Ephemeral means brief.
Spring ephemerals, the jewels of the forest, are early-flowering perennial herbaceous plants that come up every year in early spring, complete flowering and set seed before the overhead forest canopy grows in to shut out sunlight. Their foliage dies to the ground by summer.
Mill Pond Garden at 31401 Melloy Court, Lewes, grows a collection of ephemeral species tucked into edges of the woodlands which can be viewed during an open garden day from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Sunday, April 18. The garden will also feature hundreds of azaleas and tulips in bloom. To subscribe free to the invitation list or purchase tickets, go to millpondgarden.com.
The ephemerals (soft tissue, non-woody plants) evolved to take advantage of the abundant sunlight and warmth close to the ground in deciduous tree forests, completing their appearance and cycle in a matter of about six weeks before the tree canopy closes over them.
Delaware’s forests are blessed with many of these beauties including Virginia bluebells, blood root, trilliums, lady slipper orchids, jack-in-the-pulpit, columbine, marsh marigold, Dutchman’s breeches, squirrel corn, woodland phlox, dog tooth violets, May apple and others. More spring ephemerals are native to northern Delaware’s piedmont than to southern Delaware. The Cape Region has some areas with abundant lady slippers and May apples.
A wonderful adventure with and for children is to take a camera to hunt and photograph these plants in some of the local parks and forests. Exploring and searching for these gems is half the fun and finding them is a delight for the eyes. Be sure not to disturb any of these plants nor pick their flowers, as they are increasingly endangered and take a long time to reach maturity.
Delaware Botanic Gardens has some ephemeral plantings, especially of marsh marigolds. One of the best collections of ephemerals is displayed in the last week of April and first week of May at Mount Cuba, a botanical garden in Hockessin in northern Delaware, just a day trip away. Both venues require appointments. Ephemerals can be found in all the state parks. The search for ephemerals can be an addictive pastime, a great way to welcome and realize spring is here.
Spring ephemeral plants can be purchased potted at the better local nurseries, or sometimes in small dry dormant root packets at the box stores offering plants for sale like Walmart and Lowe’s. Peppers Greenhouses carries some ephemerals. These plants make a nice addition to a home deciduous-tree shady garden.