It seems that in our enthusiasm for the end of winter we often prepare an article on spring flowers. So you may recognize some of the flowers in this article from previous years. While recently reviewing photographs from our cottage on White Lake, we realized that some of our flower pictures were taken in past Aprils. We were struck by how very early it was for plants to be blooming. It was even more amazing that we had these April pictures, since we rarely start to visit and stay at our cottage until things begin to warm up around the beginning of May. Last year, possibly associated with COVID frustrations, we made a record two visits to the cottage in April and photographed the following five different species in bloom.
The eastern leatherwood is a slow-growing native woody shrub. It is also known by other common names, such as moosewood or wicopy. The stems are extremely flexible and the bark is smooth. This shrub produces small yellow flowers in April, before its leaves emerge. It is easy to confuse the eastern leatherwood shrub with the small tree that goes by the common name leatherwood. Botany can be confusing. This picture was taken on the 10th of April last year.
While not considered a native Ontario wildflower there are numerous patches of the ground cover periwinkle that have successfully established near the cottage. The leaves of this plant, which is a member of the dogbane family, are hardy and remain green throughout the winter. Their blue-purple trumpet-shaped flowers can be seen starting in April. We photographed periwinkle flowers on April 10, last year.
Coltsfoot which we have described before is a perennial plant that is a member of the aster family. One of our field guides notes it is one of the first plants to flower in spring, often as the snow melts. Each stem can grow to 45 centimeters tall and produce a solitary terminal yellow flower. The basal leaves, which resemble the shape and size of the hoof of a young horse, appear after the plant has flowered. The flower produces a fruiting head with pappus of white hairs. This photograph was taken April 19, 2021, and nicely shows the emerging flower.
As you may have discerned, hepatica is one of our favourite spring flowers. It is also identified in our field guides as one of the earliest plants to flower in Ontario. The long silky hairs on the flower stems protect the early blossoms from the cold. This perennial plant is a member of the buttercup family. The flowers, which can be seen in April and May, grow on stems that are up to 15 centimeters tall. The solitary blossoms can range from white to pink to mauve to blue. New leaves emerge toward the end of the flowering period. These blossoms were photographed on April 19 last.
Our final early bloomer is the native shrub American fly honeysuckle. Plants in the honeysuckle family are mostly woody shrubs, and some are grown as ornamentals in gardens including honeysuckle, snowberry, and elderberry. We find it interesting that while the common name for this plant claims it as American, the scientific name identifies this species as canadensis indicating it is ‘common in Canada’. These flowers were photographed last year on April 19.
While we look forward to April showers bringing May flowers, we also anticipate and appreciate the hardy plants that brave the challenging weather of April to bring us some of the first colourful signs of renewal and an end to the long winter. With most of these plants, it is the blooms that are hardiest, emerging before their more delicate leaves, the one exception being the ‘evergreen’ periwinkle.
The resources we relied on in researching and preparing this article include: www.uoguelph.ca/foibis (FLORA Ontario – Integrated Botanical Information System); Timothy Dickinson, Deborah Metsger, Jenny Bull and Richard Dickinson’s The ROM Field Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario; and, George A. Petrides’ Peterson Field Guide Series A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs.