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Go Spring Ephemeral-Spotting

Spring rambles offer the perfect chance to find some of the Hudson Valley's elusive woodland wildflowers.

by Dalvin Aboagye
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The Valley may not host showy fields of tulips or bluebonnets. Yet for the hikers, painters, students, explorers, photographers and general observers among us, spring offers something compelling: a special crop of wildflowers that we can spot only for a limited window. 

In just a little over two months, spring ephemerals soak up all the nutrients and sun they can before most trees manage to grow back their leaves. These are plants whose entire life cycle begins and ends before summer starts. 

For such a short lifespan, the impact they leave is lasting. The white pairs of Dutchman’s breeches depend on bumble bee queens to spread their pollen while the queens feed their larvae nectar from it, ensuring the growth of the young bees later on. Eventually, these worker bees will go on to pollinate other plants, continuing the cycle. 

On the ground, ants harvest the seeds of other ephemerals like trillium or bloodroot. The ants feed the plants’ fatty deposits (known as elaiosomes) to their larvae before discarding the intact seeds elsewhere to sprout. Each spring, they fulfill their vital role in the ecosystem, and by the end of the season they disappear, primed to do it all again next year.

With their brief span but outsized role, spring ephemerals deserve as much attention as their perennial counterparts. Here are some of our favorites from around the region. Don’t pick these in parks, of course, and keep to trails to avoid trampling others — spring ephemerals are best appreciated with a zoom lens. Now get out and go wildflower-spotting!

Northern Spicebush

Northern spicebush. (Photo: Susan Hereth)

Known for the spicy scent emitted when its leaves or branches are crushed, the Northern spicebush manages to reach impressive heights of up to 12 feet when fully grown. As the seasons shift and summer winds on, the glistening green leaves turn bright yellow with the right amount of sun.

Dutchman’s Breeches

Dutchman’s breeches. (Photo: Susan Hereth)

Dutchman’s breeches’ fragile foliage makes the white flowers wilt fairly quickly after picking them up. Left in their place are the wispy compound leaves that make up most of the plant’s mass.

Red Trillium

Red trillium. (Photo: Susan Hereth)

The red trillium usually takes a few weeks to fully bloom, revealing berry-like fruits in the process. Despite their tiny size, these fruits are a staple in the diet of many birds and mammals that come across the flower.

Bloodroot

Bloodroot. (Photo: Susan Hereth)

The white petals and golden center make the bloodroot one of the brighter perennials you’ll see sprouting up in the next few months. Its namesake stems from the red liquid found within the underground stem. Indigenous people in the plant’s growth area used the liquid as a pigment for baskets, clothing and paints.

Wild Ginger

Wild ginger (Photo: Susan Hereth)

Once in full bloom, the wild ginger that’s found in the Northeast and parts of the South manages to retain it’s vibrancy throughout the Spring season. The dark reddish brown flower comes bundled with green leaves and is supported by a stock with a noticeable flavor.

Skunk Cabbage

Skunk cabbage. (Photo: Susan Hereth)

Skunk cabbage may not really be a “spring ephemeral,” as its leaves are out and green all season. But the striking purple flowers are certainly among the earliest to bloom and are a popular sign of spring. Skunk cabbage is right at home in the moist, swampier parts of the woods. As the months go by, the reddish-brown shell-like leaves start to give way, revealing an intermingled mass of green foliage. Its ability to produce heat (up to 59˚F) helps it thaw its way out of the ice and snow.

Blue Cohosh

Blue cohosh. (Photo: Susan Hereth)

The purple leaves of the blue cohosh are relatively easy to spot in the spring. Eventually, blue-berries develop in place of the flowers. 

More in this Series

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Centuries-old apple varieties that were almost pushed out by industrialization have started to get popular again in the Hudson Valley...
The poor, acidic, and shallow soil on top of the Shawangunk Ridge was never ideal for farming — but it...
With all the emphasis on native plants these days, you’d be forgiven for shaking your head when stumbling across a...
Like many, Millbrook resident Liselotte Vince earned her green thumb as a kid years ago, when beauty was the big...
A decade ago, Bryan Meador was an art student in New York City alienated by too much concrete. He felt...

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Our mission is to immerse you in the storied history, fresh happenings, and coming solutions for making the Hudson Valley greener and more livable long-term.

Viewfinder is published by Scenic Hudson, the celebrated nonprofit credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement in 1963. With over 25,000 passionate supporters, Scenic Hudson’s mission is to sustain and enhance the Hudson Valley’s inspirational beauty and health for generations to come. Viewfinder supports that mission, because the better people understand what makes this place special, the more they will invest in protecting it. 

Keep up with the latest stories by subscribing to Scenic Hudson’s monthly digital newsletter, and connect with us on social via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Threads.

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

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We’re always looking for ideas around our main topic areas of Climate Solutions, Land + Air + Water, Plants + Animals, History + Culture, Outdoors, and Community.
  • Journalists and writers who have deep familiarity with New York and the Hudson Valley, we’d love to have you contribute! Please do introduce yourself by email, sharing writing samples and any relevant pitches you may have.
  • Photographers and videographers, we’d love to hear from you and see what you do. Please send along a portfolio with images or footage that showcases your best and/or most relevant work, with an emphasis on anything captured outdoors. 
  • Illustrators, we commission artwork on the regular. Drop us a note with some of the beauty you’ve created.
  • Media Partners & Social Media Influencers, we welcome opportunities to team up on series and campaigns. Reach out with any background about yourselves and your ideas.
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  • We love to collaborate with media outlets, especially on episodic series (like these) of interest to our shared audiences. Past collaborations have included radio interviews, panel discussions and other events, original artwork, and e-blasts, all furthering the campaign’s excitement and reach. 
  • We also love to partner with other organizations whose missions align with Scenic Hudson’s. Feel free to reach out with some background on your group and its work.
  • Writers, photographers, and creatives, if you have an idea for a series or content campaign that might be a good fit, drop us a line!

Businesses, please note that as a nonprofit, Scenic Hudson is restricted from advertising or promoting for-profit companies, through Viewfinder or other outlets. While we understand content managers may wish to alert us to your company’s role in a relevant topic, we are unable to add links to businesses to our stories.

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