Posted by: Reena Ramos

  • 03/01/2016

Exploring the preserves: anticipating spring wildflowers

By John J. Smith

Skunk cabbage (picture 1 below) is the first native plant to flower, most years in March. Then come harbinger-of-spring, hepatica, false rue anemone and many more. But 2016 may have surprises.

Already on Christmas day 2015 I found skunk cabbage spathes starting to emerge a few inches, and one hepatica flower and one false rue anemone flower in bloom!

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts January, February and March, 2016, to be warmer and drier than average. If their forecasts turn out to be accurate, blooming times will be earlier than usual.

ACRES properties I hike most frequently are Spurgeon, Culp, and Bender nature preserves — all within 30 miles of my home in Goshen. While exact blooming times will vary somewhat, each preserve has wonderful wildflower displays, with many species in common, and several that are unique.

I highly recommend hikes in all these ACRES treasures in April and May (perhaps earlier this year, if NOAA is right).

Edna W. Spurgeon Woodland Reserve | Noble County

Wildflowers in this old-growth forest are wonderful week after week.

Late March: To find skunk cabbage, keep left on the loop trail to the short boardwalk over the vernal pond.

Second or Third Week of April: Throughout the woods, harbinger-of-spring’s tiny white flowers and showier displays of hepatica (3), bloodroot, spring beauty, and Dutchman’s breeches.

Late April and early May: Squirrel corn, yellow trout lily, blue cohosh, three trillium species (T. sessile, T. grandiflorum and T. flexipes), five violet species (V. sorroria, V. striata, V. pubescens, V. striata and V. canadense), large-flowered bellwort, bishop’s cap, Jack-in-the-pulpit (5), downy Solomon’s seal, and wood poppy.

Mid-May (when trees begin leafing): Blue phlox, wild geranium, great waterleaf, anise-root, false Solomon’s seal and putty-root (2).

Richard G. and Mary H. Culp Nature Preserve | LaGrange County

Culp is in the middle of Amish farms near Shipshewana. Walking clockwise on the loop trail, you climb a steep south-facing slope. In this sunny spot I find the earliest flowers of round-lobed hepatica, harbinger-of-spring and cut-leaved toothwort, usually early April.

Late April to Early May: Nearly twenty species will be blooming at once, such as wild ginger, blue cohosh, rue anemone, false rue anemone, false mermaid, large-flowered trillium, and the same five species of violet as at Spurgeon. This is one of the few woods where I find the watch-listed dwarf ginseng. Each plant has a whorl of 3 – 5 compound leaves, with a short stalk that terminates in a ball of tiny white flowers. And I first discovered putty-root flowers at Culp, May 21, 2006. The solitary, grayish-green leaves with white veins appear in fall and stay green all winter.

As the leaves die back in late May, a few of the plants may shoot up an inflorescence of 8 –15 small flowers.

Lloyd W. Bender Memorial Forest | Noble County

Because it contains both floodplain and hills, this fine forest west of Albion has a wide diversity of wildflowers.

Late March: Skunk cabbage usually flowers in the wet floodplain, followed in April by marsh marigold, wood betony, golden ragwort, round-leaved ragwort, cut-leaved toothwort, and purple spring-cress.

May (also in the floodplain): You may find white spring-cress, Virginia waterleaf, American gromwell, honewort, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and Jack’s unusual cousin, green dragon (7).

May (in Bender’s higher mesic woods): You’ll find most of the wildflower species as in Spurgeon and Culp, with the addition of the watch-listed goldenseal (4) and the unusual American columbo (6) which bloomed in 2015, but does not bloom every year.

I will be walking all three of these ACRES preserves every 2 – 3 weeks this spring, beginning as soon as harbinger-of spring appears and continuing until putty-root blooms in late May. By then the trees will be in full leaf; the ephemeral wildflower shows will be over. But my ACRES hikes won’t end — I’ll just switch to hiking preserves with sunny wetlands where flowers will bloom into October!

~ John J. Smith

Link to this article as it appeared in the 2016 Spring Quarterly (PDF)