Brenda lives in northern Virginia with her husband, daughter, and other various creatures who share their backyard wildlife habitat. Brenda became a Master Gardener in 2007, after attempting to put down roots in a yard filled with clay, stones, and poorly laid sod. Little by little, she and her family removed grass, amended soil, and replaced invasive weeds with native plants.

The family now grows vegetables in raised beds year-round. Brenda, who subsequently became a Master Food Volunteer, cooks mainly with seasonal ingredients from her garden, or from local farmers markets. She invites you to join her on her mission to build an eco-friendly habitat, grow organic food, and sustain the small plot of earth we each claim. Brenda shares her gardening, cooking, and beekeeping experiences at beehappygarden.com.

 

 

Spring Ephemerals
by Brenda Lynn - posted 04/22/15

What better way to spend a spring day than walking through the woods, listening to birds call, and spotting the first spring blooms? April is one of those months that virtually begs us to get outdoors and join Mother Nature’s colorful party. First to arrive are spring ephemerals, evanescent blooms that appear before trees leaf out, only to disappear as soon as the forest canopy blocks the sun. Found throughout the U.S., many spring ephemerals are native plants that are the first form of sustenance for newly emerging butterflies, bees, and other important pollinators. Most grow along stream banks, or in the rich soil of the forest floor. By mid-June, they’ll vanish back into the earth.

Some of the best places to search for spring ephemerals are parks with protected paths, where native plants are cherished. In the northern Virginia area, Riverbend Park is famous for its bluebell trail. In fact, most of the parks along the Potomac River feature large swaths of this springtime favorite, as well as lesser known short-lived flora. Further south, the Andy R. Guest Shenandoah River State Park devotes a mile-long trek to the eponymously named Bluebell Trail. Less traveled trails mean less trampled flora, so why not take advantage of the great weather and trek out to one of our fabulous VA State parks, or explore the Blue Ridge? I’d love to hear what’s in bloom in southern areas of the state, where I haven’t had the opportunity to explore as thoroughly.

 

While bluebells may be the most recognizable spring ephemeral, they are far from the only spring blooms to keep an out for. Here are just a few of the wildflowers you might spot in the next few weeks:

Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) bloom as early as February and as late as May. The white petals with pink veins grow on 6-inch stalks and are an important nectar source for Mason bees.

Yellow trout-lily (Erythronium americanum) has wide green leaves covered in brown spots, resembling a brook trout. Native Americans used the flower to treat a range of maladies, from ulcers to hiccups.

 

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is sometimes harder to spot than other ephemerals. The daisy-like white flower springs from one lone, long stem, above a slowly unfurling fan of green leaves. It blooms for only a few days. The name bloodroot derives from the sticky, red sap that leaks out when the stem is broken. The sap is toxic and may have been used by Native Americans as an insect repellent.

 

Trillium grandiflorum is perhaps the queen of the ephemeral forest. It takes 7 years for one Trillium seed to produce a flower; but what a flower it is! A single stem rises from the elevated basal leaves to sport a three-petaled large, white bloom. The flower, which turns pink as it ages, has a yellow center, supported by three green bracts.

Hepatica

Other early bloomers you may spy along the trail include rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides), mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), and yellow lady slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum). Some early flora are unique to specific habitats, and it’s worth a hike to seek them out. On a recent camping trip in the Shenandoah River State Park, I spotted many of the above, in addition to bluets and hepatica. While the combination of beautiful blooms and the steep climb may have you catching your breath, the view of the top is none too shabby and well worth the effort! 

For more photos and info on the beautiful hiking paths and flora we at Shenandoah River State Park, check out my blog post at www.beehappygarden.com

 

 

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