What woodland flowers bloom first in our area? How can you tell them apart? What insects or animals help these early blooming flowers reproduce and grow through pollination?
Ephemeral: What does that mean?
When talking about the early-blooming flowers that pop up in forests around New England, folks often use the phrase “spring ephemerals.” Ephemeral is a great vocabulary word to learn. It means “lasting for a very short time.” These flowers bloom early in the forest, and fade away before summer truly gets going. Because many of these flowers are small and short-lasting, it’s an extra special treat any time we get to see them!
Looking for Color on the Landscape
As we learned together earlier this spring, observation and the act of noticing can help us get to see the nature around us in a new way. Get into the habit of looking closely at the ground around you as you walk in your neighborhood park, yard, or in a wooded natural area. (Of course, be safe about proximity to other people.)
The theme of this on-the-ground observation: colors. Sprouting green leaves stand out very well right now, and wildflower blooms come in many colors. We’re going to look for as many colors as we can find! You can go seeking in rainbow order (ROYGBIV etc.) or simply notice how many of those colors you can spot–a red maple flower, a dried orange leaf, yellow moss, a bright green sprout and so on. Try to leave your finds where they are. This will allow you to include growing plants, mosses, and other things you wouldn’t want to disturb. You can take pictures or even draw a sketch of each of your rainbow finds!
Now that we’re dialed in, it’s time to find a flower! These spring woodland wildflowers sprout and bloom early, so that they can get the sunlight they need from above before trees leaf out. By summer the leafy canopy eventually blocks most of the sunshine from reaching the soil.
Once you’ve found a flowering plant or one that’s about to bloom, grab your nature journal and a pencil. Record what you see! Whether you’re studying a spring woodland flower, a dandelion on your sidewalk, or a bloom in a garden, here are a few key features to note through drawings or words:
- Leaf shape – Many spring ephemerals have uniquely-shaped leaves. Sometimes you’ll notice these a little while before they bloom, so be sure to check those spots again as they grow.
- Number of leaves – If there are multiple of the same plant nearby, count the leaves on more than one to be accurate.
- Flower color and shape – What does the flower look like? How many petals does it have? Are there many tiny blooms or one main flower?
- Habitat – What is the ground like near this plant? Is it wet or dry? Does it seem like a shady area? Are there other plants nearby you recognize?
If you have a wildflower field guide at home, try using the information you just gathered (data) to help identify your flower find. There are also many great digital resources to help you ID a plant, such as iNaturalist and the Go Botany: Native Plant Trust’s Simple Key.
Some Examples to Look For:Gallery not found.
Check out this great page on the U.S. Forest Service’s website that explains the process of pollination: What is Pollination?
- What are 2 things pollinators might collect from a flower?
- What does pollination help a plant do?
Learn about the amazing native bees we have here in Maine, as well as some of the challenges they face from researchers at The University of Maine: Bee Cause. It is incredible to hear that there are almost 300 species of bees in our state! Many of these visit the spring ephemerals that are just beginning to bloom…keep your eyes peeled this spring for pollinators and their native plant hosts.
For more information about how native plants support Maine’s insect and bird populations, visit Maine Audubon’s “Bringing Nature Home” page on our website.
Our educators, scientists, advocates, and naturalists are committed to keeping you connected to the natural world as we deal with the coronavirus situation together. Check in every weekday on our Connections page for family activities, parent/teacher tips, backyard birding, nature exploration at our sanctuaries, and more.
Next Generation Science Standards
“Crosscutting Concepts” for all Elementary Grades in this module:
- Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
- Structure and Function
K Performance Expectations:
- Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive. K-LS1-1
- Construct an argument supported by evidence for how plants and animals (including humans) can change the environment to meet their needs. K-ESS2-2
2nd Grade Performance Expectations:
- Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats. 2-LS4-1
3rd Grade Performance Expectations:
- Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all. 3-LS4-3
4th Grade Performance Expectations:
- Use a model to describe that animals receive different types of information through their senses, process the information in their brain, and respond to the information in different ways. 4-LS1-2
NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Retrieved from http://www.nextgenscience.org/