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spring
ephemerals



a guide to spring flowers and hikes in Western MA

Ephemeral: lasting for a very short time. Transitory. Quickly fading.

Ephemeral plants are those marked by a very short life cycle. Spring ephemerals are the perennial woodland wildflowers that bloom in early spring, after the snow melts and before trees cast their shade over the forest floor. Trout lily. Bloodroot. Trillium. Hepatica.

Since they flower and reproduce during a very limited window of time, we’ve scouted some locations and built a brief guide so you can get a jump start on enjoying these little beauties.


a collaborative community art project produced by hope.

website design by llook︎

illustrations by Liz︎

copywriting by Corrin︎


meet the ephemerals


Please don't pick these flowers as they are the earliest food source for pollinators — they’re prettier intact than in your hand!



bloodroot


Sanguinaria Canidensis
Poppy Family

March – May
6 – 12 inches
Found in rich woods

BloodRoot Plant produces beautiful white flowers that are made up of long slender petals and has a bright yellow center to them. The leaves are a dark color of green, so the flowers stand out when in bloom.

The pale, lobed leaf embraces the stalk bearing the showy 8- to 10-petaled flower. Note the orange juice of the broken stem—bloodroot is often used to dye yarn and cloth.


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trout lily


Erythronium americanum
Liliaceae Family

March – May
4 – 10 inches
Found in mixed woods

Note the reflexed yellow petals (often brown-purple beneath) and 2 broad, mottled basal leaves. The edge of the leaf is smooth.  The yellow flowers are solitary and nodding, appearing at the end of the single stem.

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blue cohosh


Caulophyllum thalictroides
Barberry family

April - June
12 – 36 inches
Found in rich woods

The 6-pointed flowers (greenish yellow or yellow-green to brown) are replaced later by clusters of deep blue berries. The leaves, divided into 7 to 9 leaflets, suggest meadow-rue. Young plants may have a waxy whitish bloom.

“To come upon a large stand of these plants in the spring, when the bluish-green, lace-like leaves gently quiver in a warm breeze, is absolutely breathtaking and stunning enough to take me to my knees more than once in gratitude and awe.”

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jack-in-the-pulpit


Arisaema triphyllum
Araceae Family

April – June
12 – 36 inches
Found in woods and swamps

This plant is known for its ability to change gender.

The flaplike spathe is green or purplish brown, often striped, and curves gracefully over the club-shaped spadix (the “Jack” or preacher in his canopied pulpit). Flowers tiny, at base of spadix; staminate and pistillate flowers often on separate plants. Leaves 1 or 2, long-stalked, 3-parted. Fruit a cluster of scarlet berries.

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painted trillium


Trillium Undulatum
Liliaceae Family


April – June
8 – 16 inches
Found in rich woods

This trillium has a slender stalk  with a whorl of three large, blue-green leaves. The flower, white with purple markings, is borne above the leaves on a short, arching stem. The erect, stalked flower has an inverted, pink V at the base of each white, wavy-edged petal.

The flower is followed by fruit in early fall. The fruit is a fleshy, berry-like capsule that starts off green and changes to bright red.

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round-lobed hepatica


Hepatica Americana
Ranunculaceae

March – May
4 – 6 inches
Found in leafy woods

Hepatica is one of the first wildflowers to bloom in the spring, but they are only open on sunny days! The flowers are white, pink, lavender, or blue. The 6 to 10 “petals” are really sepals, and they sit upon a leafless, hairy stem. They’re often found in clumps, with the flower stalks standing upright over the flattened basal leaves.

“The plant gets its name from the leathery purple-brown basal leaves, which resemble the shape of the liver. Many early herbalists believed that the shape of the plant determined its usefulness in the treatment of liver ailments.”

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marsh marigold


Caltha palustris
Ranunculus Family

April – May
12 – 24 inches
Found in marshes, wet woods, and swamps

Marsh marigold is a very showy ephemeral member of the buttercup family, and actually not that closely related to marigolds. As soon as you see the bright yellow flower, you can tell its resemblance to buttercups! Marsh marigold has glossy, thickish, heart- or kidney-shaped leaves. As a "wetland obligate" plant, it can be found along stream banks or other wet areas in small clumps or large patches and is pretty special in that it can tolerate living in standing water in the spring during its bloom season.

Marsh marigold looks a lot like the non-native, invasive lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), a related wetland species that is slowly making its way across the country. There are three ways you may be able to tell them apart: the flower petals: marsh marigold has 5-9 petals, while lesser celandine can have more than nine (but can also have as few as 7!); the habitat: marsh marigold can live in very wet conditions, whereas lesser celandine likes things moist but not as truly wet as marsh marigold; and the form: marsh marigold clumps, whereas lesser celandine spreads.Good luck!

