Campus Tour: Wildflowers
This web site describes small flowering plants likely to be found on the floor of the campus natural area, mainly during the months of March through May. Some of these plants remain in the forest throughout the entire growing season, but many disappear after the trees leaf out and the forest floor ceases to get enough light. Spring is one of the two most beautiful times to walk the natural area trails. (The other time is in the fall when the leaves are turning color.) When the trees are fully leafed out the light intensity that reaches the forest floor is only about 20% of what it was before the tree leaves appeared. Little herbaceous plants on the forest floor which have overwintered as seeds or roots have to make the best use of the very limited early season time when it is above freezing and there is still plenty of light reaching the floor of the forest. They grow quickly, flower, set seed, and die back again after the trees leaf out and light becomes limiting. In April and May the forest floor can be almost completely covered with green blossoming plants. The particular species in flower change daily, some withering while others come into bloom. By the middle of June this fantastic floral display is gone and there are very few green plants left growing on the forest floor.
One of the easiest ways to identify these little plants is by their flowers, and some flower for only a few days. The flowering dates mentioned in this web site are based on observations made at the OSU Lima Campus and on data published by the Dawes Arboretum at Newark Ohio.
Most wildflower illustrations used here were obtained from the Virtual Foliage Home Page at the University of Wisconsin Madison Campus. A booklet describing the wildflowers of the Tecumseh Natural Area is available here for download.
Click on the plant's common name to see a color photograph and short description.
Blue Phlox -- Phlox divaricata
Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)
In bloom April 15 - May 22. Light blue flowers with five non overlapping petals that are often notched. Individual plants are 6-20 inches tall and form colorful patches in the natural area. Leaves are opposite and lance shaped.
Blue Violet-- Viola sororia
Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)
In bloom April 10 - May 30. These plants have very pretty easy to see flowers with 5 petals that are purple or white with purple veins. One petal of the 5 has obvious veins and perhaps acts as a landing platform guiding bees to the nectar within. Leaves are heart shaped, toothed, and colored light green. They are at the very base of the plant, which is 3-12 inches tall.
Bloodroot-- Sanguinaria canadensis
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
In bloom March 27 - April 18. Plants about 2-8 inches tall. The single flower has white petals and a golden center of about 24 stamens. This flower is enfolded in a blue-green leaf. There is abundant red latex in the stem and root, which is the basis for this plant's common name. This latex was used by Algonquian Indians to dye clothing, baskets, and their own bodies. As body paint the latex also serves as an insect repellent.
Cutleaf Toothwort-- Dentaria laciniata
Cutleaf Toothwort (Dentara laciniata)
In bloom March 29 - April 29. This 4-15 inch tall plant is very common in the natural area and one of the earliest common blooms to be seen on the trails. White or pink flowers are clustered at the end of the slender stem. There are three leaves in a whorl, each leaf divided into 5 very narrow parts. The name "toothwort" refers to the ivory colored undergound stems with sharp tooth-like knobs on their surface. These underground stems are edible and have a peppery taste.
Dandelion-- Taraxacum officinale
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
In bloom April 3 - October 28, but mainly in the spring. This is found along the edge of wooded areas, in meadows, and along the edges of those trails that get some sun. It is perhaps the most widely recognized flower in the state. The "flower" is actually a cluster of many tiny yellow flowers, each of which forms a fluffy white parachute-like one seeded fruit. These fruits can stay airborne almost indefinately as long as the relative humidity is less than 70%. This species was introduced from Europe.
Dutchman's Breeches-- Dicentra cucullaria
Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
In bloom April 3 - May 5. Very similar to and once thought to be the same species as squirrel corn. The two big wihite petals are more spread apart than those of squirrel corn. The two big petals look like baggy trouser legs and the flower appears tipped with yellow.
False Solomon's Seal-- Smilacina racemosa
False Solomon's Seal (Smilacina racemosa)
In bloom April 29 - June 7. 1-3 feet long. When not in bloom or showing fruits this is hard to distinguish from "true" Solomon's Seal. This species has its flowers and berries clustered near the top rather than along its length as is the case with "true" Solomon's Seal. The leaves are oval and alternating with obvious parallel veins. Flowers are white and starlike in a dense cluster. Berries are red in late summer. This species grows in rich shady woods.
