Spring Streamside Wildflowers

Guest Post by Jocie Brooks

Spring is finally here,” I think, letting the little ones run ahead of me down the path as I take in the fresh greenery and colourful wildflowers, while listening to a burst of melodious bird song. Today, we are heading out to find some of spring’s finest flowers, and the kids have volunteered as my spotters. We’re keeping a tally of the flowers we see, and making a few notes about the colours of the petals, shapes of the leaves, and general habitat.

Western Trillium (Trillium ovatum)
The showy Western Trillium (Trillium ovatum) is a delightful woodland flower.

The first flower we happen upon is the showy Western Trillium (Trillium ovatum). Trillium means “in threes” which is appropriate, since the trillium has three leaves and three petals. The broad green leaves, each with a drip-tip for our rainforest climate, are positioned about half way up the stem. The petals are white, but turn pink or purple with age. Peek into the flower’s center, and you will see the golden-yellow anthers laden with pollen. After flowering, trilliums produce berry-like capsules, and each seed has an oil-rich appendage that is loved by ants. In carrying the seeds back to their nests, ants effectively disperse the seeds. Trilliums grow in moist woodlands near streams. Since the blooms often coincide with the arrival Robins, trilliums are also known as “wake robins.”

Pink Fawn Lily (Erythronium revolutum)
Pink Fawn Lily (Erythronium revolutum) is often found along streams and river banks on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

The kids were squatting at the edge of the trail, going on about something pink, and I’d realized that they had spotted our next flower, the lovely Pink Fawn Lily (Erythronium revolutum). These spectacular flowers grow in abundance along riverside floodplains. The mottled leaves, dappled with green and white, are often visible before the flowers appear. When in bloom, the demurely nodding lilies may carpet the ground in a sea of pink. Though locally abundant on parts of Vancouver Island, pink fawn lilies are absent from most of the province, including the Lower Mainland. We are lucky to have these beauties all to ourselves!

White Fawn Lily (Erythronium oregonum)
Look for White Fawn Lily (Erythronium oregonum) in the same habitat as the Pink Fawn Lily.

The similar White Fawn Lily (Erythronium oregonum) is often found mixed with Pink Fawn Lilies, and may hybridize with them. But white fawn lilies, unlike pinks, may also be found in quite dry, open sites. American naturalist John Burroughs called these “fawn” lilies because the two leaves resemble the pricked ears of a fawn. The mottled leaves also suggest the patterning of a fawn.

Slender Toothwort (Cardamine nuttallii)
Often overlooked, Slender Toothwort (Cardamine nuttallii) has small white flowers with four petals.

The kids started to gallop ahead at this point, and I had to get them to double back to take a look at the Slender Toothwort (Cardamine nuttallii). I explained to Alden that the toothwort is a member of the mustard family, and that mustards always have a certain number of petals. Pointer-finger out, he counted the petals “one, two, three, FOUR!!” and we completed our preschool math session for the day. The leaves at the base are often rounded or heart-shaped, but further up the stem, they are divided into narrow segments. The white to pinkish flowers of slender toothwort are easily overlooked but they are very pretty, especially in large patches.

Stream Violet (Viola glabella)
Like the name suggests, Stream Violet (Viola glabella) is also found along streams and rivers.

Nearby, there was a low-lying patch of violets. “Lell-o flowers!” Clara exclaimed proudly. The Stream Violet (Viola glabella) is another one of my spring favourites. The heart shaped, dark green leaves are scalloped with teeth, and taper to a point at the tips. Look at the lower petal to see delicate purple lines, which are designed as nectar guides for bees and other insects, which will inadvertently spread pollen to neighbouring plants. Stream violets produce seed-filled capsules, that, when conditions are right, explode and shoot the seed some distance away. Like most of the flowers mentioned here, these violets favour moist forests and streamsides.

Pacific Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa)
The delicate pink locket-like flowers of Pacific Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa) dangle over lacey leaves.

It was my turn this time, and I found nice patch of Pacific Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa). This plant forms attractive clumps of delicate fern-like leaves that are blue-green. The leaves arise from a fleshy rhizome, or underground stem. The pinkish-purple flowers are heart-shaped and resemble little lockets. The Latin name “Dicentra” means two-spurred, in reference to two spurs on the outer petals. “Formosa” means “handsome” or “well-formed.” Bleeding heart produces pod-like capsules that contain black, shiny seeds. Like the trilliums, an oil-rich appendage on the seed is particularly attractive to ants, which are necessary for seed dispersal. Several varieties of bleeding heart are used as garden plants, but the native Pacific bleeding heart is in my opinion the loveliest of these.

Plants of Coastal British Columbia (Pojar and Mackinnon) is a user friendly and comprehensive guidebook to the plants of our area. If you only wish to have a guide for flowering plants, Coastal Beauty (Neil Jennings) is also a good choice.