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Spring-Flowering Ephemerals

Pretty, delicate and only lasting a short time, spring-flowering ephemerals are some of the hardiest plants in the natural world. It is a very challenging time, in early spring, to complete their life cycle.

Temperatures in the soil are low making it difficult to get water and nutrients the plant needs to survive, the threat of frost or snow still exists and most pollinators are still in hibernation. And once leaf out occurs and creates a tree canopy over the forest floor, most sunlight is lost causing these plants to go back into dormancy, having produced and stored enough energy in their roots and bulbs for next spring. So within 40-60 days, these beautiful flowering plants need to grow, bloom, pollinate and reseed.

The Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Anemone acutiloba) is the first to bloom, followed by the Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum), the Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) our provincial flower (1937), and the Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) which closes out the season. We have only mentioned four plants but there are numerous species of spring ephemerals. For a more comprehensive list please visit

Sharp-lobed Hepatica

(Illustration by Bob Bowles)

Here at the Nature Centre we have been walking our woodlands in the hopes of finding spring ephemerals. Cattle grazed on this land just a few years ago, hindering the chances for growth of spring-flowering ephemerals. But to our delight, we found a relatively large colony of Yellow Trout Lillies. This flower is also known as Adder's Tongue, Dogtooth Violet and Yellow Adder's Tongue. It is native to North American and blooms beautiful downward-facing yellow trumpets. Its blossoms open in the morning and close as evening approaches and it grows best in moist meadows, marshy areas and woodlands.

Only the oldest plants flower. And it is amazing that it can take anywhere between 4-8 years for the plant to flower.

Yellow Trout Lily

Spring-flowering ephemerals are a sign that warmer weather is coming soon. So when you are out for a walk in the woods during April and early May make sure to look down at the forest floor. You may be quite surprised to see an array of colour and life beneath the dead leaves and twigs.

We found this great photo on the internet showing the typical life cycle of many spring ephemerals. As the photo denotes the growth period underground occurs during the fall and winter. Above ground, growth occurs in early spring.

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