Fawn Lily-- Erythronium americanum
Fawn Lily (Erythronium americanum)
In bloom April 17 - April 30. These small herbs have mottled green leathery leaves, the basis of one of its common names and very characteristic of the species. The plant is also known as the Trout Lily or the Adders Tongue. In April and early May they seem to cover large parts of the natural area floor. By June they are almost all gone. The flowers are pointed down with upswept yellow or rarely white petals.
Harbinger of Spring-- Erigenia bulbosa
Harbinger of Spring (Erigenia bulbosa)
In bloom March 17 - April 21. As you walk the trails this is the first blooming herb you are likely to see in the early spring. It is a very small upright plant with 2-4 highly dissected leaves. Many tiny white flowers occur near the top of the plant. These flowers first appear before the leaves unfurl.
Jack-In-The-Pulpit-- Arisaema triphyullum
Jack-In-The-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
In bloom April 23 - June 6. This plant is very easy to remember. Its little flowers are on the surface of a single fleshy spike, or spadix, that is surrounded by a leafy green sheath which overtops the spadix. The spadix and sheath resemble the roofed pulpit sometimes found in European churches and cathedrals. On a separate stalk are three leaves.
Kidney Leaf Crowfoot-- Ranunculus abortivus
Kidney-Leaf Crowfoot (Ranunculus abortivus)
In bloom April 5 - May 15. The plant is about 1-2 feet long. Ranunculus is the buttercup genus. Like all buttercups, this species has flowers with 5 very shiny very yellow petals. It is one of the earliest plants to flower and fairly common along the trails. Upper leaves are divided into 3 segments, looking like a crow's foot. Basal leaves are more heart shaped and less obviously divided.
Large Leaved Waterleaf-- Hydrophyllum macrophyllum
Large-Leaved Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum macrophyllum)
In bloom May 14 - June 10. This is quite common in the natural area. It has the mottled light and dark green leaves characteristic of the genus, but differs from other species by having large divided leaves composed of 7-13 segments separated by deep indentations. The stems are covered with white hairs. The plant grows to about 1 foot tall.
Marsh Marigold-- Caltha palustrus
Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
In flower April 14 - April 30. Plant 6-30 inches tall. The shiny yellow flowers resemble those of buttercups because this genus is closely related to buttercups. Leaves are heart shaped and appear to sit horizontally on top of their petioles (stalks). This plant grows in low swampy places and is particularly abundant near the end of the short circular trail at the west end of the Galvin faculty parking lot.
Mayapple-- Podophyllem peltatum
Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
In bloom May 10 - May 22. These 6-20 inch tall plants have one or two large conspicuous umbrella shaped leaves which can be seen in groups long before the plant flowers. You never just see one mayapple plant. Thats because all the apparently individual plants in a group are connected by an extensive system of underground stems. Each group is in fact one single connected plant. Those upright stems that are not old enough to flower have only one leaf. Flowers are white with large petals. The yellow ripe fruits are edible and are in part the basis of the plant's common name. Immature fruits and all other plant parts including the seeds are poisonous. Mild teas have been used in the past as a laxative.
Mealy bellwort, or Merrybells-- Uvularia perfoliata
Mealy Bellwort, or Merrybells (Uvularia perfoliata)
In bloom April 15 - June 15. Stems are 8-20 inches tall and pass right through the base of each leaf, making this plant easy to identify even without flowers. The flowers point down and have 3 yellow sepals and 3 similar yellow petals.
Poison Ivy-- Toxicodendron radicans
Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
In bloom June 5 - July 10. "Leaves three, let it be," goes the old saying. Leaflets are grouped in three's and usually have a notch on one side of each leaflet. Both leaf color and shape are variable. Color can be glossy deep green in the spring and then lighter green in the summer. In the fall leaves can be bright red. This plant is very common in the natural area and touching any part can cause a rash. The plant often occurs as a vine 10's to 100's of feet long growing on tree trunks, or as a small shrub as small as a few inches tall growing on the forest floor. Leaves resemble those of the Box Elder (Acer negundo) tree. White clustered berries can remain on the plant all winter.
Purple Cress-- Cardamine douglassii
Purple Cress (Cardamine douglassii)
In bloom March 18 - April 30. This looks much like the Spring Cress, but its showy purple-white flowers appear several weeks earlier. Stems are only 4-10 inches high. As this species dies back the Spring Cress takes its place.
Rue Anemone-- Anemonella thalictroides
Rue Anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)
In bloom April 3 - May 26. A small plant 2-6 inches tall with delicate small three lobed leaves on a wiry black stem. Two or three flowers each with 5-10 white or light pink sepals (there are no petals).
