Ephemerals: Celebrating Spring’s Fleeting Beauty
Spring is a busy time of year here at Johnson’s Nursery and even more so in our local ecosystems. After a long, cold winter, once temperatures increase and our days become longer, plants begin to wake up and exit their dormant period. Different kinds of plants experience different forms of dormancy and have different life cycles. There are many enjoyable things about spring, with a favorite being spring-blooming Wisconsin native ephemerals.
What are Spring Ephemerals?
Spring ephemerals are like limited edition perennials; they’re only viewable for a short time.
The word “ephemeral” comes from the Greek medical term ‘ephēmeros’ meaning “lasting a day,” first appearing in English print in the late 16th century. Later, it was applied to organisms such as flowers with short life spans. An ephemeral plant will appear for a relatively short time and undergo growth, flowering, and dieback, all in a few days or weeks. The entire visible portion of the plant senesces shortly after flowering, and as spring transitions into summer, their roots enter a long dormant period. Spring ephemerals grow and reproduce quickly, maximizing their limited time and taking advantage of optimal conditions such as temperature, moisture levels, and sunlight.
Do Spring Ephemerals Have Wildlife Value?
Many spring ephemerals bloom so early that most pollinators like butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds are absent. Instead, they are primarily pollinated by bees. Carpenter bees, sweat bees, and occasionally mining bees pollinate these wildflowers. The fruits and seeds of these various plants provide a valuable food source for many insects and wildlife. The fleshy appendages attached to Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Liverwort) and Large White Trillium seeds are loaded with healthy fats and proteins, a favorite among many ant species. The tiny red berries of Green Dragon and Jack In The Pulpit are enjoyed by birds such as wild turkey, wood thrush, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Avian visitors aren’t the only ones who want the fruit of spring ephemerals; the endangered Ornate Box Turtle will feed on the low-hanging fruit of Mayapple. Mammalian foragers such as squirrels, raccoons, and chipmunks also enjoy the fruit of Mayapple.