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Spring has sprung, and André Michaux is coming to town!

2012 March 1

This trout lily was spied along Bolin Creek three weeks ago. Photo by Dave Otto

By Ken Moore
Flora columnist

Spring has sprung!

Three weeks ago local woods walker and photographer Dave Otto shared his image of trout lily, Erythronium umbilicatum, flowering down along Bolin Creek. Now trout lilies are carpeting forest floors everywhere. This is unusually early. That same week Dave found blue-flowered Hepatica americana, another early spring ephemeral.

This past weekend windflowers and spring beauties were also seen carpeting forest floors, and the painted buckeyes were already showing their flower buds tucked down inside emerging finger-like compound leaves. Those slowly emerging buds seem to be aware that frosty nights are not over.

Unlike the exotic flowering winter annuals like henbits and speedwells, covering yards since January and continuing for quite a while, these harbinger-of-spring native ephemerals will have flowered, set fruit and, in the case of the trout lily, be out of sight, dormant, in a couple of weeks.

They are called spring ephemerals because they emerge in chilly late winter to flower, fruit, disperse seed and return to dormancy in a fleetingly brief period, taking advantage of sunlight before deep shade from the leafy canopy returns the second week of April. So make haste to get outdoors now if you want to see them.

Harbinger-of-spring hepatica appeared three weeks ago along Bolin Creek. Photo by Dave Otto

So how does this relate to André Michaux? It just so happens that the renowned French botanist observed these same seasonal wonders more than 200 years ago, and our state is saturated with the heritage of his travels.

Sometimes accompanied by his son François André, Michaux made nine botanical explorations crisscrossing eastern North America from Canada to Florida and the Bahamas during the period of 1787-96. Much of that exploration included the Carolina wilderness; travel was treacherous and encounters with Native Americans and Europeans alike were sometimes nearly fatal.

Officially searching the new world for worthy trees and plants to replenish the devastated forests of France, Michaux established two centers of operation with gardens and nurseries in New Jersey and Charleston for propagating and cultivating American plants to be sent for testing and cultivation in France.

This beautifully illustrated sassafras from Michaux's The North American Sylva is accompanied with detailed description of its natural distribution, medicinal and culinary merits and recommendations for cultivation. Photo of original source by Ken Moore

His botanical collections and notes are legendary. He is credited with observing and identifying 26 genera and 283 species of plants native to the Carolinas.

Wildflowers, like mountain spring beauty Claytonia carolinina, were named by him, and our official state wildflower, the Carolina lily, Lilium michauxii, is one of many plants named in honor of him.

Various editions of Michaux’s The North American Sylva, describing 156 species of native trees, illustrated by paintings of the team of Pierre J. Redoute, his brother Henri-Joseph and colleague Pancrae Bessa, are botanical treasures in rare book collections.

André Michaux will be visiting our region next week!

Michaux is brought to life by Michaux scholar, retired librarian Charlie Williams, who, in original French garb and accent, will describe some of Michaux’s travels, ordeals and discoveries.

This special event at the N.C. Botanical Garden on March 7 at 7 p.m. is a fundraiser for the UNC Herbarium, a unit of the Botanical Garden. There is a modest fee and pre-registration is required (962-0522).

A special presentation before André’s arrival by Garden Director Peter White will describe early American botanists, including legendary William Bartram of Philadelphia.

Spring has sprung and André Michaux will be here to celebrate with us!

Email Ken Moore at Find previous Ken Moore Citizen columns at The Annotated Flora.

One Response
  1. Brian Stokes permalink
    March 8, 2012

    Wow, David! That is my so far all time favorite Hepatica shot! There but for the Grace of God go you!

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