Nature’s Big Show

Bring on the spring color!
Waterways Spring 2020 Nature's Big Show - Spiderwort

Little compares to a springtime hike when wildflowers are blooming. The white pantaloons of Dutchman’s breeches dance in the slightest breeze, and the trout lilies’ yellow flowers dangle shyly above dappled leaves.

“It just seems like everything is so happy and brimming with life,” said botanist Jesse Lincoln, who spends much of his year exploring forests and fields collecting information about natural communities for the Michigan Natural Features Inventory, a conservation database maintained at Michigan State University (

Waterways Spring 2020 Nature's Big Show - Spring Beauty
Spring Beauty

In his travels, Lincoln has come across wonderful spring-wildflower spots. Some of his favorites include:

Warren Woods State Park in Berrien County known for its great white trillium, drooping trillium, toadshade — a small trillium with deep-maroon flowers and painted trillium that has a splash of purple at the base of its white petals. “It has just fantastic trilliums, including more species than I’ve seen anywhere else,” Lincoln said.

Kalamazoo Nature Center is another special stop and the only place in Michigan where Lincoln has seen blue-eyed mary, a striking flower with two white and two blue petals and “carpets of trillium” he calls “spectacular.”

Waterways Spring 2020 Natures Big Show - Squirrel Corn
Squirrel Corn

Other favorites include Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary in Cass County; Maple River State Game Area in the central Lower Peninsula; and both Rockport Recreation Area and Cheboygan State Park in the northeastern Lower Peninsula. All have a diversity of wildflowers in spring, Lincoln said, adding that Rockport State Park has a “just unbelievable” abundance of yellow lady’s slippers.

Botanist Liana May, vice president of the Michigan Botanical Club’s Great Lakes Chapter, points to Clay Cliffs Natural Area in Leelanau County as a favorite, along with the Treat Farm and Pyramid Point trails at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. They overflow with wildflowers from spring beauty, jack-in-the-pulpit and early meadow rue to squirrel corn, large-flowered bellwort and small-flowered buttercup. Clay Cliffs and Treat Farm also feature the dainty white flowers of bishop’s cap and foamflower, while Pyramid Point hosts white, green and maroon putty-root orchids.

Waterways Spring 2020 Nature's Big Show - Rue Anemone
Rue Anemone

May and Lincoln said an excellent way to experience Michigan’s spring ephemerals is to sign up for a spring wildflower hike offered by local parks and nature organizations like the Michigan Botanical Club, Michigan Nature Association and Huron-Clinton Metroparks.

Whether it’s a solo or group trip, a springtime nature walk is bound to please, May said. “There’s just so much life all of a sudden in the spring in one big spurt. It’s the wildflowers themselves, but it’s also the whole woods coming to life. That’s what I really enjoy.”

Leslie Mertz, Michigan BLUE Magazine

For more information

Michigan State Parks

Kalamazoo Nature Center

