By Greg Lecker
In less than four weeks, all traces of snow vanished; and a few small sprouts of green have spread across the formerly brown ground. Tree buds have broken; and pollination is underway. Within two weeks, the tree canopy will have been transformed from a pink and chartreuse fuzz lime green umbrellas that are opening to shade the green understory. Already, the trees are shedding their male flowers (catkins), many of which are covering the path of the shade garden.
Just off the path is a bloodroot – one of the few that have not already shed petals. Distinctive thick seven-lobed leaves wrap around a flower stalk of waxy white flowers that are in form and bearing a bit like a miniature water lily.
Bloodroot must emerge, unfurl its solar collecting leaves and photosynthesize quickly – before the open tree canopy yields to summer shade. Individual flowers last only a few days. In a cool, wet spring such as ours, the buds have endured for two weeks, awaiting the sun. The large leaves are quite attractive, and the fleshy rhizomes contain a red dye, hence the common name – bloodroot.
When I spotted this small white flower, I had hoped that is was the dwarf trout lily– but it was the common flower species. The difference between the two species – besides the size, is the flower. The majority of the dwarf flowers have four tepals (similar to petals) – and all have small, short, just oblong stamens – the flower part that produces the yellow pollen. This white trout lily has long stamens and six tepals, even if they are rather small. Both plants have leaves
that are mottled like a trout. The common white trout lily IS common in deciduous woodlands and covers the damp floor of the forest bowl that is at the heart of Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Minneapolis. The dwarf trout lily is an endangered species – and is native only to Steele, Goodhue and Rice counties in the driftless region of southeastern Minnesota. It has been transplanted here in the Arboretum – though I haven’t seen the flowers this year. For both
species, their growing time is short. In the heat of the summer, the lush green foliage will yellow and fade.
One spring flower that does last through the summer is marsh marigold; and at the Arboretum it grows next to the bog boardwalk and here along the brook, where it can be enjoyed from paths and especially the footbridges.
A flower that is much less coarse than a marsh marigold is the Pasque flower, which grows in the Prairie Display Garden near the Bennett-Johnson Prairie.
Appearing somewhat like a wild and faded crocus, 1-2” wide pale blue or purple to white flower comprised of petal-like sepals encircling a yellow center. Midway up its flower stalk are thin, upwardly facing leaves. Tiny silvery soft hairs cover the plant, possibly trapping life-giving heat next to the plant while it blooms in early spring. These hairs mute the colors of bloom and foliage. Depending on the year and the region, the plant’s blooming coincides with the celebration of the Christian Easter (Paschal) season. Happy spring to all!
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist volunteer.