Spring is one of my favorite times to hike through the forest in Northeast Iowa. There is always a variety of different species blooming and covering the forest floor. Here are a few that I have found this year:
Snow trillium one of Iowa’s native woodland wildflowers. It is one of the earliest bloomers, usually blooming in late March through late April. It can sometimes be spotted popping up through the snow. Trillium plants have a simplistic elegance in three whorled leaves and large three-petaled white flower with slightly ruffled edges. They can be found on undisturbed wooded slopes. Picking a Trillium flower doe not necessarily kill the plant but damage will result if the green leaves are taken as well.
You may have seen little Bellwort plants growing wild in the woods. The native plants are part of a temperate understory forest ecosystem. These low-growing plants have dangling yellow flowers hanging in a bell-shaped groups and oval leaves. Bellwort is an attractive woodland wildflower for the shade garden and can be grown over most of the United States.
In the forest at early spring, the forest floor is covered with the dainty white blossoms of Rue Anemones. Thin stems hold the two to three flower clusters up to the sun like little umbrellas. They bloom on dry, open slopes during March through June. These hardy flowers’ strength originates with its thick tuberous root system that allows for a rapid start each spring. As hardy as the root system appears, the flowers are difficult to transplant and should be allowed to thrive in their natural habitats.
The flower of the Bloodroot develops and rises through its curled leaf. The large pristine white blooms have a yellow center. It opens under full sun then closes again at night. While the bloom last only days, the foliage remains until around July. Bloodroot gains it's name because the roots contain a reddish sap which bleeds out when they are cut. Indians used the juice from the Bloodroot as a die for clothing, war paint and as some medicinal uses.
Trout Lily grows in huge colonies that can completely cover the forest floor. Mature plants have two brown mottled leaves while the young ones only have one. Mature plants will flower produced out of one stem. The flowers of Trout Lilies contain nectar, which attracts two types of insects. Those that would pollinate the flower and those that would rob it of its nectar. To this end, the flower is downward facing. This not only protects the pollen from being washed away by rain, but also prevents unwanted insects from stealing nectar. The Trout Lily is primarily pollinated by spring bumblebees. A queen bee will emerge in early spring in search of nectar with which to sustain her workers.
Dutchman’s Breeches is a distinct plant that gets its name from the flowers that dangle down. The flowers resemble pantaloons hanging upside down and slightly inflated. Dutchman Breech's blooming period occurs from early to mid-spring and lasts about 2-3 weeks. Once the forest canopy encloses and blocks all sunlight, the plant will stop blooming. There is no noticeable floral scent. The flowers are replaced by seed capsules that taper into points at both ends. Habitat include deciduous mesic woodlands, especially along gentle slopes, ravines, or ledges along streams. The nectar of the flowers attracts long-tongued bees, including honeybees, bumblebees, mason bees, and Anthophorid bees.
Spring beauties are small low-growing wildflowers that are found in cluster of five white to light pink flowers. The dark green, grass-like leaves are both narrow and linear, usually found in pairs. Foliage continues to grow after bloom and may eventually reach close to a foot tall before the leaves disappear in late spring. Native to moist woodlands, sunny stream banks, and thickets in eastern North America, this low-growing plant has tiny underground tubers that can be prepared and eaten just like potatoes. Indeed, another common name for the spring beauty is the "fairy spud."