This was a preparatory visit to Lloyd Woods to assess the presence of spring ephemeral wildflowers in this old growth forest remnant, in anticipation of a hike that I have been asked to lead in 11 days. I had been there four times previously, but all in the winter, when there was no evidence of a past spring time display.
While Lloyd Woods is best known for its huge deciduous trees, the composition of the forest floor suggested that it could also host a broad selection of spring ephemeral wildflowers from late March through May.
Ephemeral means transitory or quickly fading, and is the perfect description for the annual vegetative and reproductive life cycles of these perennial deciduous woodland plants, which arise off of bulbs, rhizomes or tubers that lie beneath the surface. They need to develop leaves to capture light for photosynthesis, flower, get pollinated, and form seeds in the narrow window of time between snow melt and the tree canopy leafing out, which blocks the sunlight from the forest floor.
The life cycle is fascinating and relies on symbiotic relationships with specific bee species as well as ants that aid in seed dispersal. The flowers are most significantly pollinated by Bumble Bees, but also Sweat Bees, Bee Flies, House Flies, and Hover Flies. The Honey Bee is not involved. The seeds form and have a structural appendage termed an elaiosome, which is rich in lipids (fats) and proteins. These are attractive to ants who carry the seed back to their nursery to feed the energy rich substance to their larvae. The seed itself is unharmed and carried out of the colony and deposited in their waste pile, or midden, which consists of ant scat (poop) as well as dead ants. It in turn is a nutritious medium for seed germination. The transportation distance however is short, averaging just 6 or 7 feet from the parent plant. The characteristics of this life cycle make ephemerals particularly vulnerable to disturbance of their habitat as their seeds are not broadcasted long distances.
This hike took place early in the ephemeral season, on an overcast and cool day in late March. Luckily we came across several species of wildflowers.
The Spring Beauty, one of the most common and earliest spring woodland wildflowers, is pictured below as well as in the title photo. They tend to be sensitive to cool weather and therefore were less showy on our visit. The plant arises from a potato-like tuber that was eaten by both Native Americans and early settlers.
These were noted throughout the hike and did not seem to be affected by the cold. It is named for the tooth-like projections that are present on the underground stems (rhizomes). Also noted in the photo below is a Spring Beauty in the lower left corner and a trout lily leaf, without flower at this time, in the lower right corner.
Harbinger of Spring:
This was a new wildflower to us. The floret is very small, each measuring about 1/4 inch. It is a member of the parsley or carrot family, and has a secondary name of “pepper and salt plant”, referencing the dark pollen containing anthers, which age to black, contrasting the white petals.
These are frequently referred to as “delicate” but we did not test this description. The flowers can very from white to light pink and measure 1 inch in diameter. The “petals’ are anatomically sepals, which provide protection to the developing flower bud, and number 5-10. They are similar to the False Rue Anemone, whose flowers are smaller at 1/2 inch, and have leaflets with more deeply cut lobes. The False Rue Anemone always has 5 “petal-like” sepals.
These were the most impressive of the ephemerals that we came upon during this hike. We found it sporadically throughout the preserve, but occurring in mass in one watershed valley. The flowers were just starting to open, primarily on hillsides that received more sun. These should be even more dramatic over the next two weeks or more.
This officially is not a ephemeral as it is an annual and does not arise from an underground tuber, rhizome or bulb. Annuals complete there life cycle from germination to seed production within one growing season. We included it here because it flowers at the same time and in the same woodland habitat. In the photo below it is partnered with some Toothwort.
Spring ephemeral season is like a telethon that features a series of performances with an ever changing cast of characters on stage. You could go back to the same trail every 10 to14 days and be treated to a different show, as different species appear over the timeline of spring. We identified some of the upcoming flowers who were currently found in their vegetative stage:
These plants sends up leaves early in the spring to capture sunlight, then flower in May and June.
Just breaking through the leaf litter are these two sprouts of Mayapple which will grow quickly and display a single flower beneath large palmate leaves in April. Then, in May, they will feature a gumball size, bulbous green fruit.
While the focus of this hike was the spring wildflowers, one can not help but bask in the overall beauty of Lloyd Woods, from vistas across the wooded terrain, to the Grassy Creek valley; from the iconic trees, to the very red, coin size, Elf Cup Mushroom.
This spring ephemeral season find yourself a mature deciduous wood and take a ramble to enjoy the beauty of these transient woodland inhabitants.
Below find a link to my previous post on a winter hike at Lloyd Woods.
Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.
Location – 28 miles south of Cincinnati and less than 2 miles off I-75.
Parking – Asphalt lot. Trailhead is at the eastern aspect near the picnic table.
Facilities – There are restrooms nearby at the associated shooting range building but typically only open on event days.
Trail Conditions – Overall rating would be moderate due to terrain. The most challenging part is when the trail rises up above Grassy Creek as it is a little steep and slippery for a short distance.
Print Map Link – https://fw.ky.gov/More/Documents/CurtisGatesLloydWMA_ALL.pdf
Benches – None at this time but hope to see some added in the future.
Kids – Kids 5 and over should do well here with minimal assistance. The distance is perfect for the 5-8 year olds.
Dogs –Welcomed while on a leash
Paired Hikes – just down the road, east of this parking lot, is a gravel drive that leads to a fishing lake. This is also the trailhead for the Archery Trail. While the trail is designed for archery target practice in the woods, it is still a nice trail for a hike. It is approximately 0.75 miles long and also has some impressive trees, especially a Shagbark Hickory, a White Oak, and some Sugar Maples. The way the trail is designed there is no danger from errant arrows. The trail ends up on the south side of the fishing lake at which point you can walk the bank back to your vehicle.