Norway Valley Spring Ephemeral Wildflowers

While Saint Olaf may appear to be a small college, it is actually quite large. In addition to the 300-acre residential campus, Saint Olaf owns nearly 700 acres of land adjacent to the residential campus. Though most of this land is rented to local farmers, a generous portion of it is restored natural lands enjoyed by the college. Norway Valley is the oldest part of the existing woodland area on campus comprising roughly 15 acres of Saint Olaf’s natural land. This area is characteristic of the Big Woods habitat of pre-settlement Minnesota and home to hardwood trees, diverse animal and insect species, as well as many native wildflowers.

A wildflower is considered to be any wild plant that produces a flower. This definition includes the more exotic species as well as what some might consider weeds. Wildflowers may be found anywhere, both in and out of wooded areas like Norway Valley. They appear and are maintained independent of human assistance. Often, these flowers exhibit individual adaptations that afford the plant the best chance of survival in the wild. In this way, wildflowers distinguish themselves from cultivated plants which rely on human intervention for survival.

Many of the wildflowers identified in this guide are spring ephemerals. Ephemeral means short-lived, which describes the life-cycle of this form of wildflower. Spring ephemerals appear from the ground at the first signs of spring when the ground has only just thawed and the weather has become warm. Early appearance ensures the plants maximal use of sunlight before the upper canopy closes as the trees begin to bud. The flowers quickly attract early spring pollinators or possess other means of fertilization. The blossoms will only last for a few weeks. Before the foliage on the above trees becomes too dense blocking sunlight from penetrating the forest floor, ephemerals will have produced seeds and begun to disappear.

This field guide celebrates the many different wildflowers and spring ephemerals that adorn Norway Valley and the surrounding natural lands of Saint Olaf College. Beyond acting as an identification reference, the guide describes the natural history of each species including name etymology, pollination techniques, medicinal, and other uses. Each species is also described pictorially and its location within Norway Valley is identified on an accompanying map.

This guide is meant to encourage exploration within Norway Valley and the surrounding natural lands. The spring wildflowers are only one part of the abundance of natural diversity existing on this campus, waiting to be uncovered.

[Credits: This Ephemeral Wildflowers section of the Natural Lands website was constructed by Katy Meyers (2007 Biology major) as an independent study conducted under Dr. John Giannini. All photos were taken on St. Olaf campus.]

Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora)

Family: Lily (Liliaceae)
Height: To 20” (50 cm)
Flowering: April – June
Habitat: Wet, Shady, Wooded Areas
Cycle: Perennial
Comments: Do Not Pick

Flower Description: Lemon yellow, bell-shaped flowers that droop in coils. Petals (6) appear to be wilted or dehydrated. Usually 1-3 flowers per stem.

Fruit: Several-seeded, three-angled (triangular) capsule (to 0.5” long).

Leaf Description: Bright green, lance-shaped leaves that are long (1-3”) and droop downward. Underside of leaves can be hairy.

Common Names: Merrybells, Strawbells, Wild Oats, Mohawk Weed, Straw Lily, Yellow Bellwort

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Family: Poppy (Papaveraceae)
Height: To 10” (25 cm)
Flowering: March – May
Habitat: Deciduous Woodlands, Along Streams or Shady Borders
Cycle: Perennial
Toxicity: Do Not Ingest Without Medical Supervision

Flower Description: Large, single white flower, 7-12 broad petals (1.5”), golden orange center. Delicate and ephemeral.

Fruit: Pod-like capsule; brown seeds.

Leaf Description: Large (4-7”), dark green, lobed leaf (5-9 lobes), on pinkish stalk.

Common Names: Coon Root, Puccoon, Red Root, Snakebite, Tetterwort, Indian Paint, Red Puccoon, Sandwort, Sweet Slumber, Tumeric

Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides)

Family: Barberry (Berberidaceae)
Height: To 3’ (90 cm)
Flowering: April – June
Habitat: Shady, Moist, Deciduous Woods
Cycle: Perennial
Toxicity: Leaves and Seeds are Poisonous

Flower Description: Small, round cluster (2” wide) flowers. Flowers are round (0.5” wide). Petals (6) are oval coming to a pointed tip. Flowers range from yellow-green to purple-brown in color.

