Looking for gifts of “gold” in the beauty of nature? Look no further than the perky, yellow buttercup-like blossoms of marsh marigold, which spring up from April to June. Look for them near marshes, swamps, wet meadows and alongside streams; boggy, wet conditions are exactly what they like.
The name 'marsh marigold' only accurately describes this plant’s habitat, because it neither looks like nor is related to traditional garden marigolds. It belongs to the buttercup family, and its shiny yellow flowers do look very much like buttercups, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.
The cheery, yellow flowers give way to seed pods, which split open when ripe to disperse the seeds within. After its bloom season ends, the plant dies back to it's roots.
In his book Hedgemaids and Fairy Candles; The Lives and Lore of North American Wildflowers, Jack Sanders shares the rich folklore and medicinal history surrounding marsh marigold. “To many a woods-wise farmer, however, the marsh marigold had a more practical value. The shiny, kidney-shaped leaves were gathered young and boiled from ten minutes to an hour, producing greens that some New Englanders would insist are better than spinach and that American Indians had long enjoyed as a vegetable. Boiling, incidentally, removes acrid irritants that could be poisonous and that cause grazing livestock to avoid the plant.” Note of caution here: No part of this plant should ever be eaten raw!
This beautiful “Yellow Cup of the Marsh” has even been mentioned in classical literature! In his play, Cymbeline, Shakespeare writes how "winking marybuds begin to open their golden eyes" as one of the earliest harbingers of Spring.
"The seal and guerdon of wealth untold We clasp in the wild marsh marigold."
~ Elaine Goodale
PRAIRIE VIOLET (Viola pedatifida)
This dainty, native wildflower is topped with tiny clusters of flowers in March and April as it celebrates the end of winter and beginning of spring.
The beautiful, deep violet-blue flowers are five-petaled. At the base of the lower center petal is a patch of white with fine lines of purple that function as nectar guides to visiting insects. The three lower petals are bearded i.e. they have a tuft of white hairs in the throat area.
The flowers of the Prairie Violet are not fragrant. Another unique feature of this violet is that it has self-fertilizing flowers in addition to the normal flowers requiring pollination. These flowers are referred to as 'cleistogamous' flowers and they don't ever bloom. During the summer months, the inconspicuous cleistogamous flowers mature into brown, triangular-shaped seed pods. These explode when ripe and release little brown seeds, which can fall to the ground several inches away from the mother plant for further propagation.
“My breath would catch at the sight of violets - so common in the woods at home... The violet's message was "Keep up your courage, stay true to what you believe in."
― Jessica Stern
WINTER CRESS (Barbarea vulgaris)
The profuse, small flowers of Winter Cress cover pastures and fields with brilliant yellow color in the spring. Although native to Asia and Europe, winter cress is now naturalized in much of North America. The plant gets its name because the leaves usually stay green throughout the winter.
The yellow flowers grow in clusters near the top of the plant. Winter Cress is biennial i.e. it requires two growing seasons to complete its life cycle. During the first growing season it produces mainly foliage. In its second year it will flower and set seed. It is often one of the first plants to flower in spring. The flowers are important as an early season source of nectar and pollen for bees and some butterflies. Its seeds are eaten by some birds such as doves and grosbeaks.
This plant has been seen as both friend and foe. Throughout history, winter cress was used as a preventive to scurvy, a disease resulting from a deficiency of vitamin C . By harvesting it, our ancestors obtained a fresh vegetable when others were not yet ready for harvest. It was so important to them that they brought it from Europe to North America. Then it spread in gardens and fields and smothered other crops, so that farmers began to see it as an enemy.
Although it is often considered a noxious weed here now, it is a choice potherb in Italian cooking! A member of the mustard family, winter cress has a pungent, peppery taste when eaten raw, yet mellows quite notably when cooked. Grab some tender leaves just before flowering occurs and you can toss them right into salads or use on sandwiches for a nice peppery bite. Winter Cress packs quite a nutritional punch, very high in Vitamins A and C.
“She turned to the sunlight And shook her yellow head, And whispered to her neighbor: “Winter is dead.”