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.]

Blue Cohosh
Common Violet
Cutleaf Toothwort
Dutchman’s Breeches
Early Meadow Rue
Nodding Trillium
Rue Anemone
Virginia Bluebells
White Trout Lily
Wild Columbine
Wild Geranium
Wild Ginger