Wlidflowers and Magnolias for Mother’s Day

SUNDAY, MAY 11, 2014

After making it through an extraordinarily cold winter and waiting out a very slow spring, it was quite a treat to take a walk on a warm and sunny afternoon with spring ephemerals in full bloom.

We saw the following wildflowers in bloom: bloodroot, wild ginger, hepatica, rue anemone, blue cohosh, toothwort, crinkleroot, spring beauty, trilliums, wild geranium, Virginia bluebells, bellwort, trout lily…and apologies to any flowers I have forgotten. It is really peak season for the spring woodland wildflowers right exactly now.

We stopped to get a close look at the ground-level maroon flowers of wild ginger—one of my favorite blooms. Wild ginger, along with many other of our spring woodland wildflowers (e.g. Dutchman’s breeches, hepatica, bloodroot, twinleaf, trout lily, trilliums) rely on myrmecochory, which is the technical term for seed dispersal by ants. These plants have seeds that are covered with a structure called an elaiosome. You could think of this structure as a sort of “sugar coating” except that instead of sugars it’s more like proteins and fats. The elaiosome is a highly desirable snack, from an ant’s perspective. Ants will collect these seeds and take them back to their underground homes. When they have eaten off the elaiosome, they discard the seed—likely in the midden (trash) area of their living space. In other words, the ants plant the seed in a nutrient-rich location. This is an example of a mutualistic relationship; both organisms benefit.

In Longenecker gardens, the magnolias are in full bloom. The lilacs are just barely beginning to open a little flower here and there—but we found one plant that had enough buds open that we could get a good whiff of its perfume.

We noted two blooming purple-flowered groundcovers in Longenecker, both non-native. One, Periwinkle (Vinca minor) is considered a garden plant .The other, gill-over-the-ground (Glechoma hederacea) is considered a weed. Gill-over-the-ground is commonly known as “Creeping Charlie” but this term has a long history and comes from a derogatory military slang. The word “Charlie” was a WWII-era slang for Japanese soldiers and a Vietnam War-era slang for Vietcong soldiers. I am not sure about the etymology of gill-over-the-ground, but here’s hoping that it has a better story.

Happy exploring in this long-awaited spring.

Sara Christopherson, Arboretum Naturalist

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.