Friday, April 3, 2015

Pepper-and-Salt is a Harbinger-of-Spring

Harbinger-of-Spring is also called Pepper-and-Salt.
Photos taken at Riverbend Park, Fairfax County, March 2014

     One of the earliest of our native wildflowers to bloom is the tiny spring ephemeral aptly called Harbinger-of-Spring, or Pepper-and-Salt (Erigenia bulbosa). It often blooms as early as February, sending up a small umbel of white flowers with red anthers that soon turn black (and giving the pepper and salt appearance). It is one of the few native plants with no known symbiotic fungal (mycorrhyzal) associations. This fleeting wildflower is actually in the carrot family and its bulbous minuscule root is edible. The Cherokee also used the plant as a treatment for toothaches. Although it is easy to overlook, it is none-the-less not considered common in most locations, and since eating its root kills the plant, that is strongly discouraged.
     Instead, enjoy this early spring wildflower, knowing that it is among the first of many other spring ephemeral flowers soon to appear in our rich, dark woods, a true Harbinger of Spring. 

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