These are the first signs of spring and although the blooming of tender flowers called spring ephemera may be brief, they provide essential nutrients for insects while reminding humans that warmer weather is ahead.
And now you can help locate those first blooms as part of a citizen science project, too.
The St. Charles Park District is bringing back its popular Spring Ephemerals project, inviting the public to help locate these first blooms of the season, found between March and May. Residents can help record flowers like the white trout lily and the bluebell of Virginia, using the free iNaturalist app.
These annual flowers sit on the forest floor, before the lush canopy of leaves fills overhead, limiting sunlight to the forest floor layer. Last year, the St. Charles Park District launched the program to document flower sightings. In addition to the iNaturalist project, an ephemeral promenade has been set up in Delnor Woods Park offering walkers signage to identify and locate the variety of species. The program has proven to be a fun way to collect data and people have enjoyed the added experience of chasing flowers on their walks, said Chris Gingrich, assistant superintendent of outdoor education.
This spring, the program is back and the park district has partnered with several local organizations to broaden the scope of participation. In addition to the St. Charles Park District, other places to search for spring mayflies will include locations maintained by Wild Ones of Greater Kane County, Forest Preserve District of Kane County, Geneva Park District, Batavia Wildflower Sanctuary, Trout Park Elgin, Campton Township Open Space, Dundee Township Open Space and The Conservation Foundation.
To enter, download the iNaturalist app to your phone and search for Kane County, IL: Spring 2022 Ephemerals. Through the app, participants can photograph and map sightings of these flowers such as bloodroot, snowdrops, and skunk cabbage anywhere in Kane County.
Although mayflies can be spotted in almost any wood in the region, one of the best places in St. Charles to spot spring mayflies is Delnor Woods, Gingrich said. This is why the park was chosen as a place for signage explaining what mayflies are and identifying various species when they bloom. Walking along the paved path, visitors were able to spy and learn about the plants.
Participants in last year’s iNaturalist projects recorded more than 300 sightings around the St. Charles area and showed that Bloodroot was the most observed species of spring mayfly in the St. Charles area, said Gingrich. He added that his favorite is the trout lily, which creates a carpet-like colony in undisturbed areas and can be found along trails in Delnor Woods.
“It’s cool from our perspective to see where the flowers live and thrive, and while chatting with walkers in Delnor Woods, people often ask to add a few to their own backyard” , Gingrich said. “The app and the walk are great ways to learn and provide a fun dataset on where these flowers grow in the area.”
Another popular flower is the Mayapple, the flower of which blooms under a large, broad leaf. See if you can find Dutchman’s breeches, named because the little white and pink flowers look like pants hanging upside down like they’re on a clothesline.
“Some of these plants will peak and pop through the snow, like eastern skunk cabbage, which produces heat that can melt snow and help it start early,” Gingrich said.
Some may find these flowers in their own backyards, Gingrich said. Other interesting places to visit in St. Charles include around Hickory Knolls and Persimmon Woods, which recently underwent restoration, Gingrich said. The project boundary for iNaturalist now includes all Kane County residents can submit sightings from parks, forest preserves and other county locations. Other program partners will also install signs in their own parks to help visitors learn about these spring wildflowers.
These flowers, which often appear only briefly in nature, are essential food sources for small insects and pollinators when they emerge in the spring. For those of us ready to shed our layers of winter clothing, they are a reminder that days filled with longer hours of sunshine and warmer temperatures are on the way.