We didn't have a brutal winter, at least weather-wise, but the corona virus has more that offset the milder weather and has guaranteed that cabin fever this year is at its highest level ever. But with spring in the air, it's time to enjoy our beautiful surroundings. The Beverly Shores Environmental Restoration Group is happy to offer a visual taste of spring with this collection of our local seasonal flowers. Some are native, some are exotic, but not invasive, and a small number are quite beautiful but dangerously invasive. We hope you enjoy the photos, but most of all, we hope you can get outdoors to enjoy some of these wonders up close.
Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) is one of the first wildflowers to emerge in our area. It is a small woodland plant that is great for pollinators, including honey bees, bumblebees, and basically every type of bee you can imagine. Because Spring beauty can survive in more degraded habitats compared to most spring-blooming woodland species, it is still relatively common to see wild populations. The small (less than ½"), white or pink-white flowers have roseate candy-cane stripes running the length of the five petals, which gives spring beauty a pink cast when viewed from a distance. The flowers turn toward the sunshine and remain open only in bright sunlight. The long, slender leaves are grass-like in shape with a rubbery texture. Spring beauties are one of the most abundant of our native woodland wildflowers.
Hepatica, another early spring delight, comes in several flavors that can be distinguished by the shape of the leaves. The leaves of this one, Hepatica acutiloba (which means sharp-lobed hepatica) have three large lobes, which in this case are somewhat pointed, though only “sharp” in comparison with round-leaved cousins. The flowers are most often blue to purple, but can be pale to white. Six petals (sepals) are most common, but up to 12 are possible.
This early-flowering plant goes by several scientific names, including Hepatica nobilis acuta and Anemone acutiloba.
Round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica americanum) is sharp-lobed's close cousin, but likes more acid soil than its relative. Look for it in oak woodlands. It's a member of the buttercup family, sometimes classed as a member of the genus Anemone. Hepatica is evergreen, but while its leaves are visible early during flowering, they wither as the blooms last. New leaves unfurl when the flowers fade.
What flower beats even crocus into bloom each spring? Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) is among the earliest bloomers in our area. You can see this member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) in bloom together with snowdrops in Brinka-Cross gardens. It is not native, but has arrived from Europe and Asia Minor. While it naturalizes and will form dense colonies, it is also not normally considered invasive, so if you wish, plant tubers where you will see it in early spring. Remember, though, that both the flowers and the leaves are highly poisonous, so be careful if you have small children or pets that might think of sampling some.
Scilla (Siberian Squill)
Look carefully along the lakefront in early spring for tiny flashes of blue. You can find scilla in bloom, usually on the site of a now-vanished home. Scilla include Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) and glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa luciliae, now often categorized in Scilla), but the cobalt blue Siberian squill were the most popular in our area. Unfortunately, these beautiful flowers have proven invasive, so please don't plant (or transplant).
Fig Buttercup (Lesser Celandine)
Fig buttercup (Ficaria verna), an invader from Europe where it is known as lesser celandine, can bring a bright spot of early yellow color to our area. That's why it was introduced to the U.S., but unfortunately, it won't stay put. Becasue it emerges so early in the year, it gets a head start on native spring wildflowers. It forms dense beds that choke off latecomers.
Here's another buttercup, but this one is both early and native. You will find marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) blooming in early spring. Often found alongside skunk cabbage, it is a spring ephemeral, which means it basks in sunshine in marshy woodlands, but vanishes once the trees leaf out. Look for extensive stands in the drainage ditches on either side of Kemil (East State Park) Road.
Each year, spring brings a small but pretty white flower to what remains of our lakefront. Sand cress (Arabidopsis lyrata) is a biennial or short-lived perennial that lives in the sandy foredunes, sometimes spilling into bordering oak savannas. A small plant with stems 4 to 14 inches long topped by racemes (flower clusters with short, equal stalks) of small, four-petaled flowers, sand cress is easy to miss but worth seeking out.
Sand cress is a member of the mustard family. Like all mustards, its flowers are cruciform. The tiny quarter-inch flowers have four white petals surrounding four tiny green sepals. Those cruciform petals are the distinctive feature of mustards. The stems of these flowers rise from a rosette of leaves at the plant's base. The basal leaves are 2 inches long or less with a relatively fat terminal lobe and (ordinarily) smaller lobes on the sides. The stems themselves have alternate, narrow leaves that have slightly rounded (ovoid) tips.
It's a contest! Help us improve our sand cress photos. Send your sand cress photos to Terry Bonace at firstname.lastname@example.org. After rigorous judging, the best photos will be put on the ERG web site at www.berg.org with your name as the photographer.
Another mustard, as you can see from the four-petaled flowers, spring cress resembles sand cress, but its stems are straight, not arched. The alternate leaves are more bulbous than the grass-like leaves of sand cress. Spring cress prefers shaded, moist to mucky woodlands to the sandy foredunes that sand cress thrives in. Look for six creamy white to pale yellow stamens poking out from the center of its quarter-inch petals. You can find stands of it along the concrete path off West Beverly that parallels Kemil Road. While it likes moisture, it won't tolerate the standing water that holds marsh marigolds nearby.