Field season is almost here! Spring is prepping season for us as we assess what projects need attention and create our annual monitoring plan. For me, this also means brushing up on my plant identification skills so I can keep an eye out for spring ephemerals. These seemingly short-lived plants provide invaluable ecological functions. Some of the earliest blooms, such as Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), provide the first nectar for queen bumblebees awakening from their winter hibernation. The colonies these queens go on to create continue to pollinate plants for the rest of the summer. Other plants, like bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), have developed a mutualistic relationship with ants for seed dispersal. These plants have seeds with a nutrient-dense appendage, the elaiosome, that the ants will consume. The ants will take the seeds back to their colonies, eat the elaiosome, and discard the seed into their waste area, which happens to be full of nutrients for the seed to utilize. Fascinating!
Many spring ephemerals are perennials and have underground roots, rhizomes, or tubers that they retreat to once their growing season is over. They usually go dormant during the summer months, and use the energy they gathered for a long, underground growing season–only to burst forth from the ground after it thaws! I think most of us can agree that winter is a time to slow down and turn our energy inward. After a long, snowy winter, I’m looking forward to sunny days spent outdoors monitoring our properties (although, check back in after the weeks of black flies and blistering heat take their toll)!
Be sure to keep a lookout for volunteer opportunities and happy trails!