Fruit: Blue berries on a thick stalk (resembles common blueberries). Seeds are protected by fleshy coating.

Leaf Description: Each leaf (1-3” long) is dark green-blue with 3-5 pointed lobes.

Common Names: Blueberry Root, Blue Ginseng, Papoose Root, Seneca Root, Squawroot, Yellow Ginseng

Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)

Family: Mustard (Brassicaceae)
Height: To 10” (25 cm)
Flowering: April – May
Habitat: Shaded, Deciduous Woods
Cycle: Perennial

Flower Description: Three to fifteen white, pink pale lavender flowers (0.5”). Each flower has 4 petals.

Fruit: Upturned, narrow, pod-like capsule (1.5” long).

Leaf Description: Three-lobed, whorled leaves that are 2-5” wide with many coarse, deeply cleft teeth.

Common Names: Crinkle Roo, Cut-Leafed, Toothwort, Milkmaids, Pepper Roo, Pepper Wort, Purple Flowered, Toothwort, Spring Blossoms

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

Family: Fumitory (Fumariaceae)
Height: To 12” (30 cm)
Flowering: April – May
Habitat: Deciduous, Densely Wooded Areas
Cycle: Perennial
Toxicity: Caution Recommended

Flower Description: Many white waxy flowers consisting of 4 petals with 2 upward facing spurs. The tips of each flower are pinkish-yellow color.

Fruit: Tubular shaped pod that splits down the side.

Leaf Description: Dark green fringed leaves attached to the stem below the blossoms. The leaves appear soft and feathery.

Common Names: Boys and Girls, Butterfly Banne, Colicweed, Eardrops, Flyflower, Monk’s Head, Soldier’s Cap, Staggerweed, White Hearts

Early Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dioicum)

Family: Buttercup (Ranunculaceae)
Height: To 3’ (90 cm)
Flowering: April – May
Habitat: Moist to Wet, Shady, Woods or Ravines
Cycle: Perennial

Flower Description: Greenish-white open clusters of hanging flowers 2-3” wide. Individual flowers composed of 4-5 petal-like sepals. Yellow stamens hang like chandeliers below flower.

Fruit: Egg-shaped, one-seeded, single ribbed pod (1/8” long).

Leaf Description: Bluish-green 0.5” long 3-toothed leaves that droop.

Common Names: Dioecious Meadow Rue, Quicksilver Weed

Jack-In-The-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

Family: Arum (Araceae)
Height: To 3’ (90 cm)
Flowering: April – June
Habitat: Moist, Shady, Deciduous Wooded Areas
Cycle: Perennial
Toxicity: Do Not Ingest

Flower Description: Light green 2-3” long spadix (club) that sits erect inside green spathe (leaf-hood) that has deep purple veins.

Fruit: Cluster of shiny red berries that form a cone shape.

Leaf Description: Dull green deeply veined leaf (male flowers have 1 leaf, female flowers have 2 leaves).

Common Names: Bog Onion, Brown Dragon, Cuckoo Plant, Devil’s Ear, Dragon’s Root, Indian Turnip, Marsh Turnip, Memory Root, Pepper Turnip, Priest’s Pintle, Starchwort, Wake Robin

Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum)

Family: Lily (Liliaceae)
Height: To 24” (60 cm)
Flowering: April – July
Habitat: Shaded, Wet, Deciduous Woods
Cycle: Perennial
Toxicity: Do Not Pick; Roots and Berries are Toxic

Flower Description: Single white flower (1-1.5” wide) comprised of 3 petals and 3 sepals. Flower hangs below leaves on 1-2” long curved stalk. Flowers have 6 stamens with pink anthers.

Fruit: Single reddish-purple, many-seeded berry.

Leaf Description: Three broad, whorled, wavy-edged toothless leaves that are diamond shaped with pointed tips.

Common Names: Bethroot, Birthroot, Much-Hunger, Toad Shade, Wake Robin

Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)

Family: Buttercup (Ranunculaceae)
Height: To 8” (20 cm)
Flowering: April – June
Habitat: Rich, Moist, Deciduous or Open Woods
Cycle: Perennial

Flower Description: Round white to light pink or lavender flowers (2-3) with 5-10 petal-like sepals (1” wide). Petals are absent. Numerous stamen and pistils.

