On your mark get set GO!!!!! Get out to watch the race in our Oak woodlands. It’s happening right now and hopefully will be a very long race.

Although Spring was late, the wildflowers of the oak woodlands are amazing stars of this race for sunlight!  They waited all last summer, fall and winter to be ready!  The spring ephemerals are in overdrive!

Among the woodland wildflowers is a distinctive group categorized as spring ephemerals. It is one of our most interesting groups, some of the most showy and interesting are trillium, trout lily; Dutchman’s-breeches; spring beauty; wild geranium, cut-leaved toothwort; jack in the pulpit, wood anemone, May apple and my personal favorite wild hyacinth. 

As the name implies, spring ephemerals are of short duration, at least in above-ground forms. Growing quickly in rich deciduous woodlands, they flower and are pollinated before the trees have expanded their leaf buds overhead. Many of these native pollinators’ specialized just for these spring ephemeral. It’s not just bees or flies or moths but also ants and spiders! Fruits are ripened and distributed within weeks. Not long after the leaf canopy closes overhead in late spring or very early summer, the ephemerals will have died back almost completely, leaving little or no trace of their above ground forms.

To guard against an absence of spring pollinators, the ephemerals have devised backup systems whereby they can reproduce asexually via a fleshy bud (dropper) that forms at the end of a fragile white stem (stolon) attached to the base of the parent root. This dropper stem, which can be as much as 10 inches in length, can be viewed by scraping the leaf litter bank (and then replacing it before you leave).

When you happen upon a trout lily colony, notice that the plants in bloom will all have two leaves. Botanists disagree as to whether the clones produced by droppers ever develop two leaves and flower, or whether only the seed-produced individuals flower. Be that as it may, flowering individuals always have two leaves and they take a long time (up to eight years in some species) to reach reproductive maturity.

Complex adjustments of this sort by a group of flowering plants to the canopy development of an upland deciduous forest — as well as to the needs of its animal residents — no doubt came about over a long period of coexistence. For me, it exemplifies a collective life, of sorts, whereby a community of animals and plants lives in harmony with a particular landscape.

You can find all of the wildflowers listed above and more at our wild areas including Oak Ridge Marsh Nature Park and Kuechmann Park (now Arboretum).

Til next time!

Mary Kozub
AOF Board Member

Mary has worked for McHenry County Conservation District for 16 years and has been a “founding” member of the Village of Lake Zurich’s Tree Commission for 20 years.