Tag Archives: trout lily

Spring Arrives on the Prairie

“The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.” –Henry Van Dyke

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Ephemerals. It’s what we call spring wildflowers. Why? Ephemeral simply means “fleeting,” “transitory,” or “quickly fading.” Most years, they are here and gone like a whisper in a dark room. You only have a moment to try and register their presence, and then—well—you wonder if you imagined them.

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Here in the Chicago region, I’ve been teaching wildflower field classes, despite the recent snow-covered landscape and the late prescribed prairie burns. Up until this weekend, there haven’t been a lot of blooms to see.

SPMA42218watermark.jpgOn the prairie, rattlesnake master is singed; its emergence paused temporarily by the fires.

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Give it a week or two, and it will perk back up. Same for the tiny loose cabbages of pale Indian plantain, persevering through the cold and snows of last week.

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Leaves don’t excite most folks much, but I feel a thrill of seeing the earliest sign of a prairie wildflower. It’s fun to see the pale Indian plantain at this stage, knowing it will be as tall as I am this summer.

If you look closely, there are a few wildflowers in bloom on the prairie proper. Pasque flowers are the stars of the burned prairie—if you can find them. Camouflaged perfectly against the bare soil. The spider hiding in the bloom is an added bonus.

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Pretty big shadow for a tiny insect, isn’t it?

Because of the snow and the prescribed burn, my wildflower “field classes” ended up with a lot of  PowerPoint to supplement our trail time. Even if the blooms aren’t cooperating on the woodland and the prairie, we can always have blooms on the screen, right? But, cheerful looking and necessary as those images may be, no PowerPoint image substitutes for the real thing. I can’t duplicate the smell of damp earth and leaves as we brush them aside to appreciate the new growth of Dutchman’s breeches in bud…

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…or the delight we feel when we see the green of hepatica leaves that survived the winter.

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The delights of a hike include finding the tiniest hepatica blossoms I’ve ever seen…

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…or  the serendipity of discovering pollinators flying their spring reconnaissance missions. Bloodroot makes the perfect landing pad.

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There’s joy watching the play of light and shadow on bloodroot blooms…

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…and stopping to admire the various stages of a trout lily’s emergence, backlit by the afternoon sun.

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This week, we watch—with our fingers crossed—as the temperature climbs. 35 degrees. 40 degrees. 50 degrees plus.  You can see the hope on people’s faces. Anticipation is building. Do you feel it?  This is going to be a big week in the wildflower world. When the blooming starts, it will be like rush hour on the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago.

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Will you be there to see them bloom? Make your plans now. Block your lunch hour. Set your alarm to get up early. Plan an outing in the evening after dinner. But don’t put it off. Once these spring ephemerals begin blooming, nothing will stop them. They are only here for a moment…and this year, their moment may be especially fleeting.

Get ready. Spring is here. For real, this time.

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And it’s a beauty.

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The opening quote is from Fisherman’s Luck and Other Uncertain Things by clergyman and writer Henry Van Dyke. (1852-1933). His books included The Other Wise Man, and his most famous sermon focused on hearing God’s voice through nature. A poet himself, he also wrote literary criticism, including a volume on Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poetry. He was Professor of English Literature at Princeton University (1900), and served as ambassador to the Netherlands and Luxembourg under President Woodrow Wilson. He and his wife had nine children.

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All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum), East Woods, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Schulenberg Prairie eleven days after the prescribed burn, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pale Indian plantain (Arnoglossum atriplicifolium or Cacalia atriplicifolia), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens or Anemone patens), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), East Woods, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; hepatica (Hepatica nobilis acuta), East Woods, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; hepatica (Hepatica nobilis acuta), East Woods, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) with unknown pollinators, Schulenberg Prairie edges, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) bloom, Schulenberg Prairie edges, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; trout lily (Erythronium albidum) emerging, Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Dutchman’s breeches in bud (Dicentra cucullaria), East Woods, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; spring beauties (Claytonia virginica), East Woods, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Life on the Edge

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One of the pleasures of spring restoration work is weeding garlic mustard from the edges of the prairie. When you’re on your knees in the dirt, a universe opens up that you might otherwise miss.

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Like these celandine poppies  with their furry buds opening. What other surprises, you wonder, are out there to be discovered?

All spring, my volunteer team and I weed garlic mustard in transition zones around the prairie proper.  These areas are full of a wild mix of woodland, prairie, and oak savanna species. There are also surprises, such as escaped garden flowers —- tulips, daffodils, and scilla —left from when people lived on the edge of the former farm, where the Schulenberg Prairie is today.

Garlic mustard is our arch-enemy. Tenacious. Invasive.

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We dig it out. Although it’s edible in small amounts, no one gets too excited about that, maybe because I once mentioned that garlic mustard contains tiny amounts of cyanide. It took the edge off of everyone’s appetites.

Removing garlic mustard makes room for the native wildflowers to grow; prairie, savanna, and woodland become healthier. Right now, on the edges of the Schulenberg Prairie, we’re seeing a lot of traditional woodland bloomers.

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Virginia bluebells  play their music in light shade.

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Dutchman’s breeches hang their pantaloons out to air by Willoway Brook.

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Wood anemones  send up their solitary blooms. In the Victorian Language of Flowers, to give someone a wood anemone was to tell them you felt “forsaken.” The single white flowers  do  look a bit lonely, don’t they?

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Cut-leaved toothwort  (left) and prairie trillium (right) are two friendly companions of the light woods. Toothwort has namesake  toothy nodules on its rhizomes, and was purported to be good for toothache because of this resemblance. The deep burgundy prairie trillium  is sometimes known as “trinity flower,” with its trio of dappled leaves.

I love the trout lilies: both the white  and the yellow.  The yellow ones are smooth as butter; bright as sunshine.

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While the yellow ones are a bit difficult to find, the white trout lilies mass everywhere by the prairie — vast colonies, thousands of them, like a grassy Milky Way Galaxy. A universe of beautiful surprises.

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All  this and more, waiting to be discovered… while on our knees, weeding garlic mustard.

(All photos by Cindy Crosby from the Schulenberg Prairie edges at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL. Top to bottom:  Trail bordering the prairie and prairie oak savanna; celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum);  garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) ; Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica); Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) ; wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia); cut-leaved toothwort (Dentaria laciniata) and prairie trillium  (Trillium recurvetum); yellow trout lily (Erythronium americanum); white trout lilies (Erythronium albidum).