Identifying Spring Ephemerals and other Interesting plants

The temperate forest is the second most botanically diverse biome. If you visit the forest in the spring you’ll see a show. Unlike the rainforest, deciduous trees in the temperate forest lose their leaves. Before new leaves are fully formed, in the spring, herbaceous flowering plants exploit the light that comes through the canopy. They complete their life cycle by occupying a niche in the ecosystem, giving them the name spring ephemerals.

Yesterday I attended the Wild Edibles Festival, during which I visited the Greenbrier River Trail in Hillsboro, WV. We saw so many specimens that I’m going to break this post up. It’s a great time to go to the woods and see how many you can find! But do not disturb them please!


           Trillium erectum, Red Trillium, Liliaceae (Lily Family)
This is one of the most common eastern Trilliums. Its foul smell attracts carrion flies that act as pollinators. Early herbalists used this ill-scented plant to treat gangrene, since, according to the Doctrine of Signatures, plants were used to cure the ailments they resembled.





Asarum canadense L., Canadian wild ginger, Aristolochiaceae (Birthwort Family)                                                                                    Each plant bears a pair of large, velvety, heart-shaped leaves. Growing at ground level in the crotch between 2 leafstalks is a single darkish red-brown to green-brown flower. The fleshy rootstock, which has a strong, gingery flavor, can create a crowded network on the woodland floor, resulting in a dense ground cover of Wild ginger. 


Lysichiton americanus (American skunkcabbage) #10056
Bransford, W.D. and Dolphia
Lysichiton americanus Hultén & H. St. John, American skunkcabbage, Araceae (Arum Family)                                                                                                                                              The common name refers to the skunk-like odor of the sap and the fetid odor of the flowers, which draws flies as pollinators. The peppery sap was once used as a treatment for ringworm. The short, fleshy underground stem is eaten by animals. Baked, it supplemented the winter diets of Indians. 




Erythronium americanum Ker Gawl., Liliaceae (Lily Family)                                                                                                                                                      One of our most common spring ephemeral wildflowers, and it is found in sizable colonies. The name Trout Lily refers to the similarity between the leaf markings and those of the brown or brook trout. 


Sedum spp., Crassulaceae (Stonecrop Family)                                   Excellent species for ground cover or rock gardens. 


Sanguinaria canadensis L., Bloodroot, Papaveraceae (Poppy Family)                                     Roots and stem with acrid red-orange juice. This fragile spring flower develops and rises from the center of its curled leaf, opening in full sun, and closing at night. Like most members of the Poppy Family, it lasts for a relatively short time. The red juice from the underground stem was used by Indians as a dye for baskets, clothing, and war paint, as well as for insect repellent. The generic name, from the Latin sanguinarius, means bleeding.


Alliaria petiolata, Garlic Mustard, Brassicaceae                                                  This is a biennial flowers in mid-summer. Early European settlers brought the herb to the New World to use as a garlic type flavoring, and as a good source of vitamins A and C. The herbs medicinal purposes include use as a disinfectant, a diuretic, and sometimes being used to treat gangrene and ulcers. The herb was also planted as a form of erosion control.


Heuchera spp., Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)
Several similar Heuchera species occur in the East, many of which are difficult to distinguish from one another. The genus name honors the 18th-century German physician and botanist Johann von Heucher.

Dicentra cucullaria (L.) Bernh., Dutchman’s breeches, Fumariaceae (Fumitory Family)
This woodland perennial can spread to cover considerable areas. The generic name of this delicate spring ephemeral flower derives from the Greek for two-spurred. The flowers are pollinated by early bumblebees, whose proboscis is long enough to tap the nectar. Honeybees, with a shorter proboscis, can gather only the pollen with their front feet. Squirrel Corn, closely related to Dutchmans Breeches, is often found in the same habitats. Its flowers, however, are heart-shaped. The root tubers resemblance to corn kernels accounts for its common name. The plant goes dormant in early summer.




Dicentra canadensis (Goldie) Walp., Squirrel corn, Fumariaceae (Fumitory Family)
Plants become dormant after they bloom. Mice and chipmunks are adept at transplanting the tubers.

Work Cited


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s