Spring ephemerals mean spring has finally arrived!

For our environmental science team, spring marks the beginning of the field season, when we trade our interior workstations for field visits to project sites. The official field season is typically timed to match the growing period of most plants, but may be designated by each agency. For example, ODOT projects only accept data collected between April 15 and October 15.  The months of April and May are of particular interest to our team because of the abundance of spring ephemerals in our deciduous woodlands, which can produce a carpet of delicate, beautiful wildflowers across the forest floor.

We visited one of our Dayton-area stream mitigation sites, where honeysuckle had recently been removed, to discover what variety of spring ephemerals exist within the seed bank. With the absence of honeysuckle shading the forest floor, the ephemeral seeds were able to germinate and sprout.  We were excited to find a number of ephemerals at the site, including:

  • Sessile trillium (Trillium sessile)
  • Cut-leaved toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)
  • Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
  • Virginia spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)
  • Harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa)
  • Trout lilies (Erythronium spp.)

Spring ephemerals are early blooming and short-lived wildflowers that emerge in early spring and die back to their underground parts by early summer, perfectly coinciding with leaf development of most canopy trees. They have adapted to take advantage of the high light conditions, high moisture and rich soil found in our forested areas during early spring.  Ephemerals sprout when overhead trees and shrubs have not yet leaved, soaking up the sunlight that reaches the forest floor. Their high photosynthetic rate allows them to complete their life cycle (emerge, bloom, pollinate and set seed) within a short period of just two months.  After the plants have set seed, they die back and enter dormancy until winter thaws and spring arrives the following year.

It’s time to get out and enjoy all that nature has to offer. Let us know in the comments if you spot any of these spring ephemerals while hiking.


  1. eoliverljb says:

    I have also seen bloodwort, mayapple, violets and periwinkle recently. Are these all ephemerals?

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