Monday, May 14, 2007

Spring Ephemerals

Well what do you know.
It is field season and my time is more limited than in other months, so it is counterproductive, galling, and disorienting for me to write at this time, so if this distorts and enfeebles my final reports, I can lay the blame squarely at my own two badly worn feet.
Anyhow, it is spring ephemeral time and this is some of what I have found:


Claytonia caroliniana - Carolina spring-beauty


Dicentra cucullaria - Dutchman's-breeches


Erythronium americanum - Troutlily

These were seen the past week in Sugar maple/Basswood forests in north central Wisconsin on the Chequamegon National Forest. The habitat type is - according to the Kotar Habitat Type Classification System definition key scheme system system - ATM, AH, and AOCa. A is for Acer, dominated by the Sugar maples. You can just make them out through the cloud of black flies.
If you want a definition of spring ephemerals, read this one from page 112 of John T. Curtis' masterpiece, The Vegetation of Wisconsin - An Ordination of Plant Communities:

"As the name implies, the ephemerals are of short duration, at least as far as their aboveground parts are concerned. They grow very rapidly in early spring, frequently while the last snows are still melting. Both flowers and leaves usually appear together. Full bloom and maximum leaf expansion occur before the trees have expanded their leaf buds. Fruits are ripened quickly, often within three weeks of anthesis. Photosynthesis must occur with great efficiency, since these plants make enough food to complete their life cycle and to provide reserves to last until the following spring in the brief period before the tree canopy develops. By the time the tree leaves are fully expanded in early June, the ephemerals have died back completely with no trace of leaves or fruit to be seen. All of them have some type of underground storage organ, either, a corm, a tuber, a bulb, or a fleshy rhizome."

Thus, the plant below is not a spring ephemeral, although it is out in force before the trees have leafed out. The problem is, it retains it's leaves past the spring season, and in so doing, shows that it is actually a shade plant rather than a spring ephemeral. The mockery! Knowing the distinction between true spring ephemerals and those that are mere shams is worth your while and will spare you a deluge of irate letters from the botanical elite. Anyhow, the impostor:


Trillium cernuum - Nodding trillium

That's all for now.