By Ellen Powell, Conservation Educator
The calendar and the plants agree – spring has arrived in central Virginia!
Patches of green among the leaf litter mean spring wildflowers are making their annual appearance. Often called “ephemerals,” for their short-lived bloom time, those in flower this week include pennywort (Obolaria virginica), star chickweed (Stellaria pubera) and wild geranium (Geranium maculatum).
Unfortunately, the shrub layer of many hardwood forests reveals a “dark side” of spring. Quite a few invasive plants green up earlier than native shrubs. These include wineberry, barberry, privet, multiflora rose and autumn olive.
The pale green plants in this picture are autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), a non-native invasive shrub that often displaces the natural shrub understory. If you smell something cloyingly sweet while hiking, the culprit may be autumn olive in bloom. The tiny, tubular flowers will make way for red berries this summer.
A silver lining? The berries are high in lycopene and antioxidants, and they’re edible. So, pick as many as you can, before the birds spread them even farther!