Early spring flowers break through the Illinois cold
Spring is coming — flowers are starting to bloom. What can you expect to see?
Saturday, February 25, 2012 - 14:53
VIOLET BLOSSOMS: Crocuses reach toward the sun, despite the cold weather and snow. (Photo: tejvanphotos/Flickr)
There are many plants that begin to sprout in early spring, and if you walk through an Illinois prairie or forest and look carefully, you can definitely see at least some of these. Some of them have noticeable flowers, and some of them do not, but they are all equally beautiful.
One of the most noticeable spring flowers is the crocus, which is pictured above. The crocus is a flowering plant originally from the Mediterranean, and it is a member of the iris family. It was also originally an alpine plant, which is why it can sprout during very early spring, even if there is snow. Because of that original environment, it is a very hardy plant, and its leaves are protected from frost by a waxy cuticle. There are also species of crocus that blossom in autumn, which would also require durability when it comes to cold, but those species are not native here. Crocuses can be seen both in the wild, as well as in gardens, because they are popular and showy spring flowers.
Another plant you may see during this season is the spring beauty, pictured above. Spring beauties are very small plants, and their flowers are usually about a centimeter long on average. They tend to grow together in large groups as ground cover, so this gives the appearance of a cloud of white and pink on the forest floor. The flowers themselves are very shortlived, growing only for about three days, so the plant is constantly producing new flowers. They are not usually grown in gardens unless you are specifically growing a wildflower garden, so you are most likely to see them while wandering through an Illinois forest preserve, or anywhere with a large amount of trees.
One last spring flower, a favorite of many Illinois residents, is called the Virginia bluebell. This flower is known for the clouds of brilliant blue that it creates in the forest when it grows together in groups. Bluebells are beautiful on their own, but they also attract butterflies, which makes the scene even more picturesque. Due to the shape of these flowers, bumblebees have trouble pollinating them because they are too big to sit inside without falling or needing to hover. Butterflies are better suited for pollinating bluebells because they have a very long proboscis that can reach into the center of the flower, and their legs are more equipped for hanging from flowers. So if you see a patch of bluebells, keep a look out for some of Illinois' native butterflies, such as sulfurs, painted ladies, azures and cabbage butterflies.
With the advent of spring, these flowers will soon be appearing. If you need a spot of beauty or a break from work, stroll through a wooded area or preserve. You never know what you might encounter.
Photos: wackybadger/Flickr, fitzgene/Flickr