The Secret Life of the First Spring Wildflowers

Jack-in-the-Pulpit Arisaema triphyllum, by Cheryl Hall, juried into the Mid-Southern Watercolorists Society 2021 Exhibition at the Hot Springs Convention Center, Hot Springs National Park, AR, March 5 through June 25.

Cheryl Hall's watercolor of Large-Flowered Bellwort.

Ephemeral Wildflowers, the first sign that winter is over.

"Inspiration for my art comes from nature and my love of wildflowers. In mid-February through mid-March after a long, cold winter, tiny shoots of green emerge through the leaves on the forest floor. These early emerging plants are known as spring ephemerals. Jack-in-the Pulpit is one of these plants. Ephemerals are short-lived, meaning that these plants need the sun to photosynthesize, grow to maturity, produce seed and return to the soil before the leaves emerge in the canopy. Finding one of these means winter is about over."

"Finding one of these very first wildflowers means winter is about over and spring will be here soon." Cheryl Hall Tweet
Left is Arisaema triphyllum, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, also called Indian Turnip. You will find this green flowering plant in moist wet woods. It gets its name from the structure of the flower. The spadix (jack) stands in the pulpit like structure of the spath, the green and brown streaked hood folds over the top of Preacher Jack. The leaves are in groups of three.
Trillium sessile, Toadshade. Flowers and plants are often the subject of Cheryl's watercolors. The trillium is one of the most familiar and beloved of the early spring woodland wildflowers. Aptly named, they are easy to identify with leaves, petals, and sepals all in groups of three. The maroon to purplish flowers have a musty fragrance.

Bella Vista, AR–nature's gem in the crown of the "natural state."

Most of these plants can be seen on Tanyard Creek Trail,  Blowing Springs Loop, the Back 40, the new Little Sugar Creek trail system, and a portion of the Razorback Greenway, a hard surface trail that runs from Bella Vista to Fayetteville, AR., all parts of the 100+ miles of engineered mountain bike and hiking trails in Bella Vista. The trail systems make the natural deciduous forest with its diverse plants and animals, springs, creeks,  waterfalls, bluffs, and seven lakes edges accessible.  All Bella Vista trails are multi-use except for Tanyard Creek, which is reserved for pedestrians. This extraordinary corner of the Ozarks is in the upper west corner of Arkansas, just south of the Missouri border.

A trail break can get restless kids out of the house, away from the screen, and burning a little energy. Nature’s classroom has much to teach. And as winter recedes and spring promises a warmer walk, these sketches, paintings, and photographs will guide you to spot the first wildflowers of the forest.

Field notes and sketches.​

Cheryl created her journal cover using an Eco Printing process, which creates prints of leaves, using the natural pigments, tannins and acids present in leaves, by combining them with mordants, moisture and heat on paper or fabric. The long version includes trained knowledge of plants, mordants and a good bit of science.

This is a meditative and interesting time to slow down and enjoy the subtle changes of a newly reborn deciduous forest and the life habit of perennial woodland wildflowers. They develop aerial parts, stems, leaves, and flowers early in the spring, quickly bloom, and produce seed.

Once the forest floor is deep in shade, which happens quickly as the forest moves into spring, the leaves often wither away leaving roots, rhizomes, and bulbs underground. The mosses are bright green and producing sporophytes, mushrooms are popping up, and the trees are budding.

Cheryl has photographed hundreds of plants, mushrooms, trees, leaves, flowers, and more. She is also a certified Master Naturalist and an accomplished artist. She is ready for the new insights the 2021 spring has to offer with camera, extra water, hiking boots, her faithful explorer companion Tanner, and her "field journal."

Out of 384 Master Naturalists in Northwest Arkansas,  50 of them live in Bella Vista. The Bella Vista community takes the natural world where they live and work and play seriously. They are eager to share it with you. Master Naturalists volunteer in various projects from invasive plant removal, providing education at City events, leading hikes, monitoring stream quality, and planting native gardens such as the one at the Buckingham Trail Head.

