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A Fairy Tale Forest: Part II

Catch these spring ephemerals before they take a summer retreat!

  • dog tooth violet in the woods

    Image 1 of 3

    Dog tooth violet, also known as trout lily, is named for it's mottled leaves which resemble the patterns of a brook trout.

  • Dwarf crested iris, a flower you may recognize from the talking flowers of Alice in Wonderland

    Image 2 of 3

    Dwarf crested iris is a flower you may recognize from the talking flowers of Alice in Wonderland.

  • Trillium in full bloom, trillium is from the Latin word trilling,because of the three leaves that surround the flower of this plant.

    Image 3 of 3

    Photo: Kim Elsenbroek

    Trillium is a Latin name that refers to the three leaves that surround the flower.

Intro To Indiana Forest Preserves

Bloomington, Indiana, sits atop the Indiana Highland Rim Natural Region. This geography is due to the Wisconsin Glacial Maximum, our most recent glacial resident, stopping short of flattening the Southern Indiana hills.

This allowed Bloomington to grow into a highly diverse, rugged landscape not shaped by glaciers from above, but the exposed bedrock below.

The Indiana Highland Rim Natural Region not only puts Bloomington on the map in Indiana, but also the whole state itself when considering North American landforms.

The landscape is as unique as the spring flowers that lie within it.

Yellow Dogtooth Violet

Found in: Moist woods.

Flowers: April-May.

Located: Latimer woods.

This plant is not a violet at all; it’s actually a member of the lily family. The name dogtooth originates from the special shape of the plant’s roots, specifically known as a corm. Also called trout lily, the leaves resemble the mottled look of a brook trout. This spring ephemeral grows in colonies; so if you see one, you are bound to see more. These plentiful yellow flowers stand out brilliantly against a brown background of forest not yet fully awakened from winter.

Dwarf Crested Iris

Found in: Lowland woods near streams.

Flowers: April-May.

Located: Dunn’s Woods

The inspiration for the talking flowers in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the dwarf crested iris takes on the appearance of a well-cared for water color painting. The dwarf crested iris is often used as a symbol of hope, courage, admiration and wisdom. Additionally, the roots were once used in tea to treat hepatitis (NOT RECOMMENDED).

 Purple Trillium

Found in: Moist woods.

Flowers: April – May

Located: Griffy Reservoir

Another member of the lily family, trillium is a protected species. Trillium is a Latin name that refers to the three leaves that surround the flower. This plant has dozens of nicknames—including “purple wake robin” and “birthroot”— likely due to the number of uses it had for Northern Native American tribes. In addition to having been used as an aphrodisiac, it was also used to treat open wounds and internal bleeding, to alleviate the effects of menopause, and to induce labor.

So there you have it. A mini guide to Southern Indiana’s most common spring ephemerals. Now go take a hike and see them for yourself!

Read More:

Huffman, M. A. H. and H. The Natural Heritage of Indiana. 167– 171, (Quarry Books, 1997).

Homoya, M. A. The Natural Heritage of Indiana. 159–160 (Quarry Books, 1997).



Kim Elsenbroek

I am a trained scientist aspiring to communicate science to the general public. I received my B.S. in Botany from Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) in spring of 2012 and my M.S. from Indiana University Bloomington. I have conducted research in sustainability, ecological restoration, invasive species control and outreach/education. I have worked with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, McHenry County Conservations District, SIUC, IUB and now the Nature Conservancy.

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