Spring Wildflowers Are Spectacular in the Bluff Corridor

April 6, 2019 clifftop CliffNotes

Driving along Bluff Road in early April, you surely notice a sea of blue covering the talus slope.  What is talus, you might ask?  Talus is a sloping mass of rocky fragments at the base of a cliff or bluff.  That sea of blue is Virginia bluebells.

Blue violet. Photo courtesy Susan Rick

As you walk the Johnson Trail at the Salt Lick Point Land and Water Reserve in Valmeyer, the talus slope to the east of the trail is alive with the colors of Spring—YELLOW Celandine poppies, buttercups and yellow violets; PURPLE Dwarf larkspur and blue violets; WHITE Dutchman’s breeches, Bloodroot and Harbinger of Spring; BROWN flowers of Wild ginger and Wake robin (aka trillium); and, of course the pale BLUE Virginia bluebells.

Celandine poppy. Photo courtesy Joann Fricke

The four petals of CELANDINE POPPY are bright yellow.  The flowers are arranged in clusters of one to four at the end of stems; each flower is up to two inches across and grows on hairy stems.  Celandine comes from the Greek khelidon, meaning swallow (the flowering of the plant being associated with the arrival of swallows).

Dwarf larkspur. Photo courtesy Tina Grossmann

DWARF LARKSPUR is a single stemmed, rather succulent plant, with fine downy hairs. The plant begins flowering at six to ten inches tall, but may reach 18 inches later in the bloom season.  The flowers are loosely clustered along the top of the stem.  Each deep purple flower is up to 1 ½ inches long with five showy sepals, one of which is developed into a spur, up to one inch long.  The plant has long been regarded as poisonous to horses and cattle.

Bloodroot. Photo courtesy Joann Fricke

BLOODROOT is a splashy, low-growing plant that produces a single flower, typically blooming for only one day.  The distinctive leaf may open with the flower, or shortly after, to a width of three inches with three to nine lobes.  The fragrant bloom unfurls to 1 ½ inches wide and usually has eight petals, four of which are slightly longer than the others.  Twenty-four bright yellow stamens adorn the center of each flower.  The large, fleshy root emits a red sap, as does the rest of the plant.  Native Americans and early settlers used Bloodroot as a dye for fabric.

Dutchman’s breeches. Photo courtesy Will Harbaugh

DUTCHMAN’S BREECHES are so named because the flowers resemble tiny pantaloons hanging upside down.  The gray-green fernlike leaves are some of the first to emerge in Spring.  Four to ten flowers can be observed on slender, often leaning stems up to ten inches long.

Wake robin. Photo courtesy Mark Kaempfe

WAKE ROBIN (trillium) has smooth, stout stems reaching up to ten inches tall, with a whorl of three leaves at the top.  The leaves are oval, rounded or pointed at the tip, smooth, without stalks and usually mottled on the surface.  A single stemless flower arises just above the leaves.  The three maroon to brown petals point upwards enclosing the six stamens.

Wild ginger. Photo courtesy Joann Fricke

WILD GINGER is a low-growing plant, up to six inches tall, with two leaves emerging on hairy stalks from the base.  The dark green heart-shaped leaves can be up to seven inches across when fully grown and are hairy and leathery with a shiny surface.  A single reddish brown flower emerges from the base of the leaves on a hairy stalk, making it unique in that most flowers appear on stems above the leaves.  The flower is bell-shaped, lacks petals, but has three pointed sepals that curve backward.

Virginia bluebells. Photo courtesy Joann Fricke

The pale, fleshy green stems of VIRGINIA BLUEBELLS grow to two feet tall, with alternate blue-green leaves along the stem.  The lower leaves are oval and up to six inches long, but taper in size toward the top of the stem.  The flowers are in loose clusters, hanging from smooth, slender stalks.  Each flower is trumpet-shaped, with five petals united to form a long tube.  The flower buds are initially pink, and usually open to a light blue.  White or pink flowers are observed occasionally.

CLIFFTOP, a local nonprofit organization, is focused on preserving and protecting area blufflands.

A version of this article appeared in the April 5, 2019 edition of the Monroe County Independent.

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