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Celebrating the Spring Equinox - What are Spring Ephemerals? By Beth Johnson

Here in Southeastern Wisconsin, the change in seasons is a well-known phenomenon, a sign of a new chapter in the year, a signal for change. These changes are often the kind of changes where we expect new weather, more or less daylight, and new routine in our day-to-day life. Here at the Eco-Justice Center, we recognize the deep spiritual impact these days have on us as well. For this upcoming change in season, celebrating the Spring Equinox, on March 19, means celebrating rebirth and new growth - we will all begin to feel the energy of longer daylight hours after a much needed rest over the long, dark winter. 
We are not the only creatures called toward rebirth during this time of seasonal change. The natural world also feels this pull as plants awaken from their deep rest to bloom forth and provide vital energy sources within our wooded forests. These ground plants, referred to as ‘spring ephemerals,’ are an incredibly important first step as our natural world reawakens from the long, cold winter. Spring ephemerals serve as the first source of energy within ecosystems where life is few and far between - in fact, they help overwintering pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, get the energy they need to awaken through their production of nectar.
At Eco-J, we have a trail running through our property within our wooded areas. Although most spring ephemerals bloom closer to April, one may be able to recognize the early arrival of some spring ephemerals with a careful and patient eye. Here are some easily recognizable spring ephemerals you may be able to see on the Spring Equinox here in Southeastern Wisconsin:
  • Bloodroots (Sanguinaria australis)
  • Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)
  • American trout-lily (Erythronium americanum)
  • Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)
  • Wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia)
  • Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)
  • Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Celebrating the coming forth of spring ephemerals is one of the best ways to celebrate the Spring Equinox. The natural world gives us immense strength and understanding, and there will always be something deep within us that recognizes these qualities around us. Just as spring ephemerals bloom in a dark and quiet forest to herald this season of growth, we too can set intentions for ourselves and allow the renewed energy of spring to begin our own awakening and rebirth in the new year.

                                             Grape Hyacinth (source: Wisconsin Horticulture Extention)

Cutleaf toothwort, Cardamine concatenata, in habitat.                                                   Cutleaf Toothwort (source: Wisconsin Horticulture Extention)

Wild geranium combines well with many shade-loving ephemerals and perennials.                                   Wild Geranium (source: Wisconsin Horticulture Extention)