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Four Easy-to Spot Evergreen Wildflowers

Flower buds of liverleaf signal spring’s early emergence in the dead of winter. Photo by Ken Moore.By Ken Moore

I was not alone on the Adams Tract trails this past Saturday; numerous other folks, including moms and dads shepherding their lucky youngsters.

I was out trying to photo-capture four common evergreen wildflowers, specifically: liverwort, Anenome americana (formerly Hepatica americana); wild gingers, Hexastylis arifolia, or H. virginica or H. minor; spotted wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata; rattlesnake plantain, Goodyera pubescens. All of them have distinctive leather-textured leaves that most often sport mottled patterns on the leaf surface.

In the dead of winter, I like to anticipate the arrival of the flowers of these plants as the season progresses through spring into mid-summer. I’m accustomed to finding liverwort the very first to flower in early February. I’ve never before seen them the first week of January, so I was surprised to spot a plant with flower buds exposed, one almost fully opened. Every year there are surprises. Look for the three-lobed leaves on north-facing slopes and in the fertile bottoms of flood plains. If you are lucky, you’ll find some vigorous clumps of three to five leaves with as many bluish flowers open on sunny days in early February, this year perhaps earlier.

Three species of evergreen wild ginger, also called heartleaf, are easy to spot; H. virginica and H. minor have a characteristic round heart-shaped leaf and H. arifolia has an arrowhead-shaped leaf. The one that caught my attention had characteristics of all three, possibly an unusual hybrid, and I’m not hazarding an identification until I see the rubber-textured, urn-shaped flowers hiding beneath the leaf litter in mid-March and April. It’s pollinated by beetles and other insects moving about beneath the warm litter in the cold of early spring. You’ll find the wild gingers scattered throughout the forest floor because they can tolerate drier soils. Most often, you find just a leaf or two for each plant. I’m always happy when I find more vigorous three-to-five leaved clumps. Once in a while, you’ll luck upon clumps that can have 10 or more leaves.

The spotted wintergreen sports its several white-veined, dark-green leaves along a short upright stem. Its cluster of two to five white, open bell-shaped flowers appear in late spring and into the early summer, when most folks have stopped walking in the woods. It’s always a surprise and a treat to find a cluster of several spotted wintergreens in flower in the deciduous or pine forests.
The last of these four diminutive evergreens to flower is the rattlesnake plantain. Look for a small, white-veined leafy rosette hugging the ground scattered throughout piney woods and deciduous forests. You’ll have to be a summertime woods walker, however, to enjoy the spikes of little white orchid flowers (described in Flora last summer, volume II no. XXIII) reaching up four to eight inches from the center of that little rosette.

Now is the best time to find all four, whether in the Adams Tract or any of our other natural areas. Take The Citizen along to help you spot them, and then go back to catch them in flower as the seasons progress.

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