In early March, most of Missouri’s woods are still gray and bare. But if you take a walk, you might find some signs of spring poking up through the leaf litter. This March and April, take the Woodland Wildflower Challenge. Every week, visit your nearest woods and keep track of the different wildflowers that pop up.
The best way to “collect” wildflowers is with your sketchbook or smartphone. You can even make note cards from your drawings or photos. Send them as handmade Earth Day greetings to your family and friends! Woodland wildflowers are beautiful, and you may be tempted to pick them. But leave them so the butterflies, birds, bees, and other wild critters can feed on their pollen, nectar, and seeds.
These little star-shaped flowers have five white petals with pink veins. You may see them growing in sweeping white masses in woods or on lawns.
Open woods, fields, and lawns Spring beauty is also known as ”fairy spud“ because its edible root looks like a tiny potato.
It’s hard to say what’s more awesome about this little flower — the delicate white petals or the single, funny, hand-shaped leaf.
March–May, depending on the weather
Slopes along wooded streams. Check these areas often because the bloodroot flower lasts only a day or two. This flower gets its name from the red sap in its roots and leaves. In earlier times, Native Americans used the sap as an emetic, which means it makes you throw up. So don’t eat it!
Keep your eyes peeled for a single white flower that looks like a pointed hat nodding from a single stem. The narrow, spotted leaves resemble a trout’s shape and coloring.
Wooded slopes and valleys. Also known as ”thousand leaf “ because it can form large colonies of thousands of leaves.
It’s easy to see how this frilly little flower got its name. It looks like a pair of inflated white knee-pants hanging upside down. The finely cut, fern-like leaves are pretty, too.
Slopes of woods along streams. This flower gets help fro m ants, which spread its seeds.
Also known as trillium, this flower’s leafy parts are stacked in groups of three — three purple petals rise from three little leaflets called sepals, which sit atop three main leaves. This flower stinks, but the odor smells like lunch to flies and other pollinators.
Wooded slopes and bottomlands
The five long, hollow peaks on this red-and-yellow flower are called nectaries — little chambers that hold nectar, which attracts pollinators.
April – July
Rock ledges and rocky slopes in woods, of ten in shady locations The spiky columbine needs pollinators like hummingbirds that have long beaks or tongues. Not surprisingly, it blooms about the same time hummingbirds migrate back to our state.
This tall blue-violet flower smells sweet and provides early spring nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies.
Open woods, thickets, wet stream sides, and bottomlands Sweet William is also known as “stinking Billy” to those who don’t like its fragrance.
You may have to get down on your hands and knees to see the single white flower nodding under this plant’s wide, umbrella shaped leaves.
Forms large colonies in shady woods Mayapples produce a single egg-shaped fruit that turns yellow when it’s ripe. Some people gather mayapples in mid-summer to make jelly. Other parts of the plant are poisonous.
Hi, I’m Frank. I study wetlands. Wetlands can be muggy and buggy. They’re often soggy and stinky. You might get stuck in the muck. But wetlands aren’t wastelands. They’re wonderful places! Pull on your rubber boots and slather on some bug spray. Let’s wade in.
Marshes, swamps, fens, and wet prairies are types of wetlands. One thing they all have in common is that they’re covered with shallow water or have soggy soils at least some part of the year. Wetlands are home to all kinds of amazing plants and animals. Let’s explore this marsh and see what we find.
Marshes have tons of plants (literally!) but not many trees. Since soils are soggy, wetland plants need ways to get oxygen to their roots. Cattails have tiny tubes in their leaves and stems that transport oxygen downward.
The oozy mud and mucky water in a marsh is jam-packed with insects, worms, and snails. Leggy shorebirds like this black-necked stilt wade around and use their long bills to pluck up creepy crawlies for a snack.
Uh-oh. That muskrat better watch out! A sneaky mink is slinking around hunting for something to eat. These feisty, pint-sized predators feast on frogs, fish, ducks, and anything else they can catch.
