Every year when I go to the woods searching for the latest native wildflowers, I’ve got one particular species in mind as my most-hoped-for find: Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria).
These dainty little pantaloons are common in moist shady woods throughout the eastern US, and are sometimes also called bleeding hearts or little blue staggers.
The straight little stems holding waxy white and yellow flowers rise above the basal clump of fern-like compound leaves as if to say, “Here we are, look at us!” You might think they would stand out and be easy to spot, but that’s not the case. In fact, they’re so tiny that you have to be looking for them or you can easily walk right past them.
Here’s a wide shot for scale — the big tree stump was about three feet tall. The red circle indicates the Dutchman’s breeches:
Now that you have a sense of their size, you’ll understand why I imagine them to be fairy laundry hanging out to dry.
Last year I found an entire grove of them under a magnolia tree…I would have believed it if you’d told me there really were wee folk living in there. They probably scattered and ran for cover when they saw me inspecting their skivvies on the line.
I’m not sure why, but I often find large clusters of this plant at the bases of big trees. Here’s one I found last week:
This group had some teeny tiny new flowers in it:
Here’s another shot of new-ish flowers:
I always try to photograph pollinators on wildflowers, and I was doing that on this visit as well. I didn’t see any insects using these flowers, and I discovered that only long-tongued bees like bumblebees can reach the nectar deep inside these blossoms. Other insects have to settle for the pollen, apparently. And ants like to eat fleshy appendages on their seeds, so they carry the seeds to their nests, eat those parts, and discard the seeds, which can then germinate and make new plants. And that’s one way the seeds of this plant are dispersed to new locations. Cool little fact, huh?
I eventually found the owner of this laundry, napping under the clothesline. He sure looks like he’s enjoying life, doesn’t he? I hope you’re finding time to slow down and enjoy the simple things in your life too.
P.S. Happy 50th Earth Day! I marked the occasion by planting a native chokecherry tree in my yard today. 🙂
I spent last Saturday in Dayton, Ohio, attending a spring wildflower symposium. After the day’s events concluded, I spent a couple hours photographing wildflowers in the area. Dayton is about 150 miles south of Toledo, and so things bloom earlier down there. It’s always so hard to wait for things to bloom up here when I start seeing pictures from more southern parts of the state. But down there I got my first looks at this year’s Virginia bluebells and Dutchman’s breeches, and that got me excited about getting out to see what might be blooming up here in the northern part of the state.
So a few days ago I drove west to Goll Woods State Nature Preserve, a remnant of the black swamp forest that once covered much of northwest Ohio. Not only does Goll Woods have oaks and cottonwoods that are 200-400 years old, but it contains a magnificent cornucopia of spring wildflowers as well.
I was disappointed at first, when I couldn’t find anything blooming in the first few minutes of my walk. But as I slowed down and looked closer, I began to find single early blooms here and there. I figured I might not get the photos I’d hoped for, but then again, this was a good opportunity to study the leaves of the soon-to-bloom wildflowers and learn to identify them before the flowers appear.
It was easy to identify trout lilies by their fish-inspired leaf patterns:
Last year I photographed a huge swath of trout lilies, shown here:
And I had just learned about waterleaf on Saturday, so it was another easy one to identify. It looks like there’s water spattered on the leaves, doesn’t it?
Another flower I just learned about is this one, harbinger-of-spring, also known as salt-and-pepper, for obvious reasons. It’s very tiny, only a couple inches tall.
I soon found little clumps of spring beauties and hepatica, and then a few larger clusters at the bases of trees or next to decaying logs. Hepatica is one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom, and maybe it’s able to survive the cooler temps of late winter and early spring with help from its hairy stems and leaves. I’ve sometimes found this flower by gently moving aside decaying leaf litter in March to find it tucked underneath, just waiting for an opportunity to burst forth from its winter protection and reach for the sun.
I found a small patch of bloodwort in full bloom but the bright sunlight made it hard to get a nice photo, so here’s a single alabaster bloom:
All of these flowers are known as spring ephemerals, flowers that arise from the leaf litter early in spring, taking advantage of the sun before the trees get their leaves to shade them out. They bloom and then retreat back into the ground to await their next performance the following spring.
Have you noticed that we tend to celebrate things that are only around briefly? I’m thinking of the fall colors on trees, or cherry blossoms, or warblers during spring migration, and of course, spring wildflowers. And conversely, we take for granted those that are around more often. When I think of this, I’m always reminded of the time I was chatting with some birders from California who had traveled to Ohio for the spring migration. They were excitedly telling me about the cardinals they’d seen, and it renewed my appreciation for this common yet stunningly beautiful bird that lives in my backyard all year long.
And speaking of getting excited…I am geeking out over something insect-related right now. At Goll Woods I saw my first hoverflies (aka flower flies) of the year. They were plentiful but the only species I was able to photograph was Helophilus fasciatus, the narrow-headed sunfly. Isn’t he lovely?
Last fall I wrote a post about my budding obsession with these tiny but important pollinator flies that are sometimes mistaken for bees. (You can go back to that post for some background and prettier photos.)
As I was googling around to confirm my identification and refresh my memory from last year, I stumbled upon this new book. Several months ago someone told me this book was going to be published soon, but I’d totally forgotten about it. I just pre-ordered it and it’ll be here in a few short weeks, and I’ll finally have a resource to help me identify these little cuties. I’m trying hard to restrain my excitement as I write this, but I am oh so geeked right now!
P.S. You can be sure there’s going to be more talk of hoverflies here in the very near future.