Every year, spring puts on a magic show. As soon as the snow has retreated and the days lengthen, the forest floor comes alive with spring ephemeral wildflowers. Spring ephemerals are, as their name suggests, short-lived. Many spend the winter underground as roots or bulbs until conditions are just right for them to send out a stalk, leaves, and flower. They enjoy the patchy sunlight that finds its way through the bare trees until the canopy leaves arrive, and then…they will vanish! Most ephemeral plants will last at most 6-8 weeks, from late April until early June, depending on the weather.
Spring ephemerals are well adapted to surviving the unpredictable spring weather. They tolerate partial shade so that they can live in the middle of the forest. Their flowers are typically white because they are pollinated by beetles, moths, or the wind, none of which are concerned with color like the honeybees and hummingbirds of summer. Instead, many will spend their energy on scents to attract pollinators.
The next time you take a hike through the woods of Minnesota, slow down to look for the magic signs of spring. Gems such as dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, wood anemone, and spring beauty await you. But don’t wait too long to go searching—soon they will disappear!
– Marie Fargo and Fiona O’Halloran-Johnson