The Fleeting Beauty of Spring Ephemerals


The early spring landscape is host to some stunning wildflowers and thrilling plants. It's a wonderful incentive to get outside into the wet woodlands before the trees leaf out and the ferns run rampant. Many of these delicate beauties are ephemerals, gracing us for just a few short weeks. They often grow on the same rocky, mossy hillsides as colonies of ramps. (See our Field Note on these wild leeks.) Among my favorites is blue cohosh (aka squaw plant), a flowering plant in the barberry family, which has been used medicinally in conjunction with other herbs for abortive and contraceptive purposes. Its deep blueish-purple fronds emerge first, unfolding into green leaves with little yellow flowers that later give way to dark blue berries.

red trillium

red trillium

Red trillium is also known as wake-robin, for the red-breasted bird that heralds spring, and Stinking Benjamin, because its bloom gives off a fetid odor that attracts pollinators. (These are green flesh-flies, which are actually seeking rotting meat on which to lay their eggs.) In addition to blue cohosh and the three-leaved red trillium, keep an eye out for Jack-in-the-pulpits, trout lilies, spring beauties (Claytonia virginica), hepatica, bloodroot, squirrel corn and Dutchman's britches (these last two are related to bleeding heart).

Laura Silverman