Spring Wildflowers at Allerton

This is one of my favorite times of year. All the vegetation begins to slowly emerge from the long, cold, unsympathetic winter. But, before trees begin to leaf-out Allerton’s natural areas are provided a welcome splash of color. In spring, the woods of Allerton Park are carpeted with more than three dozen kinds of wildflowers in hues of pink, blue, white, yellow, and lavender. These plants take advantage of the sunlight that reaches the forest floor before the trees completely leaf out. Most wildflowers have underground bulbs or other enlarged structures that store nutrients to survive the winter and allow the plants to quickly leaf out and flower in the spring. Flowering is brief. And once the plant has fruited it will often disappear without a trace until the following spring. The flowering season is fairly long with flowers blooming from early April through June. The peak is usually in early May. Garlic mustard, a native of Europe, has invaded many areas in the park and could be crowding out native wildflowers. The first two species of wildflower to bloom in the park every year are snow trillium and hepatica. These two flowers are mostly restricted to north facing ridges and ravines along the Sangamon River. Snow trillium are low growing perennials about 5-15 cm tall. Each individual has a single, 3-petaled, white flower. Snow trillium bloom so early that in some years you may see their blooms poking through melting snow. A close associate of snow trillium are hepatica. These flowers are also small in stature and range in color from white to pink having a leafless flowering stalk. Blue-eyed Mary is not an especially common wildflower in Illinois but Allerton Park is an exception with this delightful plant occurring by the thousands, along trails near the Sun Singer. Unlike most wildflowers, which are long-lived perennials, blue-eyed Mary is an annual, growing from seed each year. Its upper white petals form a “flag” to attract bees. In April and the first part of May, Virginia bluebells are one of the most abundant and spectacular wildflowers at Allerton. The pink flower buds change to porcelain blue as the flower opens to its characteristic fluted-trumpet shape. The loose flower clusters dangle gracefully above the smooth, dull leaves. The plants grow and flower quickly. By July, they have disappeared. Resembling a preacher in a pulpit, the flowering stem of the jack-in-the-pulpit is certain to catch your eye. The clubshaped spadix, the “jack,” is surrounded by a green or brown-striped leaflike spathe that forms canopylike “pulpit.” The true flowers are tiny and found at the base of the jack. These stately plants are usually 1 to 2 feet tall and have one or two glossy green leaves divided into three segments. Allerton is home to roughly 30 species of spring wildflower blooming from Mid-march through May. Be sure to stop by and see them all. – John Griesbaum Natural Areas Manager

April 18th, 2013 by Allerton | Posted in Rediscover Allerton