Friday, March 4, 2011

Late Winter Flowering Plants

Warmer days with longer photoperiods are starting to bring about changes to the forest floor, especially on south facing slopes.  Perennial wildflowers are beginning to emerge below the leaf litter as tiny leafless shoots.  Most persons who frequent the woods of eastern Ohio have witnessed showy herbaceous spring foliage displays consisting of trillium, fire pink, larkspur, bloodroot and numerouos other species.  However, there are a few species of wildflower that appear before the main color event of spring.  These early bloomers often flower before the first official day of spring and take advantage of abundant sunlight reaching the forest floor that will be greatly reduced when the majority of mid-spring foliage emerges.

Hepatica (Hepatica americana) is a resident of deciduous forests that goes largely unnoticed due to its size and early flowering period.  In most cases flowering stalks of this plant only reach 2-3" barely enough to poke out of dense leaf litter on the forest floor.  The tiny flowers can range in color from purple to blue to white and consist of six petals and a yellowish pistil surrounded by numerous yellow stamens.  Leaf margins can be either pointed or rounded.

Another early bloomer in eastern Ohio is the non-native Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara).  A native to northern Europe, this small wildflower was brought to America by European settlers and over time has naturally integrated into the landscape.  Coltsfoot is abundant along roadsides, in waste areas and on south facing rocky slopes and resembles a dandelion with a thick stalk.  The flower is the first part of the plant to emerge with leaves following after blooming.  Coltsfoot can spread quickly by way of creeping underground rhizomes and by seeds that are dispersed by wind.

Coltsfoot on a well exposed south facing slope.  Note the lack
of any leaves which will emerge after the flowers mature.  Seems
to prefer dry, rocky soils.

Hepatica blooming in the final week of winter, 2004.
Look for this perennial on sunny slopes that are
moist with a good layer of topsoil

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