A Walk in the Woods

Come, gentle Spring! Ethereal Mildness! Come.

 James Thomson


Spring seems to have finally arrived–at least for this week.

March/April flowers just started to bloom the last weekend in April:



Spring Beauty and Toothwort

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) is common in woodlands. Clusters of tiny,  pink striped, white petaled flowers form a bountiful bouquet at the top of every stem. The narrow linear leaves make a pleasing background.  It seeds itself joyfully around the garden and into your lawn, if you’re lucky.  If so, do  I need to warn you not to mow the lawn until the plant fades away?  (I hope you never use herbicides.)  Spring Beauty may bloom as early as mid-March, and depending on weather, might still be found in bloom in early June.

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) is common in woodlands

Toothwort (Dentaria laciniata) is also common in woodlands and is frequently found in floodplains. The white or pink-tinged, 4-petaled flowers are only 1/2 inch across; the tight clusters do, however, put on a good show.   It forms vegetative colonies from its spreading rhizomes; it also reproduces by seed.

Toothwort (Dentaria laciniata) photo by Sharon Cross

On New Year’s Day, 1960, we moved into our newly built house in Century Oaks.  At the back of our 3/4 acre lot stood a majestic Bur Oak.  The land in front of it, where our house was built, had been farmed, probably for a hundred ears.  But the area upon which our oak tree stood was virgin land–it had never been plowed.  The land where the oak tree stood was level, then sloped gently down to a tiny creek.which ran along the back of the houses on our street, then into the adjacent Forest Preserve where it connected with Tyler Creek.

The following spring, scores of Trout Lilies emerged from the slopping, grassy area, a thrilling sight.  Diminutive white lilies rose from the wine-stained, mottled, gray-green elliptic leaves. But only from paired leaves–the single leaves are not mature enough to produce flowers.  (It takes seven years to bloom, says Dick Young.) Other nicknames are Dog-tooth Violet and Adder’s Tongue.

Trout Lily and Spring Beauty

The Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) is frequent east of the lake, but rare in Kane County.  This photo was taken at the old Natural Garden site in St. Charles.


Spring Anemones

There are 3 look-aike, white-petaled, spring ephemerals called ‘anemone’, but only one is in the actual genus Anemone.  They all bloom in woodlands in early spring but not necessarily in the same woods.  Some years the bloom can start as early as late March, continuing into April and May,

False Rue Anemone (Isopyrum biternatum) is the earliest of the trio to bloom, vying with Bloodroot to be the first flowering woodland wildflower.  The 6-petaled, white, buttercup-like flowers bloom above the dark-green, 3-lobed, tri-leaflets.  It forms abundant low-growing colonies in mesic woodlands. I’ve seen it growing and blooming with Spring Beauty at Tyler Creek Forest Preserve, a lovely combination.

False Rue Anemone  (Isopyrum biternatum) Photo by Susanne Massion

The blossoms of Rue Anemone (Anemonella thalictroides) may have 5, 6, or 7, petals (really sepals) and may also have a pinkish cast.  Its leaflets grow in a whorl around a central flowering stalk.  Its species name, thalictroides, refers to its leaves resembling those of the genus Thalictrum or Meadow Rue.

It is usually found in somewhat drier woods than False Rue Anemone, according to Swink and Wilhelm.

It also colonizes, but the clumps are not as dense as False Rue Anemone.

Rue Anemone  (Anemonella thalictroides)

Wood Anemone is the only true anemone–Anemone quinquefolia.

A single, white, 5-petaled blossom arises on a central stalk, in bloom in April and May.  It, too, is found mostly in rich woods, but sometimes it grows in savannas or even prairies according to Dick Young.

This photo is curtesy of Jack Shouba, as is this comment.

Anemone quinquefolia (which does not really have 5 leaves–it just

looks like it).”

Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) photo by Susanne Massion

The maroon tinge to the leaves is common.

Spring ephemerals pop up every spring, bloom for a short time, attract insects to pollinate them, make seed, and then gracefully fade away until next spring.  They grow in undisturbed woods, blooming in the full sun of early spring’s leafless trees; then become dormant under the full shade of the leaf canopy of summer until the following spring.   They grow best in rich, organic, woodsy soil.  Planting them on the north side of buildings is not as satisfactory as putting them under trees.  The north side of buildings are shady in spring and sunny in summer when the sun is overhead–the opposite of what the ephemerals prefer.

Go for a walk in the woods this week–both the weather and the scenery will be at their best.

Thanks to my contributing photographers:  Jack Shouba, Sharon Cross, and Suzanne Massion–you are all so talented.

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