Monday, March 28, 2011

Halberdleaf yellow violet

An early spring wildflower in deciduous forests of the eastern United States is halberdleaf yellow violet (Viola hastata). Look for its arrowhead-shaped leaves (the upper surfaces typically mottled with silvery blotches) clustered towards the stem tip and bright yellow flowers. When two or more species of violets occur in close proximity, it's not unusual for hybrids to form. Because hybrids have traits of both parental species, identification to species can be difficult.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bloodroot in fruit

Already, bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is going to fruit here in the piedmont of South Carolina. Most bloodroot flowers successfully mature fruit because if cross-pollination fails to occur, the flowers can self-pollinate. Once the fruit (an elongate green capsule) matures, the ripe seeds are usually quickly carried off by ants which utilize a lipid-rich food body attached to the seed and drop the seeds unharmed, usually near their nests. So, when you see bloodroot, think too of the ants, which play a key role in dispersing the seeds of this plant.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


We lost our beloved dog Mocha this week to a sudden and serious illness (he was nearly 11). He had accompanied us on many a wildflower foray in the woods, often waiting patiently while I snapped photos of plants in bloom. He once scared off a bear coming around a trail very close to where we were perched. And, on hot summer days, he was always on the alert for a stream to get a drink and soak in. He'll be missed greatly!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tag alder in flower

Another late winter flowering shrub is Tag alder (Alnus serrulata). This wind-pollinated plant produces long narrow male catkins that release enormous amounts of pollen from March to April, depending on elevation and latitude. The attached photo shows both a male (pollen producing) catkin and several female catkins with tiny red hair-like structures (the stigmas) whose function is to catch wind-blown pollen. If all goes well, the female catkins eventually mature ripe seeds within small cone-like structures.

Spicebush in flower

One of the first shrubs to flower in spring is Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). It produces tiny yellow flowers in clusters that are visited and potentially pollinated by flies and small bees. Because plants have either male or female flowers, the species is considered to be dioecious. Look for this widespread shrub in moist forests and bottomlands in the eastern United States .

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bloodroot in bloom

Today I saw my first bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) of the year. It was a cool, somewhat cloudy morning so the large white flowers were slow to open fully. This time of year the lobed leaf at the base of each flower stalk has a vertical orientation whereas in summer the leaf gets even larger and has a horizontal orientation (to better capture light under a leafy canopy). Bees and flies occasionally visit the nectarless flowers for pollen, and in the process, may function as pollinators.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Round-lobed Hepatica

I saw my first Hepatica of the season today at the State Botanical Garden in Clemson, South Carolina. Hepatica is one of the very first woodland herbs to bloom in "spring" (or in this case, late winter) and it's always a treat to see.

The genus Hepatica is native to eastern North America, Europe, and Asia so I like to think that plant enthusiasts on all three continents are excited to see this early blooming species with its lovely flowers.

Dimpled Trout Lily

Today I found Trout lily (Erythronium umbilicatum) in full bloom near Clemson, South Carolina. It's both one of the first wildflowers to bloom in spring and one of the most beautiful with nodding yellow flowers that close up tight at night and gradually open the next morning. On warmer days, look for bumblebees visiting the nectar-rich flowers.

Trout lily is a classic example of a spring ephemeral. It emerges from an underground bulb as the soil begins to warm in late winter and dies back in spring as the canopy trees leaf out (thereby shading the forest floor). In a matter of just a few weeks it emerges, leafs out, flowers, sets fruit, and matures seeds. The rest of the year (10+ months) it persists underground as a dormant bulb. So, enjoy this plant while you can as it will soon retreat to its underground refuge.