Erigenia bulbosa (Michx.) Nutt. - Harbinger of Spring

Erigenia bulbosa plant

Family - Apiaceae

Stems - To +/-15cm tall, erect, single or multiple from the base, from a globose tuber (the tuber to +/-1.5cm in diameter), herbaceous, fleshy, purplish (green at the base), glabrous, angled to ribbed.

Erigenia bulbosa rootTuber.

Leaves - One to many per plant, petiolate, ternately decompound, glabrous. Petioles sheathing at the base, grooved adaxially, purple, to 2cm long. Petiolules grooved adaxially. Leaves to +5cm broad and long. Ultimate divisions of the leaves acute, entire, shiny below, dull green above, the tips with a small translucent spot (use a lens to see), with a single midrib. Upper most leaf of the stem reduced and bract-like.

Erigenia bulbosa leaf

Inflorescence - Terminal compound umbels. Primary rays 3-4, to +2cm long, glabrous, purplish. Bracts subtending the umbellets 5, +/-5mm long, -1mm broad, subacute at the apex, with a minute thickened tip (the tip slightly orange). Umbellets with +/-6 flowers. Pedicels purple, glabrous, to 1.5mm long.

Flowers - Petals 5, white, glabrous, oblanceolate to spatulate, to 4mm long, +1mm broad, spreading. Stamens 5, erect. Filaments white, glabrous, 2-2.2mm long, thicker at the base. Anthers pink to wine-colored when fresh, becoming black when dry. Pollen white. Styles 2, glabrous, pinkish (pale), expanded and deep purple at the base. Ovary inferior, 2-locular, one ovule per locule. Calyx purple, glabrous, 1-1.1mm tall, 1.4mm broad, ribbed (12), slightly thickened at the apex. Sepals absent. Fruits 2-3mm long, 3-5mm broad, glabrous.

Erigenia bulbosa flowerFlowers close-up.

Erigenia bulbosa calyxCalyx close-up.

Flowering - January - April.

Habitat - Rich shaded woods, at or near the base of slopes, alluvial soils along streams and in valleys, alluvial thickets, at the base of rocky bluffs.

Origin - Native to U.S.

Other info. - This minute species is the first native wildflower to bloom in Missouri. Becasue of its small size and habitat, it is often overlooked. The flowers rarely protrude more than one or two centimeters above the forest leaf litter. The pinkish anthers quickly dry and turn black. The black of the anthers and the white of the petals give the plant a "pepper and salt" appearance. The leaves of the plant unfold completely just at the end of the plants growing season. By the warm months of late spring, the plant is dried and gone. The species is found in much of Missouri except in the bootheel and in the northern 1/3 of the state.

Photographs taken at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, Boone County, MO., 3-13-04.


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