When I was a little girl, a highlight of early spring, was a visit to “the cabin”, near Greenwood, Ontario and a hike with Aunt Lorene. My cousins and I donned rubber boots and headed for the woods, with the task of discovering Marsh Marigolds, Dog toothed Violets, Trilliums and Dutchman’s-breeches! We loved finding those Dutchman’s-breeches – those little white flowers that looked like pantaloons hung out on the clothesline to dry! Of course, what we were looking for were the Spring Ephemerals.
These perennials take advantage of the leafless forest, warm sunshine and moist rich earth. They are the first growth to appear in early spring. They grow rapidly, bloom early, set seeds and die back or go dormant all within a short period of six to eight weeks. They store nutrients in their bulbs, rhizomes or roots, ready to reappear the following spring. The word “ephemeral” means short lived or brief.
These colourful plants delighted us on our walks, but we were admonished by Aunt Lorene never to pick or disturb them. These delicate plants are invaluable to the ecosystem of the forest, for stabilizing the soil and helping to sustain, their pollinators, which include, ants, bumble bees and various flies.
Besides human poaching, other threats to life are inclement weather, intense heat or rain, invasive plants and an overpopulation of deer. If plants are removed, they may take many years to reappear, if at all. It is best just to admire and enjoy!
You can try them in your own garden, from plants or seeds obtained from a nursery. Patience, care and a correct environment are necessary for success. However, Trillium seeds take 7 years to germinate and produce blooms. Too long a wait, I think, for even the most dedicated gardener! Best to enjoy them in the woods.
When you take your early walks this April or early May, look for these on the forest floor: Virginia Bluebells, Blood Root, Trout Lily, Squirrel Corn, Dutchman’s-breeches, Trilliums, Comfrey, Marsh Marigolds and many more. Links and pictures of plants can be found on the internet to help you identify the great variety of Spring Ephemerals.