Spring Ephemerals…Now You See Them, Soon You Won’t

By Rebecah Troutman, HF&G Natural Areas Biologist

One of the early signs of life after a seemingly long winter is spring ephemerals. What is a spring ephemeral? A spring ephemeral is a wildflower that comes up in early Spring (once the temperature is warm enough), gets pollinated, and goes dormant within a few weeks after flowering. Usually, true spring ephemerals are completely dormant by the time the tree canopy closes. If you want to get a chance to see these first signs of Spring, you should start looking in forested areas in late March and early April.

Examples of Spring Ephemerals (from top left to bottom right): Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra Cucullaria), Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Trout Lily (Erythronium americana), Cut-leaved Toothwort (Dentaria laciniate), Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginiana), White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

Of course, these flowers are a beautiful sight for us to see but they have great ecological significance as well. For example, these flowers become very important for native pollinators, as they are one of the first sources of nectar and pollen they can come across after winter. Additionally, these plants are one of the first lines of defense against erosion when “April showers” are abundant.

Here at the Holden Arboretum, we also use spring ephemerals to help gather data to make management decisions. Every year, once the spring ephemerals start coming up, our conservation team heads out to do Spring Ephemeral Rapid Assessments (SERAs). During these assessments, biologists take note of which of these spring ephemerals are present and absent in the natural areas. This helps us understand the land use history, forest integrity, and biodiversity of our natural areas. By gaining a deeper understanding of these principles, we can manage our natural areas by preserving high quality areas and managing the areas that may need it.

We encourage you to get out and explore in your own backyard or neighborhood and see if you can find any spring ephemerals. Now is the perfect time to start seeing many of these beautiful flowers but be vigilant- they won’t be around for long!