Susquehanna State Park is currently awash with the vibrant hues of Virginia bluebells, a native spring ephemeral that is blooming earlier than usual this year. These delicate flowers, also known as Virginia cowslip, Roanoke bells, and lungwort oysterleaves, bloom for only 3-4 weeks in March or April and are a favorite of butterflies, long-tongued bees, and hummingbirds.
Spring ephemerals are a unique group of plants that have evolved to take advantage of a specific time period between the most frigid weather and when the trees above them fully leaf out. This gives them the great advantage of more light and the exclusive attention of hungry pollinators, but often means they don’t last long.
Other familiar Maryland spring ephemerals include mayapple, spring beauty, and dutchman’s breeches. Virginia bluebells’ delicate blossoms vary in color from pinks to deep blues as they age, making a spectacular show where they are found in large groups.
Susquehanna State Park boasts locations for viewing these beauties in vast groups – a nature-made carpet of lush blues and greens as far as the eye can see in every direction. However, visitors are advised to practice Leave No Trace ethics when visiting, as litter, flower-picking, and off-trail foot traffic can cause severe damage to these local treasures. Introduction of invasive species like lesser celandine can also be devastating, wiping out entire populations in just a few years.
If you find yourself in love with this perennial as much as we are, you can easily plant it in your own garden – provided you have full to part shade and moist soil. Their short lifespan above ground means gardeners can also overplant with shallow-rooted annuals after the bluebell foliage has died back, or interplant with slower growing summertime species like ferns or Solomon’s seal. As an added bonus, they can be used as a ground cover in dense clumps, and they are deer-resistant.
Spring is here, and with it comes a renewed appreciation for the beauty of nature. In this issue of HabiChat, readers can find a native plant and native animal profile about some of the first (and best) harbingers of spring. Education Assistant Edwin Guevara offers some ways to get teens into nature with technology, while guest author Samantha Lott provides insight and advice about dealing with the consequences of heavy spring rains.
As the weather warms up, we encourage everyone to get outside and explore the wonders of the natural world, but always with the utmost respect and care for the environment. Let’s all do our part to ensure that future generations can enjoy the same beauty and diversity that we do today. Where flowers bloom, so does hope – let’s make sure that hope continues to thrive for years to come.