There is a Flower, the Lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain;
And, the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun himself, 'tis out again!
-Excerpt from Lesser Celandine by William Wordsworth
The yellow flower in William Wordsworth's poem symbolizes the aging process in humans to many, and while I agree with this interpretation, the subject of the Lesser Celandine represents exactly the type of system that I am so deeply intertwined with-- the spring ephemeral community. Beginning in late February the weather in North Carolina stayed consistently warm, cueing emergence of the forest understory... and the start of our field season.
Each day during the spring season, we head to our field sites in the Duke Forest and record what species are flowering and who their pollinators are. In addition to observational data, we manipulated density of two species, Erythronium umbilicatum (trout lily) and Claytonia virginica (spring beauty). At the end of the flowering season, we are going to record the fruit number and end of season size of these plants. This experiment will allow us to understand if these two co-flowering plants compete for living (pollinators) and non-living resources (sunlights, water, soil nutrients).
Now that the end of March is approaching, we are gearing up to collect all of our demographic data on the trout lilies and spring beauties. There is a lot of work ahead of us, but that doesn't mean that we haven't had time to learn about other species in the community. From butterflies to snakes to blue herons, we have had many visitors at work and the opportunity to see how these species play important roles in the ecosystem.
With only a few weeks left of the field season, many of the flowers in the spring ephemeral system have taken on the withered form of Wordsworth's Lesser Celandine. Although the brief spring season brings at times harsh weather conditions, it nonetheless provides favorable growing conditions for the forest understory plants. Although it is goodbye to the beautiful floral display for now, we will see them next spring in all of their "fair and shining youth."