Shakerag Hollow: spring ephemeral wildflowers

Our campus emptied out this afternoon as spring break began. After a few hours of cleaning the lab, answering emails, and pushing papers from one place to another I finally cracked (or woke up) and set out for the woods to enjoy some reality.

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Spring ephemeral wildflowers covered the forest floor. In the richer areas, each palm-sized patch of forest had a dozen blooms crowded together. There are few places in the world that rival the profusion of blooms in this north-facing Appalachian cove (and the snails, insects and salamanders that ply the leaf litter below the flowers are equally diverse).

These “ephemeral” wildflowers are hurrying through their flowering and photosynthesizing in the short weeks that remain before the tree canopy steals all their light. But the plants don’t disappear for the rest of the year. Instead, most of them persist underground in roots and swollen stems. So, the “ephemerals” appear to be short-lived, but are in fact many years old, perhaps as old as many of the trees that loom over them.

No canopy = a great opportunity

10 thoughts on “Shakerag Hollow: spring ephemeral wildflowers

  1. batesvillian

    Is there a way to date a swath of ephemerals? The dutchman’s breeches, for example, carpet huge areas in Shakerag. Can you take samples and extrapolate the rate of spread from there? Maybe there’s some other way?

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      I looked into this a few years ago. I my knowledge, no-one has a good estimate on age (but I may well have missed some papers in the literature, of course). Following a large number of them over several years would allow us to make an estimate of the rate of mortality of individual stems/plants. Some creep along horizontally with rhizomes, etc, some tracking exactly who is who from year to year could get ambiguous. DNA fingerprinting?

  2. A Petrochko

    Perfect timing! Heading up this weekend to hike the whole Perimeter, weather and blisters permitting.
    Are any of these beauties shy at any particular time of day? Wouldn’t want to miss out.

  3. Sonia Kay MacKenzie

    Thanks for the reminder about “reality” here, lest we become tied to these screens and forget altogether.

  4. Pingback: The Forest Unseen, one month update. And an iris. | Ramble

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