Bay Journal

Chesapeake watershed’s early bloomers first to usher in spring

  • By Kathy Reshetiloff on March 17, 2017
Virginia bluebells, trout lily and bird's foot violets. (Harrison Weigand / Maryland Department of Natural Resources) Blood root, spring beauty and jack-in-the-pulpit. (Harrison Weigand / Maryland Department of Natural Resources) Round-lobed hepatica, green-and-gold and skunk cabbage. (1 &3 Harrison Weigand / Maryland Department of Natural Resources; 2 Britt Slattery / US&FWS)

April showers may bring May flowers, but begin looking for early blooming flowers now.

Plants are often the first notable indicator that the seasons are changing. Tightly packed buds are already beginning to slowly unfurl their treasures.

One of the earliest plants, skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) can appear as early as February, often popping up through snow as respiration from the plant can create enough heat to melt any surrounding snow. Skunk cabbage is a low-growing plant found in swamps, wet woods and stream borders. The name comes from the plant’s large, cabbage-like leaves and strong, fetid smell emitted when certain parts of the plant are touched or bruised. The plant mimics this putrid smell to attract flies to pollinate the plant.

Not all early spring bloomers are quite as odd-looking (or foul-smelling). In fact, most early blooming plants are quite attractive and help brighten to an otherwise barren landscape. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum): This native of the entire Chesapeake watershed is striped purple and green and blooms March to June in woods, bogs and swamps. Its berry clusters are eaten by songbirds in late fall.

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica): The flowers of this native of the entire Chesapeake watershed are white and pink, and bloom March to May in rich woods, thickets, clearings — and may even appear in yards.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis): This native wildflower of the entire Chesapeake watershed blooms March to May in rich woods and open roadsides. Its white flowers are showy but fleeting.

Trout lily (Erythronium americanum): This showy yellow flower, with equally showy leaves, is a native species in the Mountain and Piedmont regions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It blooms March to June in woods, rich slopes, bottomlands and moist meadows.

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica):This flowers of this native of the entire Chesapeake watershed vary from blue, pink and white depending on the acidity of the soil. It blooms March to June in rich wooded slopes and floodplains.

Bird’s foot violet (Viola pedata): This pale blue to purple groundcover blooms March to June on sandy or rocky barrens and dry forested slopes. It is native to most of Chesapeake watershed — except New York and Pennsylvania. It is food for songbirds and small mammals.

Round-lobed hepatica (Hepatic nobilis var. obtusa):This native white to lavender groundcover of the entire Chesapeake watershed blooms March to June in dry or rocky woods and dry slopes.

Green-and-gold (Chrysogonum virginianum): This yellow groundcover blooms March to June in open woods on limestone and in rocky open woods. It is native to the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. It will bloom longer if kept moist.

Consider replacing some of your current landscape plants with native species.

You should be able to find native flowers, shrubs and trees with the same shape, color, size or other characteristics as some of your favorite nonnative plants to create attractive and more natural landscapes right in your own yard.

By selecting native plants that suit local conditions, you can reduce or eliminate the need for fertilizers, pesticides and watering. This saves both time and money.

Native plants also provide food and cover for local wildlife like butterflies, birds, frogs, turtle and small mammals.

For information about trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses and ferns native to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, visit the Chesapeake Bay Native Plant Center.

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About Kathy Reshetiloff

Kathryn Reshetiloff is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office in Annapolis.

Read more articles by Kathy Reshetiloff

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