Woodland Wildflowers

Prairie trillium

Prairie trillium

The beautiful sunny 70-degree weather and spring wildflowers enticed 32 visitors to attend our woodland wildflower tour. We found 19 native species and a few non-natives (creeping Charlie, dandelions and scilla).

Our search for spring wildflowers began on the north side of the Visitor Center then onward to the Wisconsin Native Plant Garden southern maple-basswood garden. The flowering trees and shrubs in Longenecker Horticultural Gardens added a bonus of blooming beauty before entering Gallistel Woods where we enjoyed a lovely show of spring wildflowers.

While visiting the Wisconsin Native Plant Garden, we discussed how native spring flora cope with shade in a woodland by using a diversity of strategies.

Plants that bloom before the canopy creates shade are called ephemerals (from the Greek origin of “lasting for a day”). They take advantage of the sun, unfurl their delicate leaves, bloom (for more than a day), set seed, and die back after a few short weeks. Many of these are perennial plants—plants that live for more than two annual cycles and store next years’ growth in underground bulbs, corms, or rhizomes. Some of the ephemerals we observed include the following: spring-beauty (Claytonia virginica), toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), trout-lily (Erythronium americanum), Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), and false rue-anemone (Enemion biternatum).

A second strategy that spring wildflowers use is to retain their broad leaves to catch sun flecks throughout most of the growing season. Often their fruits ripen in summer. Some perennials such as bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) do have ephemeral flowers and produce seed now, but the plant remains above ground during the summer unlike ephemeral plants. We found wild-ginger (Asarum canadense), prairie trillium (Trillium recurvatum), bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora), wood poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), rue-anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides), wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia), blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), and both yellow and blue violets (Viola sp.). Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), wild geranium (Geranium maculatum), and Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) will bloom soon.

A third strategy woodland plants use is to have evergreen leaves. These plants keep their leaves for one year. In spring they flower, set seeds, old leaves die, new leaves appear and persist for an entire year. From observations I have made, it appears hepatica (Anemone acutiloba) and woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata) use this strategy. We saw both during our walk. Woodland phlox will bloom soon.

After enjoying many of the above-mentioned wildflowers in the Native Gardens, we ventured into Gallistel Woods in search of more beauty. The best show was along the trail from G1 to Icke Boardwalk.

Many years ago I made a map of all the wildflowers I found growing throughout Gallistel Woods (a southern maple-basswood restoration). For years, the best parade of spring flowers was from F6 to G6 to G7 to F7. Also, there were lovely displays from G2 to G3 to G1 to G5 and to G6. Some flowers still bloom there but many have disappeared. Perhaps the tall old sugar maple trees and hundreds of maple seedlings that have taken over recently cast too much shade? Perhaps there are other reasons such as invasive jumping worms, deer and rabbit browse, missing ant species to disperse seeds, wrong soil type, competition for water and nutrients? I wonder. . . . I wonder?

On our way back to the Visitor Center we saw a bluebird as we walked past the bluebird houses. I have monitored the trail since 1988 and could not resist giving a little update. We have 15 boxes and 4 are occupied by Bluebirds. One box has 5 eggs, 2 boxes have 3 eggs each, 1 box has 1 egg, and I expect more in 3 of the boxes. Since 1988, bluebirds have laid 1,085 eggs and fledged 676 young.

We saw a red admiral butterfly, a green darner dragonfly, and busy bees. It is tick season! We found a wood tick and a bear or deer tick crawling on our clothes. Please check for ticks after any outdoor walk!

Our bookstore has an excellent wildflower book that I highly recommend: Spring Woodland Wildflowers of the University of Wisconsin Madison Arboretum by Andrew Hipp. For more technical information check out Spring Flora of Wisconsin by Norman Fassett.

I leave you now with a favorite quote of mine:

Would that the little flowers
Were born to live half
Conscious of half the pleasure
Which they give.
—William Wordsworth

—Sylvia Marek