Spring ephemerals are a classification of wildflowers that bloom briefly in the earliest of spring and then essentially disappear for the next 9 to 10 months. They live deep in old deciduous forests. They come to life, achieve their full growth and go to seed in the small span of time from late winter/early spring when the tree canopy is still bare but the pollinating insects of the protected forest are first waking to the winter sun instead of hard freezes to the time when the dark returns to the forest floor with the full shade from the new leaves. All perennials in temperate zones have a dormant period but for most it is the 3 months of winter. Spring ephemerals are dormant summer, fall and winter. This means the roots or corms are still there, underground, and the plant will reappear, albeit briefly in subsequent springs.

Spring ephemerals tend to flourish and create colonies in places where they are happy and refuse to grow at all in places where they are not. This makes them endangered because they are not happy when their forest disappears for development or even when it is simply fragmented by roads. They like DEEP, deep forests where ants can carry their seeds 3 to 200 feet and where loose, acid soil created by hundreds of years of leaf mold encourages expansion of delicate root systems and lets single stalks climb 12 to 24 inches without encountering obstacles. They are even fussy about things like elevation and air pressure. So, loss of habitat is devastating. They are easily crowded out by invasive exotics with better survival skills and no natural preditors. Global warming can cause trees to leaf out earlier and prevent the maturation of the now prematurely shaded spring ephemeral's seedpod.

Many people don’t even know these plants exist so they may not care about them. Unless you are prone to walking in the forest in March or April you may never see a Spring Beauty, Bluet, Oconee Bells or Trout Lily.

Dutchman's Breeches sounds so silly, but this spring ephemeral's bloom really looks like a white pair of pants with the pockets turned out. I just learned the queen bumblebee is the likely pollinator of this plant. She emerges from the ground early to begin her egg laying. Her worker bees will pollinate and obtain nutrients from other species of plants that have a longer life cycle. One queen bee gaining sustenance from and subsequently pollinating a few Dutchman’s Breeches when no other flower is yet available will give rise to an entire colony of bees to pollinate the spring and summer fruits and vegetables. With out the bees we won’t have the peaches of summer and even if you never walk in the forest, we all like peaches. Right? Or apples or cherries or squash. So stop buying aerosol sprays and protect those large stands of old growth forests from development and/or fragmentation. Take a walk in one of them in the first weeks of spring. You just might see a queen on a pair of Dutchman’s Breeches.

and from Audubon Magazine:
"Pink Mist"
In the wane of winter a pink mist spreads over wet meadows and floodplains from Newfoundland to Georgia and west to Texas. Diminutive spring beauties—a.k.a. fairy spuds—are blooming in staggering profusion. In “The Song of Hiawatha,” Longfellow called the plant miskodeed:

"And the young man saw before him,
On the hearth-stone of the wigwam,
Where the fire had smoked and smouldered,
Saw the earliest flower of Spring-time,
Saw the Beauty of the Spring-time,
Saw the Miskodeed in blossom.”

Soon the forest canopy will leaf out, shading the flowers. The above-ground parts will wither and die, but in the rich humus the tubers, well stocked with food, hold the promise for next spring’s display."


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