In springtime, the deciduous woodlands around us are beginning to awaken as the delicate flowers of spring ephemerals pierce the blanket of leaf litter. Most of these woodland plants are found in areas with rich, humusy soil and layer of deep leaf litter; they flower when the leaves are off the trees and light reaches the forest floor in spring. These diminutive plants are beautiful, but beyond this, they provide critical support for newly emerging spring bees. As temperatures warm, native solitary bees visit bloodroot, trout lily, spring beauty, Virginia bluebells, and other spring flowers to collect pollen or sip nectar. Some of these bees have a close or exclusive relationship with specific flowers, a fact recognized in their names: trout lily bee (Andrena erythronii) or the spring beauty bee (Andrena erigeniae). Trout lily bees visit more than just trout lily, but the latter relies exclusively on the pink pollen provided by spring beauty to provision their nests. However, many other bees visit this spring beauty too. In fact, 58 species of bees have been reported as visitors to this tiny pink flower. Similarly, bloodroot, trout lilies, and Virginia bluebells are visited by a diversity of bees, including bumblebees (Bombus spp.), little carpenter bees (Ceratina spp.), halictid bees (Halictus spp., Lasioglossum spp.), and mason bees (Osmia spp.). Clearly, these spring ephemerals are of considerable importance to the survival of many spring bee species, a fact we rarely consider when we admire their flowers.
Visit the Rich Cove Forest Exhibit in the South Carolina Botanical Garden to see these spring flowers, or visit your local woodlands to experience the beauty of spring ephemerals. Buy bloodroot and Virginia bluebells at the SCBG online Plant Sale.