The spring ephemerals including Jacob’s Ladder are up and starting to bloom all over the Ozarks. They try to grow, bloom and seed before the trees leaf out blocking the sunlight from the forest floor.
Each plant has a storage root with the food needed to bloom. It is restocked while the seeds form.
Once the seeds are ripe and disbursed, the plant withers and vanishes. Only the root remains alive and waiting for the next spring rush.
Polemonium reptans L.
April to June N Family: Polemoniaceae
Flower: A thin hairy stalk ends in an olive green calyx of five pointed sepals around the base of five, light blue, thin petals forming a flaring bell-shaped flower an inch across. A long white pistil extends outmost of the length of the petals and has a style split into three parts. Five stamens of different lengths surround the pistil. Each flower cluster tends to be wider than long with five to seventeen flowers.
Leaf: Alternate compound leaves have an end leaflet and three to nine pairs of opposite leaflets. Each leaflet has a prominent midvein. The central petiole has scattered hairs on it and bulges to partially wrap the stem.
Stem: A single stem grows up to 18 inches tall. The sparsely hairy stems are green but turn reddish especially in the sun. The stem branches putting out several flowering stems.
Root: The root is a woody perennial one.
Habitat: This plant likes moist shady areas such as ravines and edges of low woods of deciduous trees.
Jacob’s Ladder looks like clusters of small blue bells tucked under still bare trees in the early spring. The name comes from the leaves which look like an old makeshift ladder with a single central pole and crossbar rungs. This is another of the spring ephemerals that blooms, sets seed and goes dormant by early summer.
The pale blue flowers seem to appear often in a double row. They can point up or down yet seem to point out straight like a bank of ballpark lights.
The seed pods are light green balls and can seem to promise another round of flowers. The next round of flowers will be the next spring when some of these seeds may be plants themselves.