Harbinger of Spring

Erigenia bulbosa

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Photo of harbinger of spring flower clusters with coin to show size
Harbinger of spring can bloom as early as January in our state. You will probably have to look closely for its small clusters. But after a long winter, what a welcome sight they are!
Other Common Name
Pepper and Salt
Family

Apiaceae (carrots)

Description

Harbinger of spring is a small, early-blooming member of the parsley or carrot family, with flower clusters appearing before the foliage. The flowers are tiny, arranged in very small, simple umbels (a type of rounded cluster). The dark reddish-brown anthers show prominently. This flower is sometimes called "pepper and salt," for the combination of tiny, white petals and dark, rounded anthers. Blooms January–April; this species opens the spring flowering season. Leaves are divided and fernlike, sometimes reddish, usually appearing after flowering begins. The root is 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. It is 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.

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.