The word "ephemeral" means short-lived or lasting for a brief time. In the case of spring flowering ephemerals, these beauties pop up as soon as the weather hints at warmth, develop above-ground parts in March or April, quickly flower and go to seed, then die back to their underground parts by May or June.
They come out about the time insects return and provide a food source for them, when little else is available. It's a symbiotic relationship, since these insects pollinate the flowers and help spread the seeds. The natural habitat for most spring ephemerals is rich, undisturbed woodland - particularly damp areas like stream banks. Their early emergence allows them to take advantage of sunlight penetrating to the forest floor before the trees have grown their foliage and cloaked the ground in deep shade.
Despite their short-lived presence, ephemerals play a critical role in the forest ecosystem. They stabilize soils, contribute important nutrients, and sustain native bee populations.
"Some changes occur suddenly like a brilliant flash of lightning striking across a dark sky. These changes are stunning, exciting but can be quickly forgotten.
Other changes happen slowly, gradually, like a flower blooming in early spring, each day unfurling its petals another fraction of an inch towards the warm, nurturing sun. These changes are as inevitable as nature running its course; they're meant to be."
― Suzi Davis
One such early bloomer is Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), a member of the Poppy family. Its delicate white blooms emerge as early as March but are only present for a few days following pollination, making it truly special to spot this native species.
The single bloodroot leaf and flower each rise on a separate stem, and at first the leaf completely enwraps the flower bud.
A solitary whiteflower, with a golden-orange center, grows beside the distinctively lobed leaf. The flowers open in full sun and close at night. Once the eight to twelve white petals fall off, the fan-shaped leaf that once coiled around the stem is left over and lives through the summer.
As the name suggests, the roots and stem of this plant exude a dark red dye when cut. The generic name, from the Latin sanguinarius, means bleeding. This sap was traditionally used by Native groups to dye leather, clothing and textiles, as well as for insect repellent and sunscreen.
In addition to their history of helping humans, Bloodroot also has a symbiotic relationshp with ants, which they recruit to help spead their seeds. They grow a fatty, protein-filled substance called "elaiosome" on their seed coat to attract the ants, which will then take the elaiosome treat and discard the seed in an area rich with nutrients that help the seed grow. This mutually beneficial relationship that Bloodroot and other spring ephemeral plants have with ants is called myrmecochory.
"Nature does nothing in vain, and more is in vain when less will serve;
for Nature is pleased with simplicity"
~ Isaac Newton
The more I learn about Nature, the more remarkable I realise it's workings are. It makes me ponder how the Human species has lost so much of this innate capacity to work together for the common good and how we go about restoring it?
"Fresh beauty opens one's eyes wherever it is really seen."