Fruit: Seed-like, one-seeded.

Leaf Description: Five to eight basal and stem leaflets with 3 points (or teeth) that end in a rounded tip. Ovate leaves are roughly 1” long.

Common Names: Anemone, Starflower, Wild Potato, Windflower

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Family: Borage (Boraginaceae)
Height: To 24” (60 cm)
Flowering: March – June
Habitat: Moist, Shady Areas of Open Edges of Deciduous Woods or Floodplains
Cycle: Perennial

Flower Description: Groups of long, light blue or purple, trumpet-shaped flowers Flowers are 1” long with 5 petals that fuse into corolla.

Fruit: Four wrinkled-rounded nutlets (0.125” in diameter).

Leaf Description: Eight inch long bright blue-green basal leaves which are longer than the stem leaves (2-4”). Leaves are alternately attached, smooth, round, and toothless.

Common Names: Gentleman’s Breeches, Hokoh Bluebells, Lungwort, Lungwort Oysterleaf, Tree Lungwort, Virginia Cowslip

White Trout Lily (Erythronium albidum)

Family: Lily (Liliaceae)
Height: To 10” (25 cm)
Flowering: Agency
Habitat: Dry, Deciduous Woods
Cycle: Perennial

Flower Description: Single, white, star-shaped flower on a stalk. Each flower is 1” wide with a yellow center with 6 backward curving petals (3 petals and 3 petal-like sepals).

Fruit: Many-seeded ovoid pod.

Leaf Description: Up to 8” long, elliptical basal leaves (2) that have pointed tips. Leaves are mottled with brownish-purple spots and streaks.

Common Names: Adder’s Tongue, Deer’s Tongue, Fawn Lily, Lamb’s Tongue, Rattlesnake Violet, Scrofula Root, Serpent’s Tongu, Thousand Leaf, White Dogtooth Violet

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Family: Buttercup (Ranunculacea)
Height: To 2’ (60 cm)
Flowering: April – July
Habitat: Dry and Shaded Rocky, Wooded, or Open Slopes
Cycle: PerennialToxicity: Caution Recommended

Flower Description: Nodding pink and yellow bloom that forms a bell shape (1-2”). Petals (5) are spurred upward and hollow. Bright yellow stamen delicately hang below the petals.

Fruit: Light green beaked pods. Pods contain many round shiny-black seeds.

Leaf Description: Compound leaf splits into 9-27, 3-lobed light green leaflets.

Common Names: American Columbine, Cluckies, Culverwort, Dancing Fairies, Granny’s Bonnets, Honeysuckle, Jack-In-Trousers, Meetinghouses, Rock Bells, Rock Lily

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Family: Geranium (Geraniaceae)
Height: To 2’ (60 cm)
Flowering: April – June
Habitat: Deciduous Woods, Meadows, Dry, Shady Areas
Cycle: Perennial

Flower Description: Two to ten lavender flowers divided into five wide (1-2”) petals. Each petal is heavily veined.

Fruit: Beak-like pod which splits lengthwise revealing many seeds.

Leaf Description: Four to five inch long dark green leaves (2-3) on long stalks connected to the stem. Leaves are coarsely toothed.

Common Names: Alumroot, Chocolate Flower, Cranesbill, Crow Foot, Old Maid’s Night Cap, Rockweed, Sailor’s Knot, Shameface, Storksbill

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)

Family: Birthwort (Aristolochiaceae)
Height: To 12” (30 cm)
Flowering: April – May
Habitat: Moist, Shady, Deciduous Woods
Cycle: Perennial
Toxicity: Linked to Cancer

Flower Description: Single, brownish-green to maroon tube-shaped flower at base of stem. Flower is 1-2” long with 3 pointed lobes located between leafstalks.

Fruit: Half-inch long, six-celled round capsule containing many seeds.

Leaf Description: Two large (3-6” wide) heart-shaped leaves. Leaves are soft and velvety due to hairs. Leaves are notched where stalk attaches.

Common Names: Asarabacca, Canada Ginger, Cat’s Foot, Colic Root, Coltsfoot, Heart-Leaf, Indian Ginger, Namepin, Snakeroot, Sturgeon Potato