Early Spring Wildflowers

Early spring flowers are often called ephemerals because they bloom for such a short time. The Bloodroot is a great example of this, since the blossoms will last only one day. It is so exciting to find them growing in the otherwise bare woods though, that I can’t stop taking photos of them.  Get ready…this post is longer than most, but I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed finding these flowers! Remember, you can click any photo to see a larger version.
When the shoots push through the soil, the Bloodroot leaf gently curls around the bud, protecting it until it opens entirely. While we haven’t found any Bloodroot currently growing in the forest at the Nature Preserve, we will add it to the new Woodland Fern Garden.

Tavia Says:
The Bloodroot rhizome oozes an orange-red juice or sap when cut.  Native Americans used the juice as body paint, lending the name Indian Paint. The rhizomes contain the alkaloid “sanguinaire,” an antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory ingredient that is used in toothpastes and mouthwashes to help reduce dental plaque and gingivitis.  Research indicates that it may also offer protection against skin cancer, however, the plant can be toxic even in small doses.

Another early spring flower that will be grown in the Woodland Fern Garden is Wild Ginger with its heart shaped leaves. The rhizomes of this plant have the taste and smell of true ginger.  The flowers are small, and grow upon the ground, so they are easily missed by the casual view.

Tavia Says:
These flowers are pollinated by crawling and flying insects, such as ants, beetles, and flies.  The blossom is the color and smell of raw meat, which attracts these meat eating insects. Native Americans used the rhizomes to flavor meat and fish dishes, and to make a tea for relieving many ailments, including indigestion, coughs, heart conditions, cramps, fevers, colds, and sore throats.

Sessile Trillium can be easily found along the banks of Little Huckleberry Creek. Trilliums do everything in threes – three leaves, and three petals on the blossoms. There are many kinds of Trilliums in other locations, but this is the only one we have at the Nature Preserve.  If you find a different species, however, please let us know!  The Sessile Trillium’s flower has no stem, and sits directly on the leaf junction. If you kneel down to smell the flower, it should have a strong carrion odor.

Tavia Says:
It is said that the scent resembles that of raw beef, which explains one of its common names, “Bloody Butchers.” The aroma has also been described as that of dead animal tissue and helps attract flies and beetles, which pollinate the plant. (And here I thought bees pollinated flowers! ~denapple)

Cutleaf Toothwort is another early bloomer at the Nature Preserve. By next week, the hillside above Little Huckleberry Creek should be covered with them.

Tavia Says:
The rhizome and leaves of this plant are peppery tasting. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, like other mustard greens. Native Americans made a poultice from the root and used it to treat headaches.

One of my favorite spring wildflowers is the Yellow Trout Lily, of which we have an abundance at the Nature Preserve.  An abundance of leaves that is. The name “Trout Lily” refers to the speckling on the leaves so it resembles a trout.

The Trout Lilies growing near each other are all clones – genetically the same and growing from one root system.  They fill a hillside with small leaves, but only about 10% of those will actually blossom.

Watch for the “recurved” tepals (or petals) which turn up, distinguishing this from the Beaked Trout Lily, for example. 
Tavia Says:
Trout Lilies have been called “living phosphorus sinks,” because their roots retrieve phosphorus from the soil and transfer it to the leaves, making it available to herbivores, such as deer.  The leaves and roots are edible to humans as well, but may cause an allergic reaction. 
Mayapples look like little green umbrellas as they poke up into the sunshine. A plant with one large leaf is a male, while two leaves indicate a female plant that can bear fruit. Mayapples bear a dangling “apple” later in the spring, just at the right height for Box Turtles to eat. A cluster of Mayapples are colonial, in that they have different DNA, unlike the Trout Lily.
Tavia Says:
Other common names for this species include Maypop, Devil’s Apple, Duck’s Foot, and Hog Apple.  Although the ripe fruit can be used to make jelly and preserves, the leaves and rootstocks are poisonous.  Etopside, which is prepared from the roots, has been used to treat small-cell carcinoma.

The leaves on a Twinleaf come in (you guessed it…) pairs.  I think they resemble kidneys.  The leaves will be small while the white flower blooms (with eight petals), then the leaves will grow larger when the bloom ceases.

Tavia Says:
The Latin name for this plant is Jeffersonia diphylla, and it was named for Thomas Jefferson by the American botanist William Bartram.  Other common names include Ground Squirrel Pea, Helmet Pod, Rheumatism Roots, and Yellow Root.

There are two kinds of Rue Anenome.  The “true” Rue has 5-10 showy sepals…

…while the False Rue has only five sepals or petals.  The leaves look very much the same.  The blossoms bob in the lightest wind, so be sure to bump up your shutter speed if taking photos of them.  The same hillside with the Toothworts and Twinleaf will also have lots of Rue Anemones.
Did you know that our own Tavia Cathcart is the co-author of a wildflower field guide?  Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians is a long title, but a wonderful resource about wildflowers no matter what time of year they bloom.  Each entry is full of historical references to the flowers as well as their descriptions and wonderful photos.  The book can be found anywhere online, or at the Nature Preserve.  Come to our next event (Wildflower Open House Saturday on April 16) to get a signed copy.
Naturally yours,