonstration gardens in Massachusetts
Wild Seed Project website