If you prefer warmer temperatures and you’re looking for the bright side of Tax Day, April 15 is also the average day of last frost in central Missouri. If you live in southern or northern Missouri, the respective dates are March 31 and April 20. The next frost that we should see in central Missouri will occur around Oct. 20, the average day of first frost in the fall. That means that, for those plant species that won’t tolerate frost, we have a growing season of just over six months.
We do have a number of wildflowers and spring-flowering trees that don’t wait until frost danger has passed to begin blooming. I saw bluebells and harbinger of spring in bloom several weeks ago. Redbuds have been flowering as have serviceberry, leatherwood, wild plums, bloodroot, spring beauty, trilliums and jack-in-the-pulpit. Coming along shortly after the 15th should be sassafras, bellwort, pussytoes, flowering dogwood, buckeye, violet wood sorrel, wild ginger and many others. A smaller group of plants may not flower until after frost returns in the fall, including such late bloomers as the October-flowering downy gentian.
If you enjoy seeing Missouri’s spring wildflowers, the latter half of April and the first half of May are the prime viewing time. Grab a field guide and hit the nearest trails. Moist areas along lower slopes and along streams will produce the greatest wildflower show. Our forest wildflowers are taking advantage of the fact that, with the forest canopy not yet leafed out, sunlight is reaching the forest floor and supplying them with energy for growth, flowering and seed production. Some will have produced their seeds and withered before the heat of summer arrives. For those early forest wildflowers, the six-month growing season is of little benefit because they will lose the sun’s rays by mid-May. There will be fewer blooms on the forest floor after leafy tree branches have blocked out most of the sunlight. Only forest plants that tolerate considerably less light will be flowering from late spring through the summer.
The emerging leaves of oak, hickory and maple trees can be as beautiful as a spring wildflower when the forest canopy contains every possible shade of muted browns, yellows, reds, grays and greens. Perhaps the fall foliage driving routes should be also be publicized for their spring beauty in early May. Don’t let these next few weeks get by without making some firsthand observations of the reawakening of Missouri’s plants.