2018-05-19 / Columnists

Nature Notes

Blooming Wild Flowers Annouce Spring in Mackinac Island Woods
By Patricia Martin

This is one of my favorite times of the year. The forests seem to come alive. Yesterday I went on a ride in the woods with a friend and it was amazing what a difference five days had made. In that short time, many of the spring ephemerals have awoken from their winter’s nap and are beginning their short sprint into the sunlight above ground. These are the flowers who time their growing and blooming in our short spring, when lots of warm sunlight is hitting the forest floor because the leaves of the deciduous trees have not appeared.

Usually the first of our spring flowers to appear is the hepatica or liverleaf (Hepatica sp.), also known around here as mayflower. These plants have been flowering for a couple of weeks and will soon be done with their blooming. The plant is about four to six inches tall with delicate pink, white, lavender, or blue flowers with two to 10 “petals.” There are usually many individual flowers on each plant, each born on a single hairy flower stalk. There are three hairy bracts below the blossom that resemble sepals. The leaves of these plants are rather interesting. They are leathery and smooth with three lobes, which persist all winter. At blooming time it is these old leaves that are present and they have a brown-purple color. The new leaves develop after blooming time.

Large-flowered Trillium Large-flowered Trillium A flower whose blossoms have appeared in the last week is the aptly named spring beauty (Claytonia sp.). These diminutive flowers appear shortly after the hepatica. There are two species of spring beauty found on the Island, the narrow leaved (C. virginica) and the broad-leaved spring beauty (C. caroliniana). These plants are about six to 10 inches tall and have long, leathery, narrow leaves, which are, of course, broader on the broad-leaved species. The flowers are pink or white with five petals and veined with dark pink. A single pair of leaves appears halfway up the stem with a loose cluster of flowers appearing further up the stem. Right now they are blooming in abundance along Juniper Trail and Morning Snack Trail.

Dutchman’s Breeches Dutchman’s Breeches The lovely yellow trout lily or adder’s tongue (Erythronium americanum) occasionally referred to as dogtooth violet (although it is not a violet at all) is now blooming prolifically in a variety of places on the Island. The plant is about seven to 10 inches tall. The yellow flowers are solitary and nodding, about three-quarters to 1.5 inches long. There are six “petals,” which re- curve back toward the stem. The backside of the petals are often purple or brownish purple. Six prominent red/brown/orange/yellow anthers extend beyond the bell-shaped blossom. There are two leaves at the base of the plant that are about three to eight inches long. The veins of the leaves are parallel (as is true of all lilies), and they are conspicuously mottled with brown, giving them a resemblance to a trout. These plants are often found in colonies with many non-blooming plants (sterile) interspersed with those with the beautiful yellow flowers.

Trout Lily Trout Lily One of the spring ephemerals that is less common to find on Mackinac is the wonderful Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria). These delicate woodland plants are up to 12 inches tall and have finely divided, delicate, longstalked leaves that arise from the base of the plant. The leaves look very familiar to gardeners around here, as they are very similar to bleeding heart, which is in the same genus but different species. Bleeding hearts are much larger with red flowers. Dutchman’s breeches produce white, waxy, inflated flowers, which dangle from the stem like pantaloons and a line. There are two spurs spreading and extending backwards (upward) forming the legs of the breeches. The flowers are yellow-tipped. The underground parts of the plants are tubers that are white, clustered, and resembling a scaly bulb. On the Island I have found them on limestone rocks on the east side of the ancient Island of Mackinac (below Fort Holmes and Point Lookout).

Spring Beauty Spring Beauty Most people are familiar with the large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), which is so common in our north woods. The trillium are just beginning to open and it won’t be long before the forest is carpeted with these beautiful white flowers. Large-flowered trillium is about 12 to 18 inches tall. The flowers themselves are about two to three inches in diameter, made up of three petals and three sepals, and there is one flower per stem. As the flowers age, they turn pink to magenta. There are three leaves, which emerge from a single point on the stem in a whorl. The leaves are broad, rapidly narrowing to a pointed tip. Leaf veins are prominent, and there is only one set of leaves per plant. These plants are slow growing and it may take up to 10 years for a plant to grow from a seed until it flowers.

One last pair of plants that I want to mention is not yet blooming, but should be coming along shortly. These are the toothworts, cutleaf, and broad-leaved or twin-leaved. (Dentaria lacinata and D. diphylla). Both of these are common in the Mackinac woods. They are in the mustard family, and typical of flowers in this group, they have four petaled flowers. The plants themselves are between eight and 12 inches tall. The blossoms are formed at the tip of the stem in a loose, open cluster. The petals are white, which changes to pink as the flowers mature. As their name implies, the broad or twin-leaved toothwort has a pair of leaves on the stem and each are divided into three broad leaflets about an inch across with course, toothed leaves. The cutleaf toothwort has three leaves that are each divided into three long, narrow, deeply cleft, sharp-pointed leaflets.

These are but a few of the spring flowers that decorate our woods. If you want to see them, then go for a walk or bike ride soon, as they will be disappearing when the canopy leafs out, and with the warmer days and lack of rain, they may have a shorter season than usual.

Trish Martin is a year-around resident of Mackinac Island, has earned a master’s degree in botany from Central Michigan University, and owns Bogan Lane Inn.

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