Venture: First sign of spring

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The small white flowers had poked and unfurled through remnant patches of frost and snow, barely tall enough to breach a few inches of leaves. Thin green stems fought valiantly against a brown cover packed stiff after a long, harsh winter.

Only with a clear purpose did I last year find the tiny archipelago of snow trillium scattered through a quiet, sleeping forest. Only with careful searching did I discover this early and hopeful sign of Ohio's annual awakening.

Need assurance that this flirtatious spring will eventually stick? Go in search of this brave, rogue wildflower already sprouting throughout the state.

"If there are warmer days and more sunny days, it could be up this weekend down in southern Ohio," said Rick Gardner, wildlife management assistant with the state's Division of Wildlife, last week. "Around Columbus, it's typically up around the third week of March, around the spring equinox."

We think of wildflowers during bright spring afternoons, in hazy summer fields, alongside buzzing insects and within fields swollen with pollen.

The snow trillium is different, emerging gracefully when little else can. It's in one way a puzzle, a plain miracle in others. It's small but persistent, tough and lovely, growing before the arboreal canopy drowns out the sun.

"It's just a very hardy plant," Gardner said. "It often comes up before the last frost. It's a very small plant and only grows a few inches tall. That kind of helps."

It ranges from Virginia to Nebraska and Minnesota to Missouri, but the flower stands endangered in four states. It's found in 15 counties in Ohio, where the first specimens were collected by physician and pioneer botanist John Riddell.

The easiest place to find it is near the footbridge along the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati Stagecoach Trail at John Bryan State Park. Another chance will be Searching for Snow Trilliums, a guided hike and presentation starting at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 19, at Highlands Nature Sanctuary.

Wherever your encounter, listen for the quiet whispers that speak of spring's return. And take only photos, so others can enjoy it, too.

Planning a spring or summer escape into the outdoors? Your first stop is the Ohio Adventure Map at

John Bryan State Park

3790 State Rte. 370, Yellow Springs

Highlands Nature Sanctuary

7660 Cave Rd., Bainbridge