Spring Ephemerals are plants that exploit a niche in the forest between the time of snow melt and the leafing out of trees. During this time of the year, sunlight is able to permeate the forest floor much more readily and ephemerals use this exposure to the sun, to leaf out, flower and then seed before the forest is shaded by upper canopy leaves. They photosynthesize at higher rates than other plants and have adapted to absorb nutrients and water during this time of rapid growth, despite low temperatures. Nutrient dense soil, especially high in nitrogen and calcium, usually supports these type of plants due to their higher energy needs during photosynthesis. In this way, they gather enough energy to support their roots, so that they can live to see another season.
Around where we live, we usually see them in rich bottom lands, floodplains, and mature hardwood forests. These forests maintain a large amount of biomass and hence more nutrients for these plants. It’s not surprising to me that the further we get up North, the more we see them, because I think there is less development up there and less agriculture; hence, soil fertility is perhaps higher and there are typically more forests to support them.
Yesterday we saw many of these while walking in an a nearby forest. Many of these plants are old time medicinals (such as bloodroot and hepatica) and many of them are edibles (spring beauties, leeks, toothwort). These plants are rich in carbohydrates and nutrients after their leaves have fully grown, perhaps why traditionally they have been known as blood-cleansers and nutritives. For example, according to Daniel Moerman in his excellent resource, Native American Ethnobotany, the Cherokee ate leeks as a “spring tonic”. We eat them for that reason and because they’re really, really good.
Here are a few pictures of our trip and some of the plants, fungi, and animals that we found:
(Thanks for the camera Lisa)