Spring Ephemerals by Colletta Kosiba

I do believe that the wildflowers know we are having a hard time and they have been putting on their most spectacular display ever.  I asked my great friend and the very knowledgeable Colletta Kosiba, a Master Naturalist, to do a post on what we are seeing! Six years ago Colletta wrote an article for me based on what the then “baby” Hudson and I saw as we took a walk. Read that one here.


If you have been lucky enough to take walks in the woods this spring, I am sure you were amazed by all the small flowers blooming on the forest floor. Those are native flowers and are called spring ephemerals. Spring ephemerals have been growing on the forest floor long before man entered on the scene.

The ephemerals come up, flower and set seed before the tree canopy forms (which blocks out the needed sun light,) then the plants go dormant; only to repeat the show next spring.

Nature works in harmony; the seeds of the spring ephemerals bear fatty appendages called eliaosomes. Insects, (mainly ants) are attracted to the eliaosomes carrying the free meal back to their nests.  The lipid-rich food is consumed by their young. The unharmed seeds are then thrown into their dung pile where the seeds germinate the next year. A single ant colony may collect a thousand seeds over a season.  

Bloodroot  / Sanguinaria Canadensis                       

Indians stained faces to frighten enemies, males applied stain to palms before shaking hands with a maiden as magic inducement to attract her! Dye – reddish orange mixed with alum as mordant for cloth.  Sanguinaria in bloodroot was used to whiten teeth in modern toothpaste.

Bluebells / Mertensia Virginica                       

An old fashion garden plant. Roots will die in hot summer sun; so it is best to plant something like day lilies to shade the ground around them. They look like purple cabbage as they emerge.  

Common Violets  / Viola Sororia

Violets have 5x more vitamin C than oranges. Add flowers to salads and gelatin for color & flavor. (Leaves are a tad bitter in salad.)  Make jelly with blooms.  Crystalizes as toppings on cake.  May also be used as a soup thickener.

Geranium Wild / Cranesbill / Geranium Maculatum      

You can make a brown dye from the flowers – used for tanning hides.  The Cherokee mixed with grapes for mouth wash.

Claytonia Virginica / Spring Beauty

Have small potato shaped tubers  called “fairy potatoes”. They taste like potatoes when baked or boiled but raw they taste like radishes.

Wood Poppies / Stylophorum Diphyllum

Native Americans used the yellow sap from all parts of the plant for dye and paint.  Flowers are followed by nodding green hairy pods. The pods split open along four valves, explodes scattering seeds.

Thank you Colletta for the beautiful tour. For those of you who know Colletta, you know that her own garden is a haven for all the plants above and so, SO many more. If we weren’t “sheltering” in place, I would be going for a lunch and learn – and perhaps a few “starts” too!

Here is my own trillium that is having a fantastic spring too.

This little beauty has brought me great pleasure for many, many years due in part to its origin. I was part of a group that had the pleasure of rescuing wildflowers in a wooded area that was to be cleared for “progress.” 😐 I brought home several things that day but only the trillium survives.

Trillium has a long history of use by Native Americans and in herbal remedies especially Native American women. I understand that they are a wonderful morsel for deer which may contribute to their being on the plant protection list in many areas. As with all wildflowers, practice extreme caution when considering removing them from their natural setting unless you are invited to do so or you know for sure they are not protected.  I know. I know. It is temping. Many wildflowers are available for purchase.







5 thoughts on “Spring Ephemerals by Colletta Kosiba

  1. I had no idea that the fairy potatoes of Claytonia virginica are edible. There is plenty of miners’ lettuce Clatonia perfoliata, here, but they are only eaten as lettuce. I tend to ignore it because it is too much work to collect enough for a salad. I doubt that it makes fairy potatoes. Otherwise, I would have seen them before.

  2. You have made my day as I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all of the flowers from your walk in the woods. Learned so much! I have the bloodroot and brown-eyed Susan. Also the wild violets and pokeberry. There is a Naturalist Society in my area. I have a native Sweet Shrub with brown scented flowers which are very unusual. It is in bloom now. And your grandson is adorable! Loved seeing your rose entries, too. I have the Dick Clark rose which I love. It is almost like a Rose Parade in my yard now as a lot of them are in bloom, especially the knockouts with so many blooms. I found a fresh bird’s nest in one of my tall red knockouts this week which is a good omen. I have Bridal Pink in bloom now, and it is beautiful. The center looks almost like a David Austin.

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