Spring is a wonderful time for watching nature re-energize at our cottage on White Lake, that is except for the emergence of blood-sucking insects. In terms of plant life, spring means the drab brown of last year’s dead vegetation is replaced by fresh green growth and colourful flowers. In addition to the fresh colours energizing us, the pollen and nectar produced by the early blossoms are important sources of food for many insects that emerge early.
The last time we wrote an article about spring wildflowers at the cottage was in February 2017 so we thought it was time to take a look at some other early blooms. The provincial stay-at-home order and cold, moist weather caused us to miss seeing the start of this year’s plant revival at the cottage. As we did last year, we partially filled the gap by reviewing our cottage photos from previous years. Here are some of the eye-catching blooms we have enjoyed during what typically is the start of our cottage season.
The first flower we see at the cottage in spring is coltsfoot which might be mistaken for a dandelion at first glance. On close examination, however, we can see that the bright yellow flower head is flattened and has a central disk. This perennial plant produces a single flower head on a stem with reddish scales that can grow to 45 centimeters tall. The basal leaves (ground-level leaves that grow at the base of the stem) appear after the flowers and they bear some resemblance to a colt’s hoof, hence the common name. This species is a member of the composite family, as is the dandelion, with the flower head being made up of many densely-packed small flowers termed ray florets and disk florets.
The next plant to bloom is hepatica which is a member of the buttercup family. Flowers appear before the three-lobed basal leaves emerge. Solitary flowers appear atop silky-haired stems that can grow to a height of 15 centimeters. At the cottage, we see this perennial plant with blooms ranging in colour from white to purple. The lobes of the leaves are reminiscent of the shape of the human liver, hence another common name for hepatica is liverleaf.
Another early blooming plant is the barren strawberry. This member of the rose family somewhat resembles its close relative, the white-flowered wild strawberry, but its five-petalled blooms are yellow; its fruit is not fleshy or edible; and, it does not reproduce vegetatively through runners. Flower-bearing stems of the barren strawberry can grow to 20 centimeters tall with clusters of two to eight bright yellow flowers.
Our next two early flowers employ specialized approaches for pollination, since they also bloom early in the season ahead of the summer’s full array of pollinating insects. The first is Dutchman’s-breeches which grows in moist rich forest environments, often near streams. It is a member of the poppy family. Clusters of the two-spurred white pantaloon-shaped flowers grow on stems that reach 10 to 30 centimeters in height. The flowers are pollinated by early bumblebees as only these bees have proboscis long enough to reach deep enough inside their blooms.
The second plant requiring a specialized approach to pollination is the red trillium, a member of the bunchflower family. Also known by two other common names, purple trillium and wake-robin, this perennial plant can grow to be 40 centimeters tall. Mature plants produce a solitary, nodding three-petalled flower that is dark red and smells like rotting flesh. The foul smell attracts early carrion flies that act as pollinators. This early bloomer is much less common around our cottage than its close relative the white trillium, which blankets the woods with its solitary white blossoms in early spring.
We leave seeking out early spring floral fragrances to pollinating insects and satisfy ourselves with enjoying the vibrant shapes and colours of these and other early blooms.
We relied on the two following field guides in preparing this article: Timothy Dickinson, Deborah Metsger, Jenny Bull and Richard Dickinson’s The ROM Field Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario; and, William A. Niering’s National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers – Eastern Region.