Our 20 miles of trail in Lawrence and Hopewell Townships offer an abundance of eye-catching flora, and we want to help our friends identify them. Welcome to What’s Blooming on the LHT, an ongoing series of “field guides” to Mercer County plants.
Spring has sprung on the LHT which means the first and second waves of ephemeral blooms are poking out among budding trees and across greening fields. How many of these wildflowers can you spot while you’re out and about?
Photo by John Marshall
Lesser Celandine or Pilewort (Ficaria verna), is a non-native nuisance plant brought to North America as an ornamental from Europe and North Africa. It can easily be confused with Marsh-Marigold or Kingcup (Caltha palustris), which is endemic to New Jersey. Both plants are among the first spring bloomers with striking, symmetrical yellow flowers and glossy foliage. They tend to be low-growing and prefer seasonally damp soil in and around wetlands. Lesser Celendine (or Pilewort), pictured, features more oblong petals and almost heart-shaped leaves. Beware, the plant can be poisonous.
The charming Virginia Springbeauty (Claytonia virginica) is a native perennial flower used by Native Americans both medicinally and for food – its tuber-like roots can be cooked like potatoes. Its flowers are simple: White and often veined with pink striping; and they appear in abundance in early spring in wooded areas and sprinkled on shaded lawns. Low and trailing, with grass-like leaves, the plants produce tiny black seeds often dispersed by ants. Shortly after going to seed the plants disappear from the ground before emerging again early the following spring.
The Common Meadow Violet is New Jersey’s state flower and one of many varieties of viola or violet common along the LHT. In fact, there are 33 species native to the eastern seaboard from North Carolina to New York, and many are among the first small flowers you’ll see appearing in the woodlands and meadows in early spring. Low-growing, violets are mostly perennial; and most varieties produce single five-petal flowers on slender, leafless stems atop semi-jagged heart-shaped leaves. In addition to the Common Meadow Violet, look for the Common Blue Violet, the Field Violet, the Downy Yellow Violet, and any number of hybridized variations. Prolific, violets can produce by seed, self-pollination, or by branching rhizome. And, yes, these charming flowers are closely related to the pansies you see at garden centers in spring and fall.
Speaking of violets, the Trout Lily (Erythronium Americanum) is also known as the Yellow Dogtooth Violet. It’s a diminutive ephemeral flower that thrives in fertile, wooded areas early in spring before overhead leaves block the sunlight. The plant is a native perennial common across the eastern half of North America. The plants grow in clusters or colonies — some of these colonies date back 300 years — and spread via bulb or seed. The “trout” in this plant’s common name refers to the mottled ovoid leaves spotted green, brown, and grey which resemble brook trout. It can take seven years for these small plants to flower, but the blooms they do produce are yellow and lily-like, with six petals (three are actually sepals). Interestingly, the flowers close up at night and reopen each morning until fading.