Harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa), aptly named, is one of our first native woodland spring wildflowers to bloom. This tiny member of the carrot family can sometimes be found peeking above last year’s dried tree leaves through the snow in February. I saw it blooming last Friday on the Butler campus.
Nick Harby with Purdue University’s Kriebel Herbarium snapped this photo about a year ago near the entrance to Butler’s Holcomb Gardens. Plants are blooming there now at the base of the giant beech tree about 30 feet past the entrance gate on the left, just off the road.
Some refer to the plant as salt-and-pepper due the blackish (more a dark purple it seemsto me) and white color pattern on the flowers. Leaves come later.
Early blooming plants have a strategy to get growing quickly in the spring. Last time I wrote about the winter annual called whitlow grass. It overwinters as a rosette of leaves that stay evergreen. It can quickly send up a flowering stalk with just a few winter days. Most early spring wildflowers have underground storage structures to provide energy to jump-start flowering without the need of current photosynthesis. They are just like crocuses, tulips, and daffodils in this regard.
Another early flowerer, skunk cabbage, actually gives off heat to melt snow to allow the flowers to get serviced by pollinators.