Get ready for the final installation in our Spring Flower series:
FLOWER TIME 3: THE FLOWERING
The trees are beginning to leaf out, which means we are heading into late spring and our lovely ephemeral wildflowers will not be in bloom for too much longer! Be sure you get out for a hike to see them before they are gone.
As you might suspect from their name, you'll find these brilliant yellow flowers brightening up wet environments like marshes, stream banks, wet woods and even ditches. Members of the buttercup family, marsh marigolds produce both nectar and lots of pollen, which attracts insects to help spread their seed from plant to plant. They are also shaped to disperse seeds using raindrops as a tool... the follicles, when open, form a "splash cup", so that when a drop of rain hits the flower at the right angle, the seeds are expelled. The entire plant contains a highly toxic substance that can cause skin irritation and make you very sick if eaten raw. Heat does destroy this substance however, and the young flower buds can be cooked, pickled, and used as a substitute for capers.
Jack in the Pulpit
You might walk right by this spring flower growing on the forest floor, because when seen from above, the qualities that make it so cool-looking are pretty well-camouflaged. If you crouch down and really give it a look however, you'll see where it gets its name. It has one or two leaves, each separated into three leaflets. The flower grows on its own stalk separate from the leaves, and consists of a large green and sometimes purplish striped "hood" (the pulpit), covering a finger-like purple spadix (Jack). Its long, cylindical shape ensures that pollinating insects that enter have quite a hard time getting back out. As they struggle, they become coated with pollen. With luck, they will eventually find a tiny opening at the bottom of a male plant from which they can escape, loaded with pollen. Alas, the female plants have no such opening, almost assuring that the insect will spend the rest of its life trapped. Brutal!
Finally, the mighty trillium! Characterized by exactly three large green leaves and three bright white petals, these showy flowers are now blooming in a woodland near you. They are rhizomal, meaning they propagate via their roots spreading underground... which is why you often find them in large clusters, carpeting the forest floor. They also reproduce via pollination, when ants feed on a part of their seeds and disperse the rest. Though they are very pretty, and it may seem like there are lots of them, please don't pick them. Once picked or cut, no new flower will ever grow back in its place, even if the root is undisturbed. Moreover, it probably took a long time for that big, beautiful flower to get to that point. Trillium are notoriously slow growers... it takes 7-10 years of growth to reach the size where it will flower at all. Later in their blooming season, you may see some varieties of the white trillium turn a pretty pink. This happens after they are pollinated. We like to think they are blushing!
Have you seen a spring wildflower you'd like us to highlight? Take a photo, tag us and post it on Facebook (@chikamingopenlands) or Instagram (#chikamingopenlands), or email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next week!