Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Celebrating Early Spring Treasures in the Woodland Garden

As soon as March rolls around I make a habit of walking our woodland garden daily. The birds are singing high in the tree tops, the air smells of the earth and many ephemerals are beginning to poke up out of the leaf litter. It is a glorious time and this year we seem to be marching through spring at a rapid pace.

Packera aurea (Golden ragwort) in woodland garden

The early risers are making the most of the sunlight that shines down through the open canopy. This is their time to bloom brightly before the trees leaf out and quiet things down. This time reminds me fondly of a story my mother read to me in German as a child Etwas von den Wurzelkindern translated as The Story of the Root Children by Sibylle von Olfers, originally published in 1906. The root children would sleep underground all winter until Mother Earth would awaken them in spring and help them create colorful new clothes (an analogy for spring flowers pushing up through the ground) and clean and paint the beetles and bugs (preparing the pollinators to emerge). It is an enchanting story and the illustrations are fabulous. It captured my imagination and appealed to my love of nature.

My treasured childhood book, Etwas von den Wurzelkindern

One of the first native blooms to emerge in our woodland garden is Sanguinaria canadensis or bloodroot. This impressive bloom is fleeting and must be rejoiced. It arises abruptly from the leaf litter like a candlestick aflame. The leaves wrapped snugly around the stalk akin to a mother protecting her child.

Sanguinaria canadensis emerging from leaf litter
And then hurriedly it reveals its bright petals and anthers, attracting native bees (mining bees, sweat bees, small carpenter bees) and flies (bee fly). These industrious pollinators collect pollen but are not rewarded with any nectar. In years when we experience early warm weather, pollinators are in abundance; however, when pollinators are absent bloodroot is able to self-pollinate. In an act of self-preservation its anthers reach down gently and deposit pollen onto the stigma.

Sanguinaria canadensis  in full bloom

But, the story doesn't end there. When the pollinators have finished, ants step in. The seeds contain elaiosome, which attracts ants, who in turn carry the seeds to their nest where they eat part of the seed and discard the seed proper, remaining in the nest, a good growing medium.

Bloodroot sans petals, showing basel leaf

The lovely Erythronium americnum (Eastern Trout Lily) is another woodland wildflower that has recruited ants to assist in seed dispersal. Ants eat the nutritious appendages attached to each seed and leave the rest to germinate. 

Erythronium americnum (Eastern Trout Lily) bloom

Growing in colonies, the non-flowering individuals commonly outnumber the flowering ones. Even more reason to commemorate the elegant tulip-like flowers that rise up from green and purple mottled foliage. These lilies are a bright pop of color staged against the muted brown forest floor.

colony of Erythronium americnum (Eastern Trout Lily)

The mighty Mayapple (Podophylum peltatum) also emerges in March in our garden. Its two large leaves resemble an umbrella when fully emerged. The flowers bloom later in spring and will be pollinated by bumble bees and other long-tongued bees. Box turtles will eat the berries and disperse the seeds on their journey.

Podophylum peltatum leaves unfolding

Phlox divaricata (woodland phlox) is a little stunner that attracts a range of early pollinators including bumblebees, bee flies, butterflies (especially swallowtails), skippers, hummingbird clearwing moths and sphinx moths. Drawing such a spectrum of pollinators is worthy of celebration.

Phlox divaricata (woodland phlox)

Dirca palustris (Leatherwood) is a woodland shrub which deserves a place in any wet/moist woodland setting, especially along pond and creek edges. The small, tubular, yellow flowers emerge first, promptly followed by the leaves, making it the first tree to unfold its leaves in our garden. Fruit that ripens in late spring/early summer is devoured by the birds. This underused native has fabulous bark which is tough and pliable and can be used in wilderness survival situations, so my boys tell me.

Dirca palustris (Leatherwood)

These are fleeting moments in our garden, which require one to stop and contemplate the story each of these plants has to tell. Observing the relationships between these early ephemerals and the pollinators who service them is a site to behold. Pollinators must act quickly or they will miss the opportunity for this nutritious food. Even as I write this post, the tulip popular trees have already broken bud. Spring is anxious to arrive this year.

With this post I am joining Gardens Eye View's Seasonal Celebrations. And next up I'll take a look at some Lessons Learned this winter with Beth at Plant Postings. 

18 comments:

  1. Karin I must say you have captured the perfect celebration of spring...the fleeting native flowers. I think my favorite will always be the Trout Lilies as there are so few. Mine are wild in the meadow. I am finding more flowers each year though so that is a wonderful blessing. And I adore that children's book. If I was still teaching, I would have to find it for my classroom. Thanks again for sharing your Seasonal Celebration!

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    1. That's wonderful that yours are colonizing in your meadow! They are a happy flower!

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  2. Hi, if your trout lily makes a seed pod with a dimpled top then you probably have Erythronium umbilicatum. That is more common in Georgia. Great pictures!

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    1. Good to know Ellen. I will look more closely to confirm.

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  3. I am glad you featured woodland ephemerals! Every spring I take extra care as I walk through the woodland garden. I don't want to miss these delightful little flowers. Yesterday I noticed bloodroot shoots coming up. This one has been slow to establish in my garden, but I am hoping the ants will get busy and do their job!

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    1. I planted mine several years ago and you're right they do seem to take their slow time getting established. I still only have a few blooms that come up. Even more reason to treasure them!

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  4. So pretty, Karin! I'm just starting on a woodland garden myself so this was helpful. Packera is one of the plants I want to try to get going there. I'm hoping I can find some online. Have you found the mayapple to be aggressive? I'm considering that one as well but I'm worried it may take over.

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    1. Jean, the Packera has actually spread more than my mayapples at this point but yes, they are strong colonizers. I am not limited on space so when a native plant spreads I am happy. I am looking forward to seeing your new woodland garden!

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  5. It's so exciting to see everything waking up so early this year - your photos put a smile on my face :) I'm still a bit hesitant to change up my planting schedule as you really never know what Mother Nature will throw at you, but I'm quite enjoying the early showings of green in the garden (unfortunately, no hits of colour quite yet).

    And that sounds like a wonderful story, Karin. The illustration in the photo is just beautiful.

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    1. It is hard to stay restrained with the gorgeous weather we've been having but we've been known to have a late frost. I haven't started my warm season veg garden yet. I'm holding off a few more weeks.

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  6. My friend and I are making plans to search for spring wildflowers we have not seen yet, but we still have a wait. Bulbs are just starting to emerge here. We do go where there is huge stands of trout lilies, both yellow and white in places near us though.

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    1. That sounds like a fun outing Donna! I will look forward to seeing your outstanding photos. It is fun to hunt for spring ephemerals in the woods but also rewarding when you know the places to look for stands of wildflowers.

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  7. Spring wildflowers in our woodlands are wonderful -- thanks for a lovely post. I love seeing the first Hepaticas each year -- a spring touchstone. The clumps of bloodroot in flower now in the back ravine forest are great -- we hope the ants will busily move them around, as they did in our Piedmont garden!

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    1. Oh, I'm envious that you have bloodroot in your forest area Lisa! Did you plant them or are they growing there naturally?

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  8. Enchanting photos! None of my native spring ephemerals are up yet, but I am watching!

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    1. I think (patiently) waiting makes one appreciate those short lived blooms even more.

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  9. I had no idea that Bloodroot could pollinate itself - so cool! The yellow trout lilies are beautiful. I'm trying to plant more spring ephemerals in my woods. They are so special!

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    1. I have a somewhat secured area where I plant most of the ephemerals because our dogs would otherwise trample all over them on their run through our woods. I love the look of spring flowers spread throughout a woodland area.

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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