Seasonal Marvels

Arkansas' wildflowers make their debut

Photography by Corbet Deary

Photography by Corbet Deary

I think it would be safe to say that we have been blessed with a mild winter. I’ll also be the first to agree that we’re not out of the woods yet. However, tiny wildflowers are already painting our yards, and crisp buds are sprouting from the trees. It’s happening right before our very eyes. We’re experiencing the onset of spring.

With this season comes a freshness in the air. It’s a time when a forest canopy is rejuvenated with crisp, green foliage. It’s also a time when white puffy clouds gingerly waltz across a deep blue sky.

Yes, the view above us will be magnificent. But there will also be an equally eye-catching scene awaiting at our feet. Wildflowers will be abundant in the weeks to come. And the early bloomers, some of which are my all-time favorites, have already begun their annual showing.

Wildflowers are no different from any other living organism in the sense that they thrive in specific conditions. And there are certain environments that are most likely to boast vibrant colors during the early spring.

As a result of photographing wildflowers for a number of years, I automatically gravitate toward stands of hardwoods taking root in damp and fertile soil. Of course, I have happened upon locations that prove extraordinarily bountiful on an annual basis. But nothing is more exciting than happening upon new locations every spring.

A plethora of plants will begin to bloom within the next several weeks. But there are a select few that display the most beautiful and intriguing blooms.

Those kicking through the hardwood forests during this time of the year should be aware that several species share the same needs. In fact, I look for the easier-to-find species, which suggest their less-obvious cousins might be near.HS on the Go "Early Bloomers" IMG_8114 copy

Not only are yellow dogtooth violets, AKA trout lilies, beautiful, but they are always a strong indicator of a bountiful location. Even when they are not in bloom, one can hardly misidentify this species’ leaves.

Protruding directly from the substrate, their oval leaves appear to have a waxy coating. Mottled with purplish brown, they show a slight resemblance to the color of a trout. Before opening, the flower brings to mind a subtle brown teardrop dangling from a fragile stem. But blossoming, they transform into a vibrant yellow bloom.

Although not as common as the aforementioned, white trout lilies also call Arkansas home. According to “Wildflowers of Arkansas,” an excellent field guide authored by the late Carl Hunter, this particular species is most common in the northern section of the state. In fact, it is suggested that it only grows in two counties (Polk and Monroe) of our neck of the woods. However, I happened upon an impressive stand last spring on the banks of Harris Brake Lake in Perry County.

I often find one of my all-time favorite wildflowers taking root among or in close proximity to dogtooth violets. Bloodroots also sport a very distinctive foliage. The rounded leaves have deeply cut lobes that curl around the plant’s stalk.

I consider it quite a treat to happen upon their blooms, as the flower lasts only a day. The flowers consist of eight and sometimes more snow white petals, and their vibrant yellow anthers produce a golden glow.

The flowers are usually about an inch in diameter. It is suggested that these plants reach as much as 10 inches in height. But it’s most common in the Ouachitas to see them standing only 3 to 4 inches from the ground. Bloodroots acquired their common name as a result of a bright red juice produced by their roots. American Indians used this substance as a dye back in the day.
Purple trilliums can also often be found gracing this same type of soil. Also sporting mottled, waxy leaves, these plants stand noticeably taller than dog-tooth violets. From a distance, their flowers appear the epitome of simplicity, as three large petals protrude from atop the plant.

HS on the Go "Early Bloomers" IMG_1379As April rolls around, I enter these woods with anticipation of locating what I consider Arkansas’ most impressive wild Orchid. Yellow Ladies-slippers also favor damp fertile soils resting beneath a hardwood canopy.

These beautiful plants produce a yellow waxy-looking flower resembling wooden Swedish shoes. These magnificent plants often grow in small colonies, but can also be found standing alone.

But a few of the impressive wildflowers taking root in early spring are mentioned above. Slip on your boots, knock the dust from your field guides and take a jaunt into the forests we call home. You are certainly apt to happen upon my favorite plants, but then again, you never know how may other wonders of nature you might see.

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