Spring Wildflowers at Beamer Memorial Conservation Area

Spring Wildflowers at Beamer Memorial Conservation Area

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A sure harbinger of spring is when the forest floor erupts into a brilliant carpet of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).  We came upon these fragile spring wildflowers which belong to the poppy family at the Beamer Memorial Conservation Area, near Grimsby, Ontario.

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As Bob and I walked along the forest trails, we began seeing patches of bright green leaves poking up through the otherwise brown leaf litter on the forest floor.

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On closer inspection, we found the plants to be the native Bloodroot or Bloodwort, so called because of the red sap or juice stored in the rhizome below the surface of the soil.  This red liquid was once used by indigenous people to dye baskets and clothing, as well as for war paint and insect repellent.  The generic name, from the Latin sanguinarius, means bleeding.

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The single Bloodroot leaf and flower each rise on a separate stem, and at first, the leaf completely embraces the flower bud.  The clear, white, many-petaled blossom sometimes opens before the leaf has completely unfolded itself.

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The leaves of Bloodroot are large, round and deeply cleft.   This fragile spring wildflower develops and rises from the center of its curled leaf, opening in full sun, and closing at night.  The petals have a short life and fall off to reveal the developing seed pod.

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Various other plants captured our interest along the hiking trails, but in some cases, Bob and I had to look very closely to see them.

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Tucked into a sheltered crevice at the base of a tall maple tree, I found some tiny, delicate Spring Beauty wildflowers.  These plants are one of the most common native perennials in the eastern part of North America.  They are low-growing wildflowers that grow in a star-like cluster of five white to pale pink petals.  The narrow leaves are dark green and grass-like.

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Closer examination of the petals reveals an array of fine pink stripes and a pleasant floral fragrance.  As young girls, my sister and I associated these flowers with Mother’s Day.  We knew them only as Mayflowers and would gather handfuls of the dainty blooms to present to our mom on her special day.  These blooms, like those of the Bloodroot, close at night or during storms and cloudy weather.  Good thing we were there on a sunny day!

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It kept Bob and I busy that afternoon checking out all the burgeoning new spring wildflowers.

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Sun-dappled fresh green moss liberally covered exposed surfaces of limestone slabs which served to remind us of the escarpment upon which we were hiking.

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Poking up through the dense mat of vibrant green moss were numerous Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum).  These perky spring flowers are also known as Adder’s Tongues or Dog-Toothed Violets, although they don’t belong to the violet family.

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Trout Lilies come by that particular name because the mottled pattern on their leaves resembles that of the skin pattern on a Brook Trout.

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Another sweetly fragrant spring flower that was already blooming was Northern Blue Violet (Viola septentrionalis).

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The lower petals of this flower are bearded, as you can see in my photo.  The erect flower stem droops slightly, as if bending its head towards the ground.  Perhaps that is why the flower is associated with modesty and decency.

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There seemed to be no end of fascinating plants alongside the walking trails at Beamer Memorial Conservation Area.  Above, we see some examples of Cut-leaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata).  Its delicate beauty makes it anything but common.

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The Cut-leaf Toothwort plants were between 6-12 inches tall and were topped with a cluster of small 4-petaled pink or white flowers.  These stand above a whorl of leaves that are deeply divided and coarsely toothed.   Indigenous people once chewed the roots of Toothwort to alleviate toothaches, suggesting another possible explanation for its common name.

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A plant new to Bob and me was this purple-flowered Blue Cohosh, a member of the Barberry family.  Previously known as Squaw Root or Papoose Root, the plants were used by indigenous people for medicinal purposes.  Owing to the delicate, understated flowers, this native plant is underappreciated.

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Another Blue Cohosh plant growing nearby had more fully-developed leaves yet the bulbous, blue pods seen in the centre of the photo represent unopened flower buds.  Come August, the stems will support clusters of hard “berries” that are actually seeds protected by hard outer coats, each covered in a blue skin.  This was our first time coming across a Blue Cohosh plant, and we had to seek help from the Field Botanists of Ontario for proper identification.

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