Growing Green: Ephemerals
Across southeast Pennsylvania it has been a different winter. It has been a winter of little snow and scarce cold weather. Some will recall it as a great winter. Others might wonder what it means, especially to our spring flowers.
As February came to a close there were sure signs of spring. Spring garden flowers, crocus, daffodils, grape hyacinth, were pushing up. The careful observer also noted some tree buds swelling early.
Flower buds on trees have only one chance each spring. Unlike leaf buds, there are no “reserve flower buds” available to replace them.
There are many questions. For example, did our spring flowers come on too early and will now be lost to the cold temperatures and snow that we experienced in the region March 9?
It is difficult to predict spring weather and what will happen to this year’s flowering plants. It is worrisome.
In normal winters, a combination of temperatures and increasing sunlight initiate the emergence of spring flowers. It is a somewhat delicate balance. This winter’s warmer temperatures and brighter days accelerated flower bud expansion and we saw earlier emergence, maybe too early. March was a mishmash of weather.
Of course, all of this is speculative. As they say, everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. This will certainly be the case as spring unfolds. We’ll have to wait and see how the weather and leaf and flower sets play out.
So, let’s think spring. Take a walk in the woods. Trillium, spring beauty, trout lily, and Virginia bluebells are beginning their season, and they do not last for long. Spring ephemerals simply are plants that bloom, set seed and disappear by May, a very short presence, but beautiful and worth seeing.
When the trees push the season’s leaves, expect to no longer see the spring ephemerals. These plants are unique in that they take advantage of the early spring sun before leaves grow on trees and shrubs to complete their life cycle and produce seeds for next year. Many of these wildflowers are available for our shade gardens from nurseries. Now is a good time to buy them, as they begin to emerge in the pots. Plant these sweet ephemerals in a shady location rich in organic matter.
Many of the spring ephemerals are found along wooded stream banks and many spread over the years to form extensive colonies. These plants have thick, fleshy roots, tubers or corms that act as underground storage organs to hold nutrients and carbohydrates during the long dormancy period.
Spring ephemerals, besides providing us humans with much-needed early spring color, also serve as an important food source for insects emerging in early spring. Their flowers provide pollen and nectar for beetles, flies, native butterflies, and bumblebees.
“Growing Green” is contributed by Lehigh County Extension Office Staff and Master Gardeners. Information: Lehigh County Extension Office, 610-391-9840; Northampton County Extension Office, 610-746-1970.