Spring ephemerals appear before the canopy leafs out and the forest floor is still bathed in sunlight. These delicate plants use this brief window of light and relative warmth, aided by the activity of hearty insects like bumblebees to complete their above ground lives in a matter of weeks. By the time the canopy is in full leaf, their beauty is fading and they prepare for another year of dormancy below ground.
Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) is prolific in our woodlands. These plants grow in colonies that can be centuries old. A single plant will produce one leaf and no flower during the first seven years of its life. After that, two leaves and a flower are produced. The Iroquois used this plant as a contraceptive agent and a dermatological medicine.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) grows in small groupings throughout our area of the woodlands. Stunning, pristine white flowers precede the unusually shaped leaves. The name evokes the red color of the broken roots. Eastern Woodland tribes had many uses for this plant, including analgesic, digestive and gynecologic medicines, as well as dyes.
Red trillium (Trillium erectum) is prevalent in our woodlands along moist, well drained hillsides where streams and springs flow. These plants do not flower until their 13th year, so the triple leaves are a far more common sight than the blooms. The nodding flowers entice me down close to the ground to appreciate their beauty from a pollinating fly's vantage point. The scent is not sweet and in fact one of the plan't common names is Stinking Benjamin. The Cherokee used this plant to treat asthma, menstrual problems, and skin inflammations.
Information about American Indian plants uses comes from Daniel E. Moerman's Native American Ethnobotony. A searchable database of this material is available online through the University of Michigan, Deerborn at: http://herb.umd.umich.edu