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Spring Ephemerals

sanguinaria

By Mary Lu Wells,

Master Gardener Volunteer,

Allegany County Cooperative Extension

It is almost time for those woodland flowers, the spring ephemerals to make their brief, 6-8 week appearance. Spring beauties, trout lilies, squirrel corn, Dutchman’s breeches, and Virginia Bluebells, will soon adorn our forest floors. These are all perennials, which appear for a short time in early spring and then vanish underground for 10 months. Why?

All plants need sun to provide the energy for their growth and reproduction. Mother Nature, one way or another, has managed to clothe most of the earth in greenery. The above mentioned plants all come from bulbs, corms or tubers.

In April, before the leaves of the trees emerge the forest floor is warmed by the sun flickering through the bare branches. The soil is moist, even wet, from the melting of winters’ snows. Swiftly these flowers take advantage: sprout, bloom, set seed, and by the end of May dieback to their underground parts.  Not only does June usher in the “Big Shade,” the bullies on the block (the trees) suck up all the moisture. So, rather than compete, they go dormant to live another day next spring.

The length of the bloom period for each plant varies. If spring comes on gentle and steady some can flower for 2, even 3 weeks; with our erratic weather of late, where a spell of 80 degrees can arrive in April, then the flowers are gone in 2-3 days.

Who knows what this year will bring. Be sure you set aside some time to go out for a hike. My woodland gardens are open on Saturday, May 5 from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Wear boots. Wells Homestead – 4981 McAndrews Road, Andover, New York 14806.

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