Nine-Minute Naturalist: Emerging Ephemerals
Filed under: Nine-Minute Naturalist
by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator
I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!
The stark winter atop Wintergreen creates a craving for anything to break the monotony of muted colors. Thankfully we have the coming flood of spring ephemerals to attract the eye of outdoor enthusiasts. We are just now entering the bonanza of diversity that defines our island in the Blue Ridge. Now is the time to get fresh air and find so many of the wonderful iconic plants of Wintergreen.
The essence of all ephemeral plants is the idea of short lived life cycles. The goal is to get above ground and go from flower to seed before the canopy closes overhead. Wintergreen’s rich, moist soil, along with vast areas of forest floor that has never been under plow, creates an ideal nursery for a vast diversity of spring wildflowers.
One of the first among spring ephemerals to look for is bloodroot, Sanguinaria Canadensis. This plant has a singular leaf and white flower that open in full sun and close at night. It is named for the red juice in the lower and underground stem that has traditionally been used as a dye, insect repellent, and to induce vomiting (I wouldn’t recommend ingesting this plant). This plant can be found throughout Wintergreen’s landscape.
Another sure sign of spring is spring beauty, Claytonia Virginica. This low-growing perennial tends to be found in large patches. It has a smooth grass-like leaf and a pink or white flower with dark pink stripes. This edible plant was traditionally used for food and is still used as a wonderful garnish to salads. This plant tends to be found in great volume in the valley of Wintergreen, especially in the Allen Creek Nature Preserve.
The most iconic ephemeral at Wintergreen has to be trillium, Trillium Grandiflora. The great white trillium is a long-lived plant that thrives in Wintergreen’s rich, undisturbed soil. The leaves, sepals and petals all come in groups of three. The white flower turns pink with age. This plant can be found all along the upper elevations at Wintergreen. One of the best trails is the Old Appalachian Trail from Cedar Drive to Laurel Spring Drive.
One of my absolute favorite harbingers of spring is marsh marigold, Caltha Palustris. This wetland obligate ephemeral is a member of the buttercup family, not related to marigolds (aster). This plant has showy yellow flowers occurring in clusters. This plant can be found in various wet spots around our environment and can also be found in a seep on the current Appalachian Trail just north of Wintergreen.
I hope this brief discussion of our emerging ephemerals whets the appetite to get out of the house and start exploring the woods. The Wintergreen mountainside has over 30 miles of trails to find all your favorite flowers. Enjoy!