The earliest ephemerals are out and blooming a few hundred miles away, in South Carolina, but it’ll be a few more weeks before they start blooming here in the mid-Atlantic. Here’s a sneak preview of what’s to come, presented more or less in the order in which they bloom. All of these should be blooming by the end of March at the latest.

Erigenia bulbosa (harbinger-of-spring, pepper and salt; Apiaceae)

One of the first up, sometimes as early as late February. Look for it in moist woods but you have to be eagle-eyed to spot it (note the dime sitting there for scale). Just as I was finishing this post, a friend reported seeing harbinger blooming here in the Maryland Piedmont today!

Anemone americana (round-lobe hepatica; Ranunculaceae)

A hibernal plant; the leaves usually wither away by the time the flowers bloom, or soon after. If you see the leaves now, note the location and check back in a few weeks for the flowers.



Lindera benzoin (spicebush; Lauraceae)

Don’t forget to look up once in awhile! This very common understory shrub is one of the first plants to bloom in our area.


Arabidopsis lyrata (lyre-leaved rockcress; Brassicaceae)

This plant has a long bloom period, often starting early in the season. Look for it growing right on large rocks, as the common name suggests. The sight of a mass of these delicate blossoms dancing in even the slightest breeze fills me with joy.

Cardamine concatenata (cut-leaf toothwort; Brassicaceae)

Such a dainty thing.




Corydalis flavula (short-spurred corydalis and many other common names; Papaveraceae)

Another petite flower, easy to miss. You have to get very close to see all the ornate details.


Micranthes virginiensis (early saxifrage; Saxifragaceae)

This fine specimen is one of the largest I’ve seen. I usually find them in rocky places.


Dicentra canadensis (squirrel corn; Papaveraceae)

The delicate, lacy, ferny foliage is almost identical to that of Dutchman’s breeches; you have to see the plants flowering to tell them apart with confidence.


Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman’s breeches; Papaveraceae)

From my limited observation, this species is usually waning when squirrel corn is just getting started. There’s a hillside on the Cabin John Trail that’s covered in these plants.

Next time, more teasers.

Not Quite Yet

A quick stroll around the Carderock area and Billy Goat B up to the Marsden Tract on March 9 showed that the flowers are only just starting. I saw a fair number of spring beauties (Claytonia virginica), a few cut-leaved toothworts (Cardamine concatenata), and one clump of Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) in bloom.

Harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa) looks like it’s at its peak, though. There are a few really solid stands of it near the river, but they are hard to find if you aren’t looking closely, since an entire plant is about the width of a nickel.


I was a bit surprised to find lyre-leaved rock cress (Arabidopsis lyrata) open already, though most plants had more buds than blossoms. Look for it growing right out of rocks near Carderock.

Variations on a Theme: Rockcresses

The taxonomists are at it again.  Most of the guide books still classify the rock cresses in the genus Arabis, but recently most New World species have been moved to either Boechera or Arabidopsis.



lyre-leaved rockcress, aka sandcress (Arabidopsis lyrata, formerly Arabis lyrata)




Lyre-leaved rockcress is a mostly northern species, found across Canada and the northeastern US, with small, isolated populations found further to the south. It’s endangered in Massachusetts, and threatened in Ohio and Vermont

Needing very little soil, it doesn’t tolerate competition from other plants, but will grow happily by itself right out of rocks.





smooth rockcress (Boechera laevigata, formerly Arabis laevigata)




Smooth rockcress seems to enjoy a little more soil than lyre-leaved; it can be found in rocky woods and ledges, but seldom growing right out of the rock.  It ranges from Quebec south to Georgia, and west into some of the Great Plains states, and is threatened in Maine and Massachusetts.


The rockcresses are in the Brassicaceae (mustard family).

(By the way, the current banner photo on this page shows lyre-leaved rockcress. I love plants that grow out of rocks.)