Sessile Trillium-- Trillium sessile
Sessile Trillium (Trillium sessile)
In bloom April 15 - May 15. This plant is 4-8 inches tall with 3 mottled leaves and a single upward pointing flower in the center. The flower with its three red-purple or white petals appears to be without a stalk. In other words, the flower is sessile. The species is common along the trails.
Sharp Lobed Hepatica-- Hepatica acutiloba
Sharp Lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba)
In bloom March 26 - April 7. The three parted leathery leaves of this species grow very close to the ground. The brown-green color and shape somewhat resemble the lobes of a liver. Flowers open before leaves appear and are white or pink, often growing up from a layer of last year's dead hepatica leaves.
Skunk Cabbage-- Symplocarpus foetidus
Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)
In bloom March 1 - April 7. This large leaf perennial herb is by far the earliest flowering plant on campus. It flowers so early that most observers miss the blossems. The leaves appear after flowering and resemble cabbage leaves. Early summer leafy plants are 6-30 inches tall. In the late winter the heat generated by the floral sheath is so intense that it can melt a circle in the snow. The foul odor of these flowers attracts early season flys and gnats and is the basis of the common name. The leafy plant has no odor, but most folks think it looks ugly. It is found in low places in the natural area as well as in meadows and in my yard.
Solomon's Seal-- Polygonatum biflorum
Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)
In bloom May 10 - July 4. Slender curving stems 1-2 feet tall with oval parallel veined leaves. Bell shaped greenish white flowers hang in clusters among the leaves. The common name of this plant may be based on its presumed medicinal uses. Root extracts are supposed to speed healing (sealing) of wounds and bruses.
Spring Beauty-- Claytonia virginica
Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)
In bloom March 26 - May 22. This small (2-10 inch tall) delicate plant sometimes grows in great clusters in the natural area. It can be recognized by its two leaves at the base of the stem and its beautiful white or light pink flowers with 5 petals. Usually there are pink veins that are darker than the rest of the petal. This is one of the prettiest flowers to be seen in the spring along the trails.
Spring Cress-- Cardamine bulbosa
Spring Cress (Cardamine bulbosa)
In bloom May 11 - June 20. This is the last of the prominant natural area spring herbs to stay in bloom. It is very common along the trail edges. Its white flowers are clustered at the top of slender stems that reach over 20 inches tall in June. A cluster of oval leaves is near the base and alternate lance shaped leaves occur farther up the stem. Young leaves of this genus are sharply flavored and useful in green salads. Mature leaves may be too bitter to eat. Grated roots mixed with vinegar make a good substitute for horseradish.
Squirrel corn-- Dicentra canadensis
Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis)
In bloom April 16 - April 29. The two white flower petals form a heart shaped flower and are not spread as far apart as they are in dutchman's breeches. This species, much more so than dutchman's breeches, has a somewhat bitter tasting yellow swelling called a corm at the base of the stem about the size and color of a corn kernal. You can sometimes see this corm without digging up the plant, though usually it is beneath the soil.
Strawberry-- Fragaria virginiana
Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)
In bloom April 28 - June 17. Three leaflets in each compound leaf and pretty white flowers with 5 petals and 5 sepals characterize this plant. It is the same as the cultivated strawberry and makes delicious fruits. You won't see it on the natural area trails, but it does grow along the edge of wooded areas and in campus meadows.
Virginia Creeper-- Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
In bloom June 15 - August 10. This viney plant often is found climbing tree bark or growing across the ground. It superficially resembles poison ivy and in the winter it is almost impossible to distinguish between vines of the two species on tree trunks. Leaves of poison ivy and virginia creeper are easily distinguished, however. Virginia creeper leaves are divided into 5 leaflets. The dark blue grape-like fruits are poisonous to humans but not to most other forms of wildlife. The plant is often seen growing as a vine or single upright short stem on the forest floor or as a long vine on tree trunks. For a few people, touching the plant will cause a poison ivy-like rash.
Wild Geranium, or Cranebill-- Geranium maculatum
Wild Geranium, or Cranebill (Geranium maculatum)
In bloom May 9 - May 22. This 1-3 foot tall upright plant has hairy 5 parted deeply lobed leaves. The flowers are purple-red and very pretty wityh 5 big petals. The name Cranebill comes from its beak like seed pods which disperse their seeds violently when they dry out. The well known house plant/garden geranium is a separate but closely related genus.