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dutchman’s breeches


Dicentra cucullaria
Papaveraceae Family

March – April
4 – 8 inches
Found in rich or rocky, deciduous woods & ravines

This fun little plant is one of our native varieties of bleeding heart (Dicentra species). All of the varieties of bleeding heart, native or garden-variety, have really descriptive names. If you look at Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), you can sort of imagine how they came to be named after colonial pantaloons, even if it is a bit topsy-turvy. Puffy white flowers (sometimes faintly pink) with two legs in the air and a fancy yellow shirt below, like an outfit hung out to dry. Like its Dicentra brethren, Dutchman's breeches have frilly, or "finely compound", leaves which kind of look like those of ferns, or carrot tops, or Queen Anne's lace, except much lower to the ground.

These flowers don't have a fragrance, and that is one way to tell them apart from squirrel corn (Dicentra canadensis), another closely related native bleeding heart with a great name that does have a smell.

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pink ladyslipper


Cypripedium acaule
Orchidaceae Family

April - July
6 - 15 inches
Dry forests, especially pine woods

Even if you know nothing about ephemerals, you almost certainly know the lady slipper. These plants are so unusual in their appearance that their name needs no explanation: they look just like ballerina shoes. The lady slipper looks so weird because it is an orchid. An orchid, in New England! (We actually have a handful of orchids here, but they are usually smaller and require you to go to special places to find them). We have several lady slippers in Massachusetts. You can tell the pink lady slipper (Cypripedium acaule) because it is -- you guessed it -- pink! This lady slipper requires very acidic soil and loves pine forests, but it also grows in deciduous woods.

These plants are so fun and sweet and unbelievably special, it is hard not to pick them and take them home to show to everyone you know. Please don't. Lady slippers can take many years to grow and develop from seed to mature plants. They are symbiotic plants, and rely on a fungus found in the soil to break open the lady slipper seed and then feed the seed and seedling its food and nutrients. Once the lady slipper plant is mature and producing its own nutrients, the fungus will extract nutrients from the orchid roots itself. So, if you pick the lady slipper, you are killing a whole community!

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hikes


Here are a few spots we’ve found an abundance of ephemerals. Do you have a location we can add? Let us know here︎

Use ⌘ + scroll to zoom the map


mt. toby


Mt. Toby has many fun flowers because the soils are very nutrient dense from all of the bedrock. There are many different ecologies!

︎ Cohosh
︎ Trout Lily
︎ Jack-in-the-Pulpit
︎ Red Trillium
︎ Bloodroot
︎ Round-lobed hepatica

read more ︎

mitch’s marina 


This is a wonderful example of a floodplain forest, where you’ll encounter dense, tall trees and a ton of ferns. It’s very surreal looking!

︎ Painted Trillium
︎ Bloodroot
︎ Trout Lily

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keystone arches


A well-marked trail featuring a series of stone arch bridges built for the railroad in 1840.

︎ Trout Lily
︎ Blue Cohosh
︎ Red Trillium

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leverett 4h forest


This network of trails links several properties with a wildly varied habitat! Interconnected trails make it easy to explore different areas of the properties.
 
︎ Bloodroot
︎ Painted Trillium
︎ Red Trillium
︎ Trout Lily
︎ Marsh Marigold

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east mountain 


Located on the southside of MA-141 in Holyoke, East Mountain WMA is a series of parcels connecting the Whiting Reservoir and Ashley Reservoir watersheds.
 
︎ Bloodroot
︎ Marsh Marigold
︎ Red Trillium
︎ Pink Ladyslipper

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bartholomew’s cobble


This 329-acre nature preserve is located in southwest Massachusetts. Five miles of trails include two rocky knolls, a river floodplain, pastures and meadows, and a 1,000ft hill offering a majestic view of the Berkshires and Taconic Mountains. 
 
︎ Bloodroot
︎ Dutchman’s Breeches
︎ Red Trillium
︎ Blue Cohash
︎ Round-lobed Hepatica

read more ︎ 

high ledges


High Ledges is managed by Mass Audubon and offers 5 miles of trails with beautiful vistas of the Deerfield River Valley.  
 
︎ Painted trillium
︎ Red trillium
︎ Bloodroot
︎ Hepatica
︎ Jack-in-the-pulpit
︎ Marsh Marigold
︎ Pink lady's slipper

read more ︎