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The Garden Scoop

The Garden Scoop is a collection of reflections about the Master Gardeners in Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, and Vermilion.
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Spring Ephemerals

A co-worker was curious about a small white flower with pink stripes that showed up in her yard this month. She brought in a sample, did some research and found the answer: Spring Beauty.

Spring Beauty falls into an intriguing class of plants; spring ephemerals. Ephemerals are some of the first flowers to appear in the spring. They take advantage of that brief window of time when the trees have not yet leafed out and the forest floor is open to sunlight. Spring Beauty, May Apples, Virginia Bluebells and many more fill this delightful niche in the plant world- able to withstand spring weather with its cold, wet soil. Appearing almost overnight they produce their leaves, flowers and seeds in a matter of weeks -disappearing as quickly as they came. If we have a cool spring with plenty of moisture they may linger-the reverse is also true of warm, dry spring weather. Either way, once they have completed their cycle they go dormant until the following spring.

I have several favorites, one being May Apples. I love their umbrella shaped leaves that hide the white flower that becomes a tiny green fruit. They resemble something out of a fairytale, forming a miniature canopy with rhizomes spreading over time. Animals also spread the seeds after eating the fruit. However, humans should beware as many parts of this plant are poisonous-best to do some research before eating!

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica), provide a gorgeous splash of blue on the edge of woodland areas. They are short lived dying back as soon as the weather warms dropping their seeds to start plants for next spring. Heavy mulching and pre-emergent chemicals may keep these small seeds from spreading.

Ephemerals bring color and are a much needed source of pollen and nectar for pollinators, hungry after a long winter. If you enjoy their fleeting presence it may be wise to mark the area. You may be tempted to fill that empty spot in your garden come July and it's best not to disturb these sleeping beauties.


Thank you Amanda Bryant for your help with photos.

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