Little Local Joys: The Ephemerals in Bloom

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Jim Pivarnik for ELi

Ephemerals like crocuses, hyacinths, daffodils, and Lenten roses are among the early bloomers in East Lansing.

Peter Carrington’s love of plants grew from his attachment to cactus as a kid. Before long, he realized the prickly plants weren’t suited for northern climates, and transferred his affections to botanicals he found in his own backyard.

As a curator and collection manager at the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden at Michigan State University, Carrington spends most of his days tending to the common and exotic plants rooted in the soil between the Red Cedar River and the MSU Library. But these days, with the COVID-19 outbreak, Carrington stays closer to home, appreciating the beauty just beyond his porch.

“All that’s been perfected over a billion years is right in your own backyard,” said Carrington. “But come back in a billion years and it will all be different.”

While a specialist in edible and toxic plants, Carrington can adeptly describe the characteristics of most anything with leaves, stems, or flowers. He can also identify the soft or squishy plant life underfoot, as well the shrubberies and trees shading sidewalks and lawns.

“Botany means any plant, from vascular to ferns, all the way up to flowering plants,” he said. “Nature and the beauty it supplies is fascinating and can be very calming for most people.”

Residents don’t need to take a trip to campus to appreciate the intricacies of plant life. Budding plants and trees are often part of our familiar landscapes, visible from kitchen or living room windows, or on a casual stroll through one’s neighborhood.

First up each spring are ephemerals—the flowers that bloom before trees get their leaves. Crocus, hyacinth, daffodils, and Lenten roses are among the early bloomers. Maple trees, too, blossom in the early weeks of April, with red maples bursting with brilliant little clusters.

“They’re very attractive and if you carry a magnifying glass with you, you’ll see they’re quite impressive,” Carrington said. “Silver maples flower, too, usually around the fifth day it hits 50 degrees. They’ll be done soon.”

While Carrington encourages people to enjoy the nature that surrounds them, he’s hopeful civilization will eventually reopen. In the meantime, nature abounds, offering a different outlook and pace, and a respite from the news.

“Plants are a major stockholder in things that heal,” Carrington said. “We are totally dependent on plants. They make the oxygen we breathe. And everything we eat is a plant or eats plants. If you think about it, how many people start their day with a coffee or tea—a secondary chemistry of plants that we harness to keep our faces off the keyboard.”

ELi’s “Little Local Joys” series is sharing small things that bring us joy and hope during the coronavirus outbreak. Do you have a little local story of joy or a tale of hope you would like to share? Click here for details. We would love to hear from you!

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