If you see a mound made of mud and cattails, that’s a muskrat’s house. Muskrats are well equipped for a watery lifestyle. They have thick, waterproof fur, their webbed feet are perfect for paddling, and they can hold their breath for more than 15 minutes.
You might think this is a duck, but it isn’t. It’s a pied-billed grebe. When a grebe gets spooked, it sinks underwater like a feathered submarine. Watch closely. The grebe will resurface a few moments later when it thinks the coast is clear.
If you smell something stinky, it wasn’t me. Marsh bottoms pass gas. A handful of muck contains billions of bacteria and other microscopic organisms. Some of them break down dead plants and animals. As they do, they release gases that smell like rotten eggs. Pee-yoo!
Cypress swamps are found in the southeastern corner of Missouri.
Mudsnakes eat slimy, eel-like amphibians called amphiumas and sirens. These slippery critters squirm into a ball when threatened. But they’re no match for a mudsnake, which uses its pointy tail to poke its prey, causing it to uncoil for easier eating.
Sometimes wetlands dry up. Animals that live here have figured out ways to roll with the changes. Take this bowfin for example. When oxygen in the water gets scarce, bowfins gulp air at the surface to stay alive.
A bald cypress tree breathes with its knees. Bald cypresses have bumpy stumps that stick out of the water. The stumps act like snorkels to carry air down to the tree’s waterlogged roots. The knees also provide a wide base to keep the tree upright in the gooey mud.
Wood ducks aren’t the only birds that nest in tree cavities around wetlands. Prothonotary warblers do, too. The bright, beautiful birds hop from branch to branch, plucking insects from leaves as they go.
When an alligator snapping turtle gets hungry, it simply opens its mouth and wiggles its pink, worm-shaped tongue. Hungry fish mistake the tongue for an easy meal and learn too late where the name “snapper” comes from.
This isn’t an ordinary cottontail. To escape predators, swamp rabbits hop, skip, and dive into deep water. They are strong swimmers and often come to the surface under roots to hide out until danger has passed.
Mama wood ducks nest in holes high up in trees. A day after they hatch, the ducklings bail out of the nest. Geronimo! The little fluffballs can fall more than 250 feet without being injured.
Not all wetlands look wet. Some are so full of grasses and flowers that you don’t notice the soggy soil until you step onto its squishy surface.
Fens are unique wetlands found mostly in the Ozarks. They form where springs spill across the land, keeping the soil mucky for most of the year. Hine’s emerald dragonflies love these conditions. Keep your eyes peeled for the bug-eyed predators patrolling for insects to eat.
Wet prairies overflow with grasses and wildflowers. Even under this thick green carpet animals thrive. The massasauga is a small, timid rattlesnake that hibernates in crayfish burrows.
What are you waiting for? Get out and explore one of these amazing wetlands.
Missouri is the halfway point on the Mississippi Flyway. Think of the flyway as a highway in the air that ducks, geese, and other waterbirds follow to get from northern nesting grounds to southern wintering areas. Wetland water is a virtual “duck soup” packed with seeds, snails, worms, aquatic insects, tiny fish, and plankton. Travelweary birds rest in wetlands and feast on this soup to fuel up for long flights.
From bulrushes to beavers, wetlands provide homes to thousands of plants and animals. But do wetlands do anything for people? You bet!
Because they’re fairly flat, water slows down and spreads out when it flows through a wetland. This allows soil to settle out of the water before it reaches streams and rivers.
Wetlands act like giant sponges, soaking up heavy rainfall and releasing the water s-l-o-w-l-y into rivers and streams. This cuts back flooding for downstream cities and farms.
Wetlands are a great place to have fun outside. Many people visit wetlands to fish, hunt, and watch wildlife.
Wetland plants and soils trap chemicals that cause water pollution. This helps to keep water clean and safe to drink.
I wish everyone knew how wonderful wetlands are. That’s where you come in. Now that you know, you can show others why wetlands must be protected.
Angie Daly Morfeld
Nichole LeClair Terrill