Welcome to the season of the spring ephemerals

Welcome to the season of the spring ephemerals
Herb Broda

At first glance, the lesser celandine looks much like a buttercup, but looks can be deceiving. This ephemeral blooms early in spring and grows quickly, forming large mats of vegetation that prevent other spring plants from growing.


Welcome to the season of the spring ephemerals. That’s a fancy term for the “early bloomers” — those woodland wildflowers that bloom early each spring before the forest has developed a leaf canopy that shades the ground.

It’s an energizing time of year as the brown/grey winter forest floor is punctuated with the blooms and blossoms of spring wildflowers. But there is only a brief window to enjoy the spring wildflower display. Once trees have grown their leaves for the season, the canopy blocks enough sunlight to end the show.

In Northern Ohio we have a wonderful display of spring ephemerals including bloodroot, common blue violet, great white trillium, mayapple, spring beauty and Virginia bluebells. These early bloomers take advantage of the direct sunlight that warms the forest floor before trees have developed their leaves.

April and early May are ideal times to look for these beautiful spring flowers. An excellent resource for wildflower enthusiasts is provided by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Just Google “Ohio wildflowers” and click on the ODNR link that appears.

The wildflower links that are provided are comprehensive and easy to use. You can download The Ohio Spring Wildflower Guide, as well as an Ohio Spring Wildflower Checklist, to keep track of the treasures you have found. The web page also includes a “Now Blooming in Ohio” section, as well as a wildflower forecast.

A unique feature of the ODNR wildflower page is the Wildflower Bloom Report. This is updated weekly in the spring and provides excellent photos of what is blooming right now in various parts of Ohio.

Try to take a walk in a local forest sometime during April or early May. This wildflower show only occurs once a year and only for about six to eight weeks. Make it a yearly tradition to do a spring walk in the woods to see what’s blooming.

As you walk, just enjoy. Don’t be too concerned about identifying everything you see. Unfortunately, we can get so absorbed in naming that we miss the subtle beauty and detail all around us.

A nasty ephemeral

Although we usually think of spring ephemerals in very positive ways, there is one that is a problem. Meet the lesser celandine.

It has a pretty bright yellow flower with dark green heart-shaped leaves and looks at first glance much like a buttercup. But looks can be deceiving. This ephemeral blooms early in spring and grows quickly, forming large mats of vegetation that prevent other spring plants from growing.

Lesser celandine is native to Europe and parts of Northern Africa and Asia. It was introduced in the U.S. in the 1860s as an ornamental. Although it prefers to grow in forested floodplains, it does quite well in drier upland areas. It grows throughout the Northeastern United States and has been seen as far west as Missouri. It has even been spotted in the Pacific Northwest.

Although the flower is attractive, lesser celandine grows so aggressively that other plants don’t have a chance. Blooming begins in March or April (it’s in bloom now here in Northeast Ohio), but by June the vegetation has died back and the plant is dormant.

Although the plants usually are less than 5 inches above the ground, they have dense root systems. This creates a thick mat of vegetation that blocks other plants from growing.

The Holmes County Trail north of Millersburg has some very impressive displays of lesser celandine right now. The beautiful yellow flowers carpet several hillsides along the trail and make for some impressive photo opportunities.

Trillium time

Trillium time has arrived in Ohio. The large, flowered trillium has flowers 3-4 inches in diameter and can grow well over a foot tall. It’s the most common trillium found in Ohio and has the distinction of being our state’s official wildflower.

Two parks in Wayne County that usually offer good trillium viewing are Wooster Memorial Park and Johnson Woods (near Orrville). Keep in mind trilliums are a spring tasty treat for deer, so the quality of trillium viewing is very dependent upon where the deer happen to be.

Loading next article...

End of content

No more pages to load