Floral surprises

Wildflowers

Now that the snow has melted out of the forests, and the lake has opened up, there’s the opportunity to take the boat across the water to the park to do a bit of hiking there again. I haven’t been in to the park to hike since last fall, and although much of the park along Kingsford is very similar to much of the non-park along Kingsford, it was still with some anticipation that I pushed the boat into the water. Raven didn’t share my enthusiasm. Although she’s getting more comfortable with splashing in the water, as long as her feet can touch bottom, and she’s come to enjoy car rides, sitting at the window with a big grin on her face, she is still rather apprehensive about the boat. I suppose that’s to be expected; she hasn’t had occasion to be in it since before the snows fell. We’re trying to get her over it by always making sure there’s a good romp at the other side. But in the meantime, she sits huddled by the driver with a worried expression and the occasional whimper.

Round-lobed Hepatica

We had a really nice hike. Just a short one, I didn’t want to be gone too long, although I could easily have spent the whole day out. It was one of those perfect-weather days. Aside from a brisk breeze when you were down at the water, the temperature was just right – warm enough to be comfortable in a t-shirt, but not too warm to cause sweating. We walked across a couple of ridges, ending up at a small vernal pool where frogs were chirping. Unfortunately, Raven discovered it before I did, so by the time I reached it the frogs were no longer chirping. I called her back to me and we sat still together at the shore for a few minutes, hoping the frogs would feel danger had passed and start up again, but they didn’t. Ah well. Can’t really beat last weekend’s encounter anyway.

Round-lobed Hepatica

Over the last week or so I had been checking the forests for wildflowers, watching for the first signs of some of my favourites. The hepatica have started blooming, and in some spots, particularly open south-facing slopes, they are prolific. However, there had been little sign of anything else. I found the odd green shoot here or there, but nothing I could definitively identify. I figured that the wildflowers were still a week or two away, so while I continued to watch, I wasn’t really expecting to see anything.

Round-lobed Hepatica and Spring Beauties

So it was with a bit of pleasant surprise that I spotted a couple of Spring Beauties blooming beside the trail leading down to our dock. Small flowers, pale with pinkish stripey veins. Although they are widespread throughout the east, I only consciously recall encountering them when I was down on Pelee Island. I’m not sure why I would have missed seeing them around my parents’ old place, since it seems unlikely that they would have been absent. Over in the park, there were areas where they were so abundant they sprinkled the forest floor like garnish on a cake. And as delicious to the eyes as the cake is to the tongue. Speaking of tongue, apparently these flowers grow little tuber-like nodules on their roots which are edible and somewhat tasty when boiled.

Bloodroot

I was so focused on the Spring Beauties that I nearly missed these Bloodroot, not two feet away. Bloodroot is one of my favourite forest wildflowers, one of those species that you can see dozens of times and still point it out and say, “Look! Bloodroot!”, each time anew. There were actually a few patches of it blooming on our southeastern-facing slope, but I encountered none in the park, not even furled-up leaves with the promise of becoming broad, snowy blossoms. Bloodroot, of course, takes its name from the orange-red juices that seep from the stem and veins when broken. Native Americans would use this colour as a dye, but more interestingly it can also serve as an effective insect repellent. Provided you don’t mind your face and skin being smeared with orange.

Dutchman's Breeches

As I carried on down the trail to the dock I started paying more attention to the green stuff that was poking up from the fallen leaves. Up on the slope there was a large wash of it, and using my binoculars to get a closer look, it resolved into Dutchman’s Breeches – blooming! An extensive patch of the stuff, all with short spikes of white-and-yellow flowers. This is another species that I’ve only encountered on Pelee Island. It has a more southerly distribution but is still found through much of the east. It is related to the cultivated bleeding hearts found in many gardens (an Asian species, of course, although we also have native North American ones). The deeper flowers of the Dutchman’s Breeches requires pollinators with long proboscises, and their primary visitors are bumblebees, such as the Tricolored Bumblebee below.

Dutchman's Breeches and Tricolored Bumble Bee

I didn’t see any blooming in the park, either, although I did find a few that were getting close. It will be interesting to revisit the park in a week or so once everything’s opened up and blooming. I have a feeling, from what I saw today, that it will be a veritable blanket of wildflowers covering the forest floor.

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Today at Kingsford – Round-lobed Hepatica

Round-lobed Hepatica

Earlier in the winter I wrote about evergreen ferns, which remained green-leaved all through the winter, even under the snow. They weren’t the only evergreen plant I was seeing. There were also the above, but I was unable to put a name to them, and uncertain even where to start a Google search to ID them. So I made a note of them, but essentially left them at that. Perhaps when they bloomed in the spring I’d be able to get further features for an identification, and didn’t give it any further thought.

The other day, then, I was browsing through my photos from earlier in the year, looking for moth photos from last spring. Mixed in with all my other photos were the wildflower photos I took at around Mother’s Day. And there, in the middle of them, was my mystery plant, abloom with lovely six-petaled white flowers. Naturally, I hadn’t bothered labeling the photo after it had been identified, and it was simply called “wildflowers6”. But I recalled that Jennifer at A Passion for Nature had left a comment on that post with the IDs of all my flowers, so I went back to look it up.

wildflowers6

And there it was: Round-lobed Hepatica, Hepatica americana. Thank you, Jennifer! They’re an early-bloomer of deciduous forests. Their evergreen leaves allow them a head start in the spring as they can start photosynthesizing as soon as the winter snow melts off, while other plants need to grow out leaves first. They can be one of the first plants to have flowers out, which allows them to monopolize the early pollinators. Slightly further south from me the first flowers may be out as early as mid-March, but up here they’re more likely to be blooming mid-April to mid-May. Jennifer, who is in New York state, went out last year during the first week of April to look for flowers. Last year she just found buds, but she did actually find some blooms the year before in the waning days of March.

There is a sister species, Sharp-lobed Hepatica, Hepatica acutiloba, and in looking at last year’s photo and compare it to this year’s, I begin to think that’s probably what it was. The leaves come to a tapered point compared to the winter leaves in the first photo, and they also match the images Jennifer posted at her site. Depending on who you ask, these two species are sometimes lumped into a single species and simply treated as varieties.

An interesting side-note about Hepatica: the name comes from the three-lobed leaves’ resemblance to the three lobes of the human liver. Early medicine followed the “doctrine of signatures” – they believed that plants would bear a resemblance to the part of the body they treated, and so the liver-like leaves of this plant were used to treat liver ailments. The leaves could be used as an astringent and as a diuretic. I don’t know if it was ultimately effective or not, although some patients may have been cured simply through the power of the placebo. On the other hand, the leaves are toxic in large amounts, so one wouldn’t want to get overzealous…