MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia University Department of Biology will host its annual Spring Ephemeral Wildflower Walks at the WVU Core Arboretum beginning April 4.
WVU Core Arboretum Director and Department of Biology Service Assistant Professor Zach Fowler said the arboretum was built in part due to the presence of spring ephemeral wildflowers in that space.
When WVU acquired the property where the arboretum now stands during its expansion of its Evansdale campus, biology professor Earl Core – the arboretum’s namesake – had already been taking his students to visit the area and its botanical treasures.
Among these natural valuables were the spring ephemeral wildflowers and the environment that supported their development.
Because of the botanical growth on the property and its steep slope, Core convinced the university to set the property aside as a forest preserve, Fowler said.
He said the tours are conducted only in April and are highly encouraged for multiple reasons, though the most significant is the brevity of the active period of spring ephemeral wildflowers.
“What happens there in April is something that, although spectacularly beautiful, is really brief and if you miss it for the year, you’ve missed it for the whole year, and you have to wait for April again to see it,” Fowler said.
He said spring ephemeral wildflowers are unique to temperate deciduous forests like those found in the Morgantown area – ones in which the trees lose their leaves in the winter and grow them back in the spring.
Spring ephemeral wildflowers have the opportunity to grow this time of year because of the amount of light they receive when the trees above them have yet to completely regrow their foliage.
Fowler said there are about 50 species of plant that fit their entire life cycle into a 4- to 6-week time period in early spring. These species come above ground, flower and produce seeds before disappearing.
The majority of spring ephemeral wildflowers are long-lived perennials. Rather than dying after their emergence, they merely go dormant by retreating to bulbs or other energy storage structures underground where they remain until the next spring.
“If you go in mid-April, it is like full-on, everything is blooming, and then it’s over,” he said.
Spring ephemeral flowers can be found all over Appalachia. What the Arboretum offers is not the presence of the flowers, but the abundance of them.
“They’re very susceptible to disturbance. Most places where they originally grew, they have been disturbed either out of existence or into just a shadow of their former existence, except for places like the Arboretum, which has been not entirely protected for all of time, but fairly protected for a lot of the destructive period of human history,” Fowler said.
He said some of the plants that grow in the area have been present for thousands of years and are considered the original residents of the hillside, protected by the preservation efforts of the Arboretum.
He said he believes the presence of the Arboretum itself has been appreciated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Arboretum canceled all of its public outreach events last year, but it has remained available as a public greenspace wherein people can spend time outside of their homes even without programming.
The Core Arboretum invites all who are interested to visit the Arboretum and the spring ephemeral wildflowers even if they do not wish to schedule a tour during the Spring Ephemeral Wildflower Walks.
The Spring Ephemeral Wildflower Walks will be held each Sunday in April at various times: 9 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 12 p.m., 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Those who wish to participate are asked to undergo a registration process and secure a free ticket for a tour date and time of their choosing.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tours will be limited to 10 participants per group and all participants will be required to wear masks.
This event has taken place each spring since at least 1960, making it a 60+ year WVU tradition.
To register and secure a ticket for a Spring Ephemeral Wildflower Walks tour, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/wvu-department-of-biology-spring-ephemeral-wildflower-walk-tickets-146959203935.
For more information on the WVU Core Arboretum, visit https://arboretum.wvu.edu/ or navigate to the Arboretum’s Facebook (@WVUCoreArboretum) and Instagram (@wvuarboretum) pages.
Additional information on spring ephemeral wildflowers can be found here: https://arboretum.wvu.edu/wvu-department-of-biology-spring-wildflower-walks.