Each spring, I eagerly await the emergence of the first woodland wildflowers.
As soon as the snow melts, I search through the leaf litter for the first spring beauties or hepatica, knowing that when they make their appearance, I am assured of spring's arrival. So I wait and watch -- and suddenly, on one special spring day, I see them. Hallelujah!
Then, in the blink of an eye, they are gone.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the mayapple leaves were folded down, like umbrella tops released from their catches, just waiting for the raindrops to fall so they could spring into action. Leaves from the large-flower trillium had emerged, but there were no blossoms yet. But the delicate white and yellow flowers of the Dutchman's breeches were nodding among the greenery, and spring beauties and wild leeks were everywhere.
All the woodland wildflowers were soaking in the life-giving sun that streamed in between the trees whose leaves were just starting to unfurl.
My latest walk was so different; it amazes me how things can change so quickly.
The leeks and spring beauties are still there, along with wild phlox and common blue violets. But the flowers of the Dutchman's breeches have faded and the leaves are already starting to yellow. The mayapple leaves now are fully open and creamy white blossoms have appeared underneath. Snowy banks of trillium are in their glory, but some of the white petals are already aging and turning pink.
And the tree leaves are filling in the open spaces above, hastening the end of the spring wildflower season. For without the early spring sunlight, there would be no woodland wildflowers, and their ephemeral nature is what makes them so special.
Before they leave us until next spring, I thought it would be fun to research a few interesting facts about some of the woodland wildflowers you can see right now.
* If you pluck a trillium blossom, you will likely harm the plant and it might take years to recover, because the leaves below the white flower are the plant's only location for producing and storing food. Incidentally, the large-flower trillium, also called the white trillium, is Ohio's state wildflower.
* Only mayapples with two or three leaves will flower and bear fruit; those with one leaf will not.
* The common blue violet is easily overlooked, because it is small and seems to grow everywhere. But it was valued by the ancient Greeks, who used it to ward off headaches, induce sleep, calm anger and strengthen the heart. The Romans made a wine from it, and used the violet as decoration -- as we still do today.
* The Jack-in-the-pulpit is not as easy to spot, but can be seen at Hogback Ridge Preserve and other parks. Its name comes from the appearance of two of its parts: the spadix (Jack) and the spathe (the pulpit in which "Jack" stands). Also, it's said that the corm -- the part of the stem that is underground -- tastes like chocolate if properly prepared.
* The spring beauty, which blooms early and sticks around for several weeks, also makes a tasty meal. The underground stem can be compared to a radish or small potato, but is sweeter in taste, according to an entry on the Nature Conservancy's website, nature.org.
But this is not an invitation to pull up plants from the parks; spring beauties grow just fine in our own back yards -- in fact, they do OK in disturbed ground such as that found in most subdivisions.
Spring wildflowers, apart from the trillium, might not be as showy as their prairie relatives that will have their day this summer, but their delicate beauty is to be prized.
A poem by an author I have yet to identify says this about woodland wildflowers: "Temporary wonders ... (they are) nature's true essence of late spring."
Yes, they are that -- and hence worth celebrating.
Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.