Spring Ephemerals in Bloom

Trout Lily

After leaving Deb on Sunday I decided to stop by Monaghan Forest to see if any Trilliums were in bloom yet. This is a good spot for spring ephemerals; last year I had found the forest floor covered in Trilliums, Forget-me-nots, violets, and even some Toothwort during a visit in mid-May. I was a few weeks early this year, and found the Trilliums just beginning to open. Only a few were in full flower, but there were plenty of Coltsfoot and Trout Lilies in bloom, two species that had already finished blossoming by the time of my mid-May visit last year. I was also hoping to find some Bloodroot, a native flower I had found here once before, but wasn’t able to spot any.

The wind wasn’t too strong in the woods, and it actually felt quite warm in the sunshine. As soon as I arrived I noticed a couple of trilliums in bloom and stopped to photograph them. Trilliums grow in deciduous woodlands where some forest cover is present….they do not do well in areas of full sun as they require moist soil in which to grow. The provincial flower of Ontario, trilliums bloom in late April and early May here in Ottawa.

White Trillium

Picking trilliums is strongly discouraged as it impacts their ability to survive and reproduce. It can take a trillium plant about seven to ten years to produce its first flower, which means it also takes seven to ten years for it to produce its first seeds. Picking the flowers reduces the number of mature plants which are able to reproduce. Secondly, if the entire plant is plucked, including the leaves, the trillium is unable to store enough energy to enable it to survive until the following spring, causing it to die.

White Trillium

A couple of Red Admirals flew by me while I was photographing the flowers; when one landed close by I stopped to take its picture.

Red Admiral

I noticed a large patch of Coltsfoot growing at the intersection of two trails. A non-native plant originally from Europe, Coltsfoot is one of the earliest flowers to bloom in the spring. This member of the daisy family is one of the very few plants that produces flowers before its leaves appear. The flowers and leaves are reported to be carcinogenic as they contain potentially toxic substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Interestingly, in the language of flowers Coltsfoot means “justice shall be done to you” or “justice shall be done”.


These flowers appeared to be insect-magnets, for I saw several flies feeding on the pollen including several hover flies and one bee fly.

Hover Fly on Coltsfoot

Bee Fly on Coltsfoot

Trout Lilies were also in bloom. These are one of my favourite spring ephemerals with their yellow and red trumpet-shaped flowers. Every year hundreds of plants send up leaves to carpet the forest floor, but only those that develop two leaves actually bloom. Like the trillium – with which it is often found in close proximity – the Trout Lily grows in deciduous woodlands which receive filtered light in the spring, is pollinated by ants, and may take up to seven years to develop into a mature plant after the seed is sown.

Trout Lily

Trout Lily close-up

I saw another butterfly glide by while I was walking in the woods, this one a Mourning Cloak. Again I waited until it landed and took a few photos. Mourning Cloaks do not rely on flowers as a food source as much as other butterflies, but instead obtain their nutrients from sap, decaying fruit, mud puddles and even animal droppings.

Mourning Cloak

There were few birds around to liven up the walk. The only migrant I heard was a single Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Still, it was a gorgeous place for a walk, and visiting Monaghan Forest is one of my new early-spring rituals.


4 thoughts on “Spring Ephemerals in Bloom

  1. Love the trout lily close-up!

    Speaking of wildflowers, I’ve been exploring the South March Conservation Forest lately (off Klondike & Second Line Rd.), and columbine is blooming all over! I remember you telling me that it was in fact possible to find this flower in Ottawa. I finally did.

  2. I also saw Mourning Cloaks yesterday at Monaghan – such a gentle contrast on a cold sunny day. They have spent the winter, fully formed in the fall, folded inside crevices in the tree trunks and are now emerging. It is interesting that the vast mud puddles of melted snow can be their dinner!

    • Hi Ruth!

      I saw my first Mourning Cloak yesterday, too! I can’t wait to check out Monaghan Forest and see the spring ephemerals and the insects that depend on them….butterflies, hover flies and more.


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