Taking the time to make field and sketches rather than relying on cell phone snapshots alone will help you see and remember the detail in the flower and how the colors relate to the foliage and surroundings

"The more I learn, the more I want to share with everyone how important our native plants, insects, and wildlife are. It's vitally important that we protect and promote our native species". Cheryl Hall Tweet
Yellow Trout Lily is named for the similarity between the leaf markings and those of the brown or brook trout.  
Erythronium albidum, White Trout Lily

Ephemerals open the spring-time show in the Ozarks.

For much of the year, the deciduous hardwood forest that blankets the hills and valleys of the Ozark Mountain Range in Arkansas are dense with 100's of species of low woodland plants, bushes, and small trees growing beneath the shade of a towering canopy of oaks, hickory trees, and shortleaf pines. The forest is full of bird song and the quick flicker of butterfly wings. Harder to spot when people are around are many species of reptile and mammal. The forest is threaded with springs, streams, and waterfalls cascading down rocky bluffs. Every season arrives in a new wash of color and light–and things to see.

For those few weeks, when winter is on its way out, the trees are still bare, and the early morning sun tempts you to pause in a sunny spot on a lichen-covered rock, you will find these very early flowers.

Cercis canadensis, Eastern Redbud tree. This photo was taken in Blowing Springs Park. The park was designed with nine easy looping trails, eight bridges, and 15 benches. It's a family friendly, beautiful, and interesting look at the Ozark forest, bluffs, caverns, springs–and if you look closely, wildflowers even at the tail end of winter
Sanguinaria canadensis, Blood Root.  The underground stem or rhizome is used for medicinal purposes in some cultures. The many names, including Indian Paint, Sweet Slumber, and others, that this plant is called probably refer to those uses.   Beyond the inappropriateness of digging up native plants in the forest, we do not recommend touching it. Blood root can cause an allergic reaction in some people similar to poison oak.
Dicentra cucullaria, Dutchman’s Breeches. One of the true spring ephemerals before the trees have leafed out and shade the forest floor. They must complete their entire above-ground life cycle within a few weeks when the temperatures are warm enough and sunlight sufficient enough for food production, reproduction and storage of carbohydrates for the next year’s growth.
This tiny flower is familiar because of the popularity of it's the much larger home garden varieties. It is commonly called dwarf crested iris, is a native, low-growing, rapidly spreading plant that typically grows to 3-6” tall. The white, pale blue, lilac or lavender blooms  are borne on very short stems, often appearing nearly stemless.
Asarum canadense, Wild Ginger
Enemion biternatum, False Rue Anenome

Tanyard Creek Trail is an easy walk for families with smaller children.

"Tanyard Creek is one of our favorite walks. Tanner is welcome on a leash and kids love the swinging bridge." Cheryl Hall Tweet
Tanyard Creek Waterfall. Photo by Cheryl Hall

Tanyard Creek Trail includes a number of different walking loops, most of which are pedestrian. Most are rated easy. All are family friendly.

There is a large parking lot located at the trail head as a well as a pavilion and restroom on site. The walk up to the waterfall is a must. There is a 15-foot waterfall and a stretch of fascinating rapids.  A suspension bridge adds to the adventure.  

This is Tanner.

Cheryl Hall is an artist, photographer, and Certified Master Naturalist living in Bella Vista, AR. Nature inspires her art. A passion for wildflowers is reflected in her art and her photography.

In her role as a a Master Naturalist and a resident of Bella Vista, she builds the gardens around her home with native plants. Throughout the growing season, she enjoys birds, butterflies, insects, and wildlife spending time in her gardens.

Cheryl is an outspoken guide for gardening with native plants, resisting removal of natural habitat such as fallen leaves, and limited outdoor night light in defense of natural life cycles of native fauna.

To learn more, Cheryl recommends Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy; and field guides: Ozark Wildflowers by Don Kurz and Missouri Wildflowers by Edgar Denison. She is excited to share a newly released book, Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines of Arkansas by Ogle, Witsell & Gentry