Early in April in southeastern Pennsylvania, many green shoots emerge from crunchy carpets of dead, fallen leaves on woodland floors and push toward the sunlight.

Those dead-leaf coverings sheltered the bulbs of those sprouts all winter. Now those bulbs are starting to grow green leaves and flower buds, and those buds on a variety of ground-hugging, small plants will soon open and reveal lovely, native woodland wildflowers under bare deciduous trees.

Some of those perennial flowering plants are bloodroots, spring beauties, trout lilies, Dutchman’s breeches, Virginia bluebells, and erect trilliums, all of which have pretty blossoms.

All those early-blooming woodland floor plants, except bluebells and trilliums, are small and simple. Those simple plants grow close to dead-leaf blankets to avoid cold winds in April and yet get warmth from direct sunlight as well as the fallen leaves that radiate the sun’s heat they absorbed.

Deciduous woodland floors are warmer in April than any other time of year. That’s because deciduous trees are still bare of foliage until the end of that month, allowing sunlight to shine directly on woodland floors, warming the bulbs and sprouts so they grow quickly.

Each bloodroot plant has a single white flower and one scalloped leaf that curves halfway around the bloom. The beautiful blossom on each bloodroot at first resembles a tiny white tulip. But when the flower fully opens, it looks like a daisy.

Bloodroot gets its name from the red-orange sap in its root. Native Americans in this area used that sap as a dye on clothing and pottery.

Each spring beauty plant has two or three grass-like leaves and a few small, pink flowers. Patches of pretty spring beauty blooms create lovely wild gardens of themselves in the woods. American Indians boiled the little bulbs of this attractive plant and ate them.

Each trout lily plant has two speckled-green and maroon leaves and a single yellow blossom. Many of these flat plants growing in patches of themselves in moist, bottomland woods cause striking spectacles of beauty.

Dutchman’s breeches are an unusual kind of small plant that grows in clumps on woodland floors. Each plant of this species has delicate, fernlike leaves and a row of small, white flowers on a stem arching over those leaves. Each bloom resembles pantaloons on a wash line or molar teeth complete with two “roots” pointing upward.

The lush foliage on Virginia bluebells is large for this grouping of wildflowers. And bluebells grow clusters of pink buds that grow and open to be beautiful blue blossoms.

Every erect trillium plant has three leaves, three sepals that protected the white flowers until they opened, and three petals on each bloom. Bluebells and trilliums both bloom at the same time and often in the same places, creating attractive bouquets of wildflowers that seem to reflect the blue sky with puffy white clouds.

Look for these wildflowers and others when walking in local woods this spring or succeeding ones. These blossoms help make outings more enjoyable.


Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.

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