Great White Trillium

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Trillium is also a much-loved native wildflower in the United States. Its presence above ground is just for a short time each year – after the snow melts, but before the woodland trees leaf out and completely shade the forest floor.

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The name “trillium” derives from the plant’s repetitions of three. Each plant produces a whorl of three broad leaves with a three-petaled blossom on a single stem.

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Like many other Spring wildflowers, the seeds of the trillium are dispersed by ants. The plant’s seeds contain a food that is attractive to ants. The ants carry the seeds to their nests to feed their larvae, then discard the undamaged seeds. This allows the trillium to produce new plants in nearby locations.

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This plant has a lifespan approaching that of a human – it requires some 17 years to reach maturity and may reach 70 years of age.

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In 1986, Great White Trillium took its place alongside the Ohio state flower, Red Carnation, as the state’s official wildflower. Ohio’s General Assembly chose this plant because it grows in each of the state’s 88 counties.

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Yerba Mansa

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This is a neat plant native to the southwestern United States, though I’ve only seen it in Nevada. It is a perennial herb and its genus only has one species.

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Yerba Mansa, also known as Lizard Tail, prefers very wet soil or shallow water. I’ve only encountered in in areas of the desert where there are natural springs.

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This plant is showy in Spring when in bloom. It forms a compact group of tiny flowers that grow in an unusual, conical flower head and are surrounded by white petal-like leaves.

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Yerba Mansa is commonly pollinated by bees and other insect pollinators. Once it has finished blooming, the entire cone-like flower structure develops into a hard fruit that falls off the plant travels down waterways to spread the plant’s seeds.

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The leaves growing nearest to the ground have a rounded tip, and are often heart-shaped at the base, while the stem leaves are much smaller.

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Historically, Yerba Mansa was used to disinfect and treat open wounds and sores, as well as to treat colds, coughs, and ulcers. Today it is still used to treat a variety of medical ailments.

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I always enjoy coming across this odd, yet very cool plant on my hikes.

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Wild Blue Phlox

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This species of flowering plant is native to forests and fields in eastern North America. I expect to see it in my home state of Ohio in a few weeks, but for now am enjoying it on my visit to Carter Caves, Kentucky.

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Wild Blue Phlox is a woodland species that resides in forests, fields and along streams. It has loose clusters of slightly fragrant, tubular, lilac-to-rose-to-blue flowers with five, flat, notched, petal-like lobes that appear at the stem tips in Spring.

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Its blooms attract butterflies (Swallowtails, Grey Hairstreaks and Pygmy Blues), clearwing moths and hummingbirds.

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This plant can form large colonies as the weak stems flop over and root at the nodes. It then disappears in mid-summer after flowering dropping seeds.

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The genus name, Phlox, is derived from the Greek word for flame in reference to its bright flowers. This plant is also known as Woodland Phlox and Wild Sweet William.

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Douglas Iris

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When visiting Point Reyes National Seashore I often encounter this common wildflower of the coastal and central regions of Northern and Central California.

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The Douglas Iris was first described by 19th century botanist David Douglas Scottish who traveled through the American Northwest collecting a variety of plants. He also has the Douglas Fir named after him.

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In Spring, large clumps of iris with flowers ranging from cream to deep purple bloom in grasslands along the coast, and in the deep shade of coastal forests.

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The flowers are intricately patterned with nectar guidelines for potential pollinators, such as bees and butterflies.

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The Douglas Iris’ sword-shaped leaves overlap and can reach over one foot long, rising from underground stems called rhizomes.

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“Back in the day,” Native Americans in California extracted a single fiber from each leaf margin and used it to create strong silky fibers for fishing nets, rope and snares for catching game.

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Snowdrops

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The young shoots of snowdrops emerging from the frost-covered ground provides anticipation for the beginning of Spring.

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Snowdrops are in the amaryllis family and there are only a dozen cultivated species, mostly native to the deciduous woodlands of Europe and western Asia.

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Flowering from January to March, it can naturally be found growing in the woods and by streams. The plants have two linear leaves and a single small white drooping bell-shaped flower.

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Snowdrops have been known since early times, being described by the classical Greek author Theophrastus in the fourth century BC.

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Celebrated as a sign of Spring, Snowdrops can form impressive carpets of white in areas where they are native or have been naturalized.

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I enjoy seeing them in my yard as well as when I’m out and about in late Winter and early Spring.

