Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Harbinger of Spring

The photos have started trickling into my email inbox: harbinger of spring (Erigenia bulbosa) is in bloom now, officially ushering in spring wildflower season. Last week, I saw my first strappy Claytonialeaves poking through one year‘s worth of leaf litter, and (thanks to the cold weather) vernal witch hazel was still in bloom on an igneous knob. I actually haven't seen harbinger of spring yet this year, so I borrowed the lovely photo from one of Missouri's finest naturalists and all around stellar guy, John Oliver.

Harbinger of spring is a member of the carrot family with typical finely incised, fernlike leaves that appear after the flower is in bloom. It’s not a particularly noticeable flower, the small, white florets with bulging maroon anthers. Many people miss it on early spring hikes through Ozark woodlands. Look for it at the base of slopes, or along creekbeds.

Harbinger of spring is a perennial plant that sprouts from a tuber (hence the name bulbosa). While it is not one of the more commonly encountered spring wildflowers in the Ozarks, harbinger of spring is not rare in Missouri, though listed as such in Wisconsin.

Unlike several other spring ephemerals, harbinger of spring does not grow in large colonies that carpet the woodland floor (such as spring beauty. I can't tell you whether deer like it, but I imagine the fleshy stems and supple flowers look like ice cream to them in an otherwise brown landscape.


M.Whittemore said...

I got a chance to see some of this yesterday. I call it salt and pepper

Allison Vaughn said...

Oh, awesome! You're one up on me. I don't understand the name salt and pepper, so I didn't include it but it is one of the names of it... Happy spring!

James C. Trager said...

It doesn't always grow singly. While they're not especially showy unless you're right in the middle of one, I have encountered patches of dozens or even several hundred of them, usually in rich soils on moderately steep, east-facing slopes, where this is little competition.

Allison Vaughn said...

thanks James for your comment. We must go to different woods--I've never seen colonies of them. Made the change for you.

Allison Vaughn said...

Mr. Whittemore--I believe it's Carex albicans var. albicans, but if I get it wrong, watch the comment string to see me get attacked. Cx pennsylvanica isn't as common in the Ozarks as it is in, say, North Missouri. It's on a sandstone bluff at Taum Sauk, but it's not the dominant sedge in most Ozark woodlands. Boy, deer hate it, too. I've seen woodlands that have nothing but pennsylvanica and fragile fern. Sad. Cool sedge, though. Anyway, if I got it wrong, the world will let me know very loudly. Thanks for reading. The photos are from Lane Spring, so sandstone abounds.