Spring is here and just in time for daylights savings time. we are looking forward to the first tender tastes of spring. As nature lovers and diners, we can have an impact by deciding what we pick and eat, among the many fine offerings in our gardens and at farmers markets and restaurants.
DOs: choose lush and abundant yet delicious “invasives” such as garlic mustard and lesser celandine (before flowering), or “weeds” such as chickweed, nettle, onion grass or wild cress
DONTs: leave in the wild: native specialist plants of spring such as spring beauty, toothwort, trillium, trout lily and wild ginger. These are only above ground for a few weeks and are important to the underlying ecology of the landscape even if you see “a lot” in a particular spot. See below from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.
Learn the difference by looking at the sustainability code for each species in Foraged Flavor or by taking a class at Bowmans Hill Wildflower Preserve www.bhwp.org or sign up for one of our invasive plant foraging events.
Native Spring Ephemerals
By Mariellé Anzelone on April 1, 2011 |
A walk in the woods in early spring is an optimistic activity. What I hope to find are wildflowers, but my rewards are often tawny, shriveled stems—the remains of last fall’s flora. If I’m lucky (more accurately, if it’s early April and warm), I’ll find the blossoms of Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria). These flowers are funny looking, distinctive floral pantaloons, creamy white with yellow trim. They dangle above feathery sage-green foliage that grows in mounded colonies. This unique wildflower has a short aboveground presence—it blooms, sets seed, and dies back before the trees overhead block the sunlight with their leaves. By June, the plant has utterly disappeared. In botanical parlance it’s a “spring ephemeral.” Other plants share this strategy: spring beauty, trout lily, trillium, Virginia bluebell, toothwort, rue anemone. These species have a small window of sunshine between snowmelt and leaf-out in which to grow, flower, be pollinated, and produce seeds. By mid-June the deciduous trees that tower above have cloaked the forest floor in deep shade. Spring ephemerals disappear in the heat of the summer, retreating underground until next year.
Found throughout the eastern United States and Canada, spring ephemerals thrive on the floor of rich, undisturbed woodlands. This verdant, moist environment is the ideal site for myrmecochory, seed dispersal by ants. The seeds of spring ephemerals bear fatty external appendages called eliaosomes. The insects, attracted to the elaiosomes, carry the booty back to their nests, where the lipid-rich food source is consumed by their young. The unharmed seeds are thrown into a midden, a rich, composting stew that stimulates germination. A single ant colony may collect as many as a thousand seeds over a season. While the volume is great, the distance is not; on average, a seed is carried just two meters from the parent plant. Because offspring remain so local (unlike plants dispersed by birds or wind), habitat fragmentation is a major threat to the survival of spring ephemerals. Once these plants are gone from the forest, it is rare that they return.
Of course, to have fruits, you need flowers. From a woodland walker’s vantage point, this is where spring ephemerals shine.
DONT PICK: TROUT LILY