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Virginia Waterleaf

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Hiking on the Ohio & Erie Canal towpath trail around this time of year I often encounter this Spring wildflower of low-lying damp woods, stream terraces and floodplains.

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This is a classic northwoods plant, that often look messy, growing in dense clusters of eight to twenty blossoms. This plant grows by both rhizomes (underground stems) and seeds.

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This plant’s genus, Hydrophyllum, refers to water; its early season leaves often have a bleached appearance as if they’ve been stained by water.The whitish marks on the leaves fade as Summer progresses and by mid-Summer the plant dies back to the ground and is no longer apparent.

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Virginia Waterleaf’s flower color varies from pale pink, to deep purple, to occasionally white. They are small, bell-shaped blossoms borne in clusters with stamens and pistils protruding well out of the flower.

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When young and tender, the leaves are good eating. People still gather wild Virginia Waterleaf for food. It’s other common name, John’s cabbage, also speaks to its tasty nature.

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Yellow Monkeyflower

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I sometimes come across this wildflower while visiting California. It is a member of the figwort family, the same family as Snapdragons, which I grow in my garden. The resemblance is clear.

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Yellow Monkeyflower is found in a wide range of habitats, but prefers wet places, including the splash zone of the Pacific Ocean, the chaparral of California, the geysers of Yellowstone National Park and alpine meadows. I see them the most in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where it can be quite misty.

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This plant can grow as high as three feet. The flowers have red or maroon spots on the wide, hairy throat of the lower lip petal. Its coarsely toothed leaves are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked; they are sometimes added to salads as a lettuce substitute, though they have a slight bitter taste.

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Over the years, Yellow Monkeyflower has been a model organism for studies of evolution and ecology. There may be as many as 1,000 scientific papers focused on this species.

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It’s genus, Mimulus, comes from the Latin word that refers to “mime,” a reference to the funny clown-like face the flower resembles. “Monkeyflower” is another reference to the shape of the flower.

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Funny or not, this eye-catching bright yellow-flowered plant is a welcome sight while on my travels.

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Star of Bethlehem

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Lately, when hiking on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath, I’ve been seeing a lot of this plant. Star of Bethlehem belongs to the Lily Family and blooms in late spring or early summer. It is native to the Mediterranean region and is similar to wild garlic (though it does not have a garlic smell).

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The English name “Star of Bethlehem” seems to date from the Middle Ages. The bulbs were sometimes brought home as souvenirs during pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

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Its flowers are clustered at the tips of stems up to one foot tall. The three sepals and three petals form an attractive star, white on the upper surface, with green lines on the underside. It blooms from April to June; all parts of this plant are poisonous.

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The blooms open during the early morning hours and close by noon. This characteristic habit gives it the nickname “Nap By Noon.” Its leaves are grasslike, very dark green, rolled inward with a white center vein.

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Star of Bethlehem can be found in a variety of situations, including pastures, bottomland and upland forests, roadsides, suburban lawns and disturbed areas.

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Eaton’s Firecracker

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This perennial herb produces several sprawling to erect stems reaching about 3 feet in height. I enjoy seeing the inch-long showy, tubular flowers in shades of bright red when I visit mountains in the Mojave Desert.

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Eaton’s Firecracker is native to the western United States from California to the Rocky Mountains, where it grows in many types of desert, woodland, forest, and open plateau habitat. In California it is found primarily in high desert areas.

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I usually see it in habitats like dry sagebrush scrub and pine woodlands. It is a type of Penstemon and does best on well-drained soils. I tend to find them in open areas, but they will tolerate semi-shaded conditions.

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Its attractive flowers attract pollinators and other insects, which provide a food source for birds and other animals.

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When in bloom, Eaton’s Firecracker more than lives up to its name. Its sprays of brilliant color are a bright spot in the desert ecosystem.

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Mottled Trillium

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While visiting South Carolina earlier this month I discovered my first wildflower of the year. Mottled Trillium is a relict species, meaning there are a few remaining groups of a species that was once more abundant when conditions were different.

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Significant habitat loss has occurred through clearing of forests for agricultural and pine farm uses; in 1988 this plant was officially listed as an endangered species. Mottled Trillium grows in undisturbed hardwood forests that sometimes include mature pines and that are free of understory plants such as shrubs and vines.

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This is one of the first trillium species in Georgia and South Carolina to appear in the early spring. Prior to blooming, its three mottled leaves that are blue-green, to green to silver in color.

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It was totally awesome to not only see my first wildflower of the year, but also one that I have never seen before.

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