Spring ephemerals: Here today, gone tomorrow


Virginia bluebells enhance the spring scene then totally disappear without a bit of cleanup. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Some native spring perennials are here and gone within just a few weeks. They are called ephemerals, and although perennial, they disappear without a trace after their show. The next several weeks are the best for spotting the ephemerals during walks in the neighborhood, parks or woods.

In Indianapolis, Holliday Park and Eagle Creek Park have excellent examples of spring ephemerals, orchids and other native seasonal blossoms. Shades and Turkey Run state parks are known for their spring ephemerals and attract visitors from all over.

My favorite is Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica). I planted five corms, or small bulbs, ordered from a bulb catalog the first fall I lived here. They bloomed the following spring. Purple-tinged leaves break ground first, followed by 10-inch stems with clusters of blue, bell-shaped flowers. As the flowers open and fade, slender, needle-like seeds fall to the ground or are carried by the wind to new spots.

Nearly 30 years later, for a few weeks every spring, Virginia bluebells dominate the rear of my backyard. They have sent seeds into other garden beds and even pathways. That’s all right with me. Why? Because they totally disappear by the time summer arrives. I call them my magic plants.

Bloodroot

A bee on a Bloodroot Flower. An early season mining bee forages a bloodroot flower. (C) Photo rruntsch/ Depositphotos.com

Bloodroot (Sanquinaria canadensis) is commonly found in woodlands. A single stem with a single, pure white, multi-petal flower emerges with a single leaf.

Its common name comes from the underground stem’s red juice. Sanquinaria comes from the Latin, sanguinarius, which translates as blood. Bloodroot is native to the Eastern United States. Native Americans used the stem’s juice as dyes and face paints.

Bloodroot, Virginia bluebells and other early blooming ephemerals and spring plants serve as food sources for wild, native bees after they stir from their winter rest. The native bees are the ones that pollinate apple and other fruit trees, among other plants.

These native spring ephemerals are available as seeds, corms or plants. They can be found at AmericanMeadows.com, among other online retailers. You may be able to find them in some garden centers over the next few weeks, or at native plant sales.



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