Spring Ephemerals – Withrow Nature Preserve, Cincinnati, Ohio

We had planned this outing last October when we did a fall hike at this Hamilton County Parks’ nature preserve. The environment of the woods and the names of the trails themselves, Hepatica Loop and Trout Lily, suggested an outstanding spring wildflower display and our visit this week lived up to those expectations.

We had been on the Trout Lily Trail before but this was our first use of the Hepatica Loop Trail. It was a challenge to safely descend the hill down into the valley of the Hepatica Trail but it was worth it. We were immediately greeted by numerous species of spring wildflowers and ended up identifying 20 different flowers over the 1.5 mile hike.

Two of the first that we saw were these look-alikes:

Squirrel Corn – the upper part of the flower is more heart shaped and the flower is fragrant.

Dutchman’s Breeches – the upper part of the flower looks like an extracted tooth, there is yellow distally, and no fragrance.

Interspersed throughout the creek valley was the showy Wood Poppy with its 2 inch pansy like flowers.

Another of our favorites is Trout Lily, named for the resemblance the leaves have to the coloration of brook trout.

One of the more atypical flowers that we saw was Wild Ginger: Atypical in its brown color and somewhat primitive appearance. The leaves are the identifying feature, and one has to look closely to see the flower as it is nestled amongst the leaf litter at the plant’s base. And yes, when cooked, the root can be used as a substitute for ginger.

There was a variety of violets noted along the trail. The leaves of violets are high in vitamins A and C and can be used in salads.

Marsh Blue Violet

Common Blue Violet

Cream Violet

Perhaps the most common flower occurring throughout the walk was Wild Blue Phlox.

Three flowers that have been featured on our previous Footpaths Spring Ephemerals series are Spring Beauty, Virginia Bluebells, and Cutleaf Toothwort.

Jacob’s Ladder, which is being visited by a Bumble Bee in the title photograph, exudes a sense of peace with its pastel blue petals. It gets its name from the ladder like structure of its leaves and alludes to the biblical story of Jacob seeing a ladder to heaven in a dream.

Notice another pollinator peaking over the rim of the flower below.

Larkspur is a taller flower that has dynamic color which gets your attention and makes it stand out in the woods. These were just starting to flower so they should be viewable for several more weeks. The plant is poisonous to cattle.

Star Chickweed was a new flower to us although it is reportedly common. Perhaps its diminutive size, with flowers measuring a half inch or less, allowed us to overlook it in the past.

Another new flower to us was Small-Flowered Buttercup. Appropriately named, the flowers themselves are quite understated.

The Blue-eyed Mary looks like nature’s painter has not finished the job. This plant is an annual that germinates in the fall and overwinters, to flower in the spring.

For the past several weeks, on multiple hikes, I had seen Rue Anemone. It was fun to see its look alike on this hike, False Rue Anemone. It is a much taller plant and it holds its flowers high.

And the final two entries are really some of the poster children for Spring Ephemerals, both from the Trillium family. Identifying trilliums, especially the red or maroon ones, can be challenging because sources or field guides use different common names:

Large White Trillium (Giant Trillium) – gives off a scent of decaying tissue which attracts carrion flies, a primary pollinator.

Sessile Trillium (Toadshade)

The previous images suggest incorrectly that these flowers occur in isolation, but in fact they are found in the woods nestled in amongst each other, providing a forest floor kaleidoscope of many colors.

In summary, it was near peak season for the spring wildflowers when we had this outing and Withrow Nature Preserve proved to be an outstanding stage for the performance. But the good news is that many deciduous woods put on their own show and have much to offer. So, as the weather warms, find yourself on a footpath in search of nature’s artistry.

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Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.


Parking – excellent large asphalt lot.

Facilities – Portolet in the parking lot.

Trail Conditions – excellent and well marked. The Hepatica Loop Trail was challenging due to deteriorating stairs for entry and exit.

Benches – two benches at the overlook (about 1 mile in) and another in the field walk/”old farm loop”.

Print Map Link – This does not include the Hepatica Loop as it appears to have been decommissioned on the web site, but does appear on the map at the trailhead. https://res.cloudinary.com/govimg/image/upload/v1615483893/5a5f7a6b41a5361ef1395dbc/WN-Troutlily-Trail.gif

Kids – Should do well on the Trout Lily trail as I think that there is enough variety to keep their interest. The slope for entry and exit on the Hepatica Trail is not kid friendly at this time.




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