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Ephemeral refers to something that is temporary, short-lived, or lasts for a brief period of time. Ephemeral water bodies, for example, may appear after a snow melt or after a rain. Every spring at Astico, there is a wetland that appears after the snow melts that disappears by summer. This area is important to various frog species, which I’ll discuss in a future post. Spring ephemerals are fickle beasts. They are the wildflowers that are often the first to bloom in the spring, but they may also bloom only for a few weeks. Some flowers, such as bloodroot, are extremely short-lived and last for a day or two. Therefore, observing spring ephemerals requires some amount of diligence.

Two Girl Scout troops joined me for a walk so they could earn their hiking badge. The primary purpose of the hike was to teach them hiking safety skills. Thankfully, some of the greater risks a person might encounter at Astico, like ticks, poison ivy, or poison oak, weren’t a major concern due to the late spring, so I was able to talk about phenology and observation. I discussed some of the trees, wildflowers, and animals around them during a 1-1/2 hour hike that took us through the woods, around the river, and up a paved path. Despite the fact that I had been out roughly 30 hours earlier, I encountered wildflowers I had not seen the day before. One of these was the Sharp-Lobed Hepatica, a member of the buttercup family.

sharp-lobed hepatica2

I wouldn’t have noticed the Sharp-Lobed Hepatica before it started blooming, as the flowers appear on long stalks before any new leaf growth. After digging around in the leaf litter, I was able to find some of last year’s leaves, red and withered. The leaves help to distinguish the Sharp-Lobed Hepatica from the Round-Lobed Hepatica which has, as one would assume, round instead of pointed basal leaves and more rounded bracts.

The Sharp-Lobed Hepatica has small flowers (up to 1″) with anywhere from 5 to 12 sepals that are white, pink, or bluish-purple in color. Six is a common number, although some of the flowers I found had seven or eight sepals. There are three green bracts beneath the sepals where one may expect to find a calyx. Stamens are numerous and white in color. The flower appears on a scape, or a leafless stem, which has some fine hairs. The Sharp-Lobed Hepatica is commonly found in deciduous woodlands. Hepatica colonies may bloom for just a few short weeks, with individual flowers lasting for a much shorter time.  Additional research from Go Botany (https://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/species/anemone/acutiloba/) suggests that the Chippewa used the roots of the plant as a charm for mammal traps, and the Iroquois used the plant to relieve shortness of breath in forest runners.

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My first official event as the Dodge County Parks naturalist is Saturday, where I will assist with the tours of Nitschke Mounds for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin field trip, which is followed by a tour for the Friends of Dodge County Parks. I was asked to provide some information on native flora, but from what I heard, there still isn’t much up in that area (not that Astico is faring much better). At any rate, I should have some interesting information about the mound builders to share.

 

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