Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Sunday, April 19, 2009


It's the beginning of blooming season for the spring ephemerals at Bluff Spring Fen. Spring ephmerals are some of the most familiar spring woodland wildflowers. They get their name from their fleeting appearance in the ecosystem. They emerge and bloom early in the spring, before the trees leaf out. They are taking advantage of the much sunnier conditions on the woodland floor than they will encounter later in the year. By midsummer, most have long finished blooming and setting seeds, their foliage dies back, and they won't be seen again until the following spring.

Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)

Rue Anemone is interesting because it's one of the longest-blooming spring ephemrals at the Fen. In some years it shows up as early as the end of March. In June, you can still find it blooming underneath the foliage of other plants that come up around it. We started upt with about 25 plants that were rescued from a housing development construction site back in the late 1980s. Today we have hundreds of plants scattered across our oak woodlands. The flowers are white to pale pink. The one in this photo is much pinker than typical.

Toothwort (Dentaria laciniata)

Toothworts are another of the earliest spring wildflowers to bloom at Bluff Spring Fen. Like most of the spring ephemerals, this species was completely absent from out site in the early 1980s when management began. The woods at the Fen were very heavly grazed, probably by dairy cattle, and have required a lot of TLC to begin bringing them back to health. Like the Rue Anemone, this species is spreading, and we now have scatterd clumps that get a bit bigger each year. I really would like this species to become more abundant at the Fen, because it's an important early nectar source for Juvenal's Duskywing skippers. I really would like this butterfly to be more abundant in our woodlands.

Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba)

Hepaticas are frequently the earliest woodland wildflower to bloom at the Fen. They range from white to blue. Ours were all rescued from the same housing development where we got our Papaipema cerina caterpillars. Unilke the Rue Anemone and Toothwort, Hepaticas spread mainly by seed rather than by rhizomes. Because of this, they have been slower to expand than some of our other transplanted species. This year, we are seeing some significant increases in the number of blooming plants for the first time. They seem to be particularly happy on north-facing slopes.

Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

Dutchmans Breeches may be my favorite of the spring ephemerals at Bluff Spring Fen. This species is one of the few that was hanging on in our woods. I think there were about 5 plants all in the same patch when we started managing the site. It's another species that spreads mainly by seed. We have had some luck moving seed around to new locations, however progress has been very slow. I'm seeing a few more seedlings this year than I have previously. Perhaps we will eventually have a healthy population.

As I have mentioned in previous years' posts, in a really healthy oak woodland, the spring wildflower display can be spectacular. It will be a long time befire Bluff Spring Fen has the kind of show that you can see someplace like Trout Park or Messenger Woods. I may not live long enough to see it. Still, we have most of the species diversity on site, and the populations are slowly but inexorably expanding.

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At 14:38, Blogger Kathiesbirds said...

Doug, all these flowers are lovely and make me miss the northern springtime which is so different from what I experience here in the desert. The Dutchman's Breeches are a plant I have never seen and it looks delightful.

I am wondering if you or any of your botonist friend's might be able to take a look at Bobbie's "Itchy Balls" post from her blog, Almost There. If the title alone isn't enough to intrique you, she posted some pics and info we need some help identifying. I have her link on my blog. I don't know how to leave it here.

At 14:40, Blogger Lemuel said...

The pictures brought memories of my youth flooding back. I had forgotten about most of these, but knew of them as a child and as a youth. I would spy them in the woods when I would go exploring while my parents fished.

At 14:45, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love those photos, especially the first and last. They really speak of spring.

At 15:08, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Kathie- I'm glad you enjoyed my photos. I wish I could experience spring in the desert this year, but that's not to be. I've checked out Bobbie's blog, and I believed that I've solved the mystery of the itchy balls for her.

Lem- These photos actually don't elicit memories of childhood for me. We did not have any of these species where I was growing up.

liliannattel- Thanks. For the second year in a row we are having a very late spring, so I enjoyed getting out and seeing this stuff yesterday.

At 16:56, Blogger Chilmarkgirl said...

such sweet plucky little gems- poking up through the cold and all the debris from winter-they bring the hope of warmth and summer to come- beautiful photos Doug!

At 12:52, Blogger Homer said...

We had dutchman's breeches in northern Michigan, but I haven't seen the others there.

At 00:06, Blogger Ur-spo said...

I used to grow dicentra; a spring favorite, indeed.

At 19:48, Blogger LA said...

I've wanted to see dutchman's breeches for a while, but no luck.

"They are taking advantage of the much sunnier conditions on the woodland floor than they will encounter later in the year. "

Hmm... That seems a bit strange to me, I don't think that's the full picture. If you were one of those plants, wouldn't it make more sense to put most of your energy into taking advantage of the sunnier locations when they're available, and THEN flowering? It seems kind of dumb (especially if you have big flowers that shade your leaves, like Rue Anemones) to spend energy on something that will decrease your ability to make more energy.

Then again, who am I to argue with millions of years of evolution?

At 06:33, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice! We just have garlic mustard :(


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