I found her on a warm spring day amidst a carpet of dried, brown leaves. Her petals – small and lavender-hued – balanced atop long, thin, hairy stems. Improbably perfect. Too good to be true. Around the bend, I found another, just as small and just as beautiful. Leave only footprints; take only photos. I crouched down on the woodland floor, almost lying in the leaves, and gently captured her image. She was so little, so delicate and perfect that it seemed possible she might float away if I breathed too hard as I gazed.
Of all the flowers that exist, spring ephemerals are the ones that I hold dearest in my heart. The hepatica are the first to appear, in shades of purple, pink and white. Then follow pasqueflowers, anemones, bloodroot, spring beauties, and trout lily. It is always an immense relief to be reassured that spring has come again, for, to be honest, a little part of me fears each winter might finally be the one that lasts forever. Then it will be as in Narnia – always winter and never Christmas.
In addition, the fleeting nature of spring wildflowers makes them seem all the more special. Unlike roses or coneflowers, you can never quite predict from one year to the next where an anemone or bloodroot might appear. The plants have a strange habit of moving from year to year and they accomplish a year’s worth of work – growth, photosynthesis, reproduction, and food storage – within a few short weeks of April and May. By summer’s start, the trees will have leaves, the prairies will grow tall, and ephemeral wildflowers will hide away until another spring.
There are many places to find spring wildflowers in Washington County. Sunfish Lake Park in Lake Elmo has a dazzling assortment, including rue and wood anemone, all colors of violets, jack in the pulpit, and bellwort. At William O’Brien State Park, look for marsh marigolds and skunk cabbage in the streams and bogs along the lower river trail. St. Croix Savanna Scientific and Natural Area in Bayport also has an amazing diversity of spring ephemerals along the edge of the prairie and woods, including blue-eyed grass, yellow star flower, violet wood sorrel, birds foot violet, and hoary vervain.
If you need more encouragement to explore new places, the St. Croix Watershed Environmental Education Partnership (SWEEP) has organized an Earth Month Passport Competition from April 1-30. The event features 13 parks, trails and natural areas in the Lower St. Croix Valley, as shown on this map: bit.ly/stcroixsweep. Visit at least four of the locations during the month of April, take a photo near the Earth Month sign, and upload your photos to www.facebook.com/sweep.stcroix with the hashtag #EarthDay2021 for your chance to win a gift basket that includes prizes, including free park passes and swag.
As you explore the outdoors this spring, make note of the places where the wildflowers grow. These are the best woods and the truest prairies, which are least damaged by cultivation, development, and invasive species. These are the places where your heart will call you to visit again and again and the ones you must protect.