Friday, May 13, 2011

Vernal Vegetation ... The First Flowers of Spring

Many low growing woodland herbs have to get off to an early start and live hard and fast. They must bloom, produce seeds, and photosythesize food to store in their bulbs and tubers for next year before the taller shrubs and trees leaf out and bar the sunlight. The Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) has already blossomed; all that remains of these members of the Poppy family are the distinctive leaves.

Dense yellow carpets of Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) brighten up the subdued woodland corners. These plants prefer areas where the soil is saturated with water. The Marsh Marigold is a member of the Buttercup family and like many of its relatives it contains toxic irritants.

The wildflowers captured in these images are only a very few that were encountered along the Eastern Ontario Trail within three kilometers east of Tweed. The lily family is well represented. The Large-flowered Bellwort (Uvulaire grandiflore) with its gracefully drooping blossoms is found in the same woodland habitat as Trilliums.

No collection of spring floral images would be complete without our provincial flower, the ubiquitous White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum). The Red Trillium (Trillium erectum) or Wake Robin seems to be a less common species locally; I only encountered one specimen last spring.

Even when not in bloom the Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) is easily identified by its mottled leaves. These lilies spread by corms and are often found growing in large colonies in moist areas.

The Cut-leaved Toothwort (Dentaria laciniata), or Crow's Toes. I've walked past this member of the Mustard Family many a time in the past but never stopped and took the time to find out what it was. There's a difference between looking and seeing, and always something new to learn ...

The fragile star-like flowers of the Narrow-leaved Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) add a touch of color to last autumn's leaves covering the woodland floor. This flower is a member of the Purslane family, a relative of the gaudy Portulacas cultivated in gardens.

Open areas along the sides of the trail are suitable habitat for violets. The following two species are probably the Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia), or possibly a Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata), and the less common but by no means rare Downy Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens). I’m not a hundred percent certain as to species ... until I started researching these images, I had no idea there were so many kinds of violets ...

Coltsfoot also prefers less shaded areas. The flower and seed head superficially resemble a dandelion: both are members of the Aster family. However, the stems of Coltsfoot bear reddish brown scales and the basal leaves are very different from those of the dandelion.

Virginia Strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) may be found where woodlands give way to fields.

I'm not sure exactly which species of Low Blueberries (Vaccinium sp.) this is, but these small shrubs with their characteristic bell-shaped flowers thrive in rocky areas with poor soil cover.

Some plants like to live dangerously, Saxifrage can be found growing on rocky outcrops. This is probably Saxifraga virginiensis.

The Canada Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), a fitting name for a plant living in a habitat found on the edge of the Canadian Shield, is another flower that’s often found hanging onto ledges with little soil. In terms of form and color this member of the Buttercup family is my favourite wildfower.