Harbinger of Spring

Erigenia bulbosa

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Photo of harbinger of spring flower clusters with coin to show size
Julianna Schroeder
Family

Apiaceae (carrots)

Description

A small, early-blooming member of the parsley or carrot family, with flower clusters appearing before the foliage. Flowers tiny, in very small, simple umbels (a type of rounded cluster). Dark, reddish-brown anthers show prominently. Blooms January–April; this species opens the spring flowering season. Leaves divided, fernlike, sometimes reddish, usually appearing after flowering begins. Root a small, rounded tuber.

Size

Height: starts flowering at 2–3 inches, later attaining a height of 8 inches.

Habitat and conservation

Grows in bottomland forests and moist upland forests, mostly in ravines and valleys, protected areas at the bases of wooded slopes, and along streams and rivers. Often overlooked because of its early blooming time and overall small size.

image of Harbinger of Spring distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide; most common in the eastern and southern halves of the state.

Status

Also called "pepper and salt," for the combination of tiny, white petals and dark, rounded anthers.

Human connections

The small, deeply buried tubers are said to be edible, but most people treasure harbinger of spring as a tiny, but significantly heartwarming, sign that winter is coming to an end.

Ecosystem connections

This plant is a member of a large and important family. Relatives include Queen Anne's lace, water hemlock, carrot, parsnip, parsley, celery, dill, fennel, cumin, anise, and many more. All have flowers arranged in umbels (like little upside-down umbrellas), and the seeds are structurally similar.