News

News Now is the time to look for blooming spring ephemerals!

Early spring flowers are taking advantage of sunlight before trees have full leaf cover.
4/30/2019
  • MassWildlife's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program
  • Division of Fisheries and Wildlife

Media Contact for Now is the time to look for blooming spring ephemerals!

Marion Larson, MassWildlife

Clockwise from left: Spring beauty (Claytonia virginiana), blood root (Sanguinaria canadensis), trout lily (Erythronium americanum), wake robin (Trillium erectum).

Spring ephemerals are early herbaceous flowering plants that produce leaves, bloom, and set seed quickly after snowmelt in the spring. Although what we see happens during a short period of activity, these plants are actually perennials that spend most of their time as bulbs and rhizomes below ground and out of sight. Young plants can take three to six years to reach maturity and start to bloom.

Spring ephemerals are found in deciduous forests dominated by maple, ash, cherry, and hop-hornbeam. They take advantage of sunlight that reaches the ground before the trees have leaved out. The spring ephemeral flowers provide the much-needed first nectar and pollen of the season for over-wintering pollinators, such as queen bumblebees of Bombus species. Some spring ephemerals have specialist pollinators such as mining bees (Andrena spp.) and carrion flies. By the time leaves on the forest trees have expanded, the leaves of the spring ephemerals are already dying back, and the plants are going dormant. Rain and snow melt often raise groundwater levels in the early spring. Once the trees start to leaf out, they pull large amounts of water out the soil through their roots. The amount of water that is absorbed by the trees is so great that  groundwater levels drop. Early spring groundwater is rich in carbon and nitrogen (from decomposing fall leaves) and the spring ephemerals use these needed nutrients to grow. Most spring ephemerals also rely on symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi to help supply their nutrient needs. These fungi help plants draw more nutrients and water from the soil and link the spring ephemerals with the forest trees in their habitats through an underground network of fungal hyphae and roots.

As the days continue to get longer and the temperatures are warming, go out and enjoy these early spring bloomers! Some of the widespread species to look for include wake robin (Trillium erectum), spring beauty (Claytonia virginiana), trout lily (Erythronium americanum) and blood-root (Sanguinaria canadensis).

Some of our rare, protected plants are spring ephemerals. If you see any of the following, enjoy their beauty! Carefully take a photograph and record the specific location, and send this information to MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

Common name Scientific name State status
Fen cuckoo-flower Cardamine dentata Endangered
Purple cress Cardamine douglassii Endangered
Violet wood-sorrel Oxalis violacea Endangered
Narrow-leaved spring beauty Ranunculus micranthus Endangered

There are also spring ephemerals on the Massachusetts Plant Watch List. MassWildlife is closely monitoring these plants to learn as much as possible about them:

Common name Scientific name
Spring cress Cardamine bulbosa
Three-leaved toothwort Cardamine maxima
Showy orchid Galearis spectabilis
Early blue cohosh Caulophyllum giganteum
May apple Podophyllum peltatum
Early crowfoot Ranunculus fascicularis
Large-flowered bellwort Uvularia grandiflora
Selkirk's violet Viola seklirkii

Media Contact for Now is the time to look for blooming spring ephemerals!

MassWildlife's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program 

The Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program is responsible for the conservation and protection of hundreds of species that are not hunted, fished, trapped, or commercially harvested in the state, as well as the protection of the natural communities that make up their habitats.

Division of Fisheries and Wildlife 

MassWildlife is responsible for the conservation of freshwater fish and wildlife in the Commonwealth, including endangered plants and animals. MassWildlife restores, protects, and manages land for wildlife to thrive and for people to enjoy.
Feedback