Mission: Spring Ephemeral Wildflower Phenology

Spring ephemeral wildflowers are perennial woodland plants that sprout from the ground early each spring, quickly bloom and seed before the canopy trees overhead leaf out. Once the forest floor is deep in shade, the leaves wither away leaving just the roots, rhizomes and bulbs underground. It allows them to take advantage of the full sunlight levels reaching the forest floor during early spring.

Long-term flowering records initiated by Henry David Thoreau in 1852 have been used in Massachusetts to monitor phenological changes. Phenology, the study of the timing of natural events such as migration, flowering, leaf-out or breeding, is key to examine and unravel the effects of climate change on ecosystems. Record-breaking spring temperatures in 2010 and 2012 resulted in the earliest flowering times in recorded history for dozens of spring-flowering plants of the eastern United States.

We have the opportunity to start long-term monitoring across Vermont. We've chosen 10 common spring ephemeral wildflowers for everyone to monitor. Find a plot to monitor in a forest near you or simply record the status of those you find around Vermont. When you enter them on the Vermont Atlas of Life, please include a photograph(s) of the plant and in the box next to "Add a field" type in Flowering Phenology (select bare, flower, or fruit).

Focal Wildflowers (click to see field guide):

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana)
Red Trillium (Trillium erectum)
Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum)
Starflower (Trientalis borealis)
Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis)
Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

Posted on 19 April, 2015 23:09 by kpmcfarland kpmcfarland


What a difference a year makes. Same Bloodroot plants in 2013 vs 2014.
April 20, 2013 = flowering

May 3, 2014 = flowering

Keeping track in iNaturalist Vermont!

Posted by kpmcfarland almost 10 years ago

How about sharp-lobed hepatica (Anemone acutiloba)?

Posted by ndodge almost 9 years ago

It's all good Noel. We just listed 10 species to get folks started.

Posted by kpmcfarland almost 9 years ago

This is fun because you can do the same plants year after year and see changes. I'm focusing on the spring ephemerals that grow around the National Life building in Montpelier (just like my moths) because I work here and enjoy sneaking out for a bit to look at the spring ephemerals. It's an example of why microclimate matters and precise locations are great, because the north slope where I walk up the hill if I walk to work is several days to a week later than the top of the hill.

Posted by charlie almost 9 years ago

yeah, I have a patch of bloodroot near my house that has 4 years of data now on the project.
here are blooming dates:
What a difference a cold spring makes!

Posted by kpmcfarland almost 9 years ago

There is bloodroot on our property that seems to have come in on its own (not planted) so I should be adding those every year too. One of them already has a seed pod.

These last two years have been so weird! I noticed this year everything is going at once, since the early things were pushed back. All the maples are blooming at once. Most of the trees are starting to leaf out, the aspen barely have a head start. What an odd year. I bet it isn't a great amphibian year what with a very dry spring and quick late transition from very cold to very hot.

Posted by charlie almost 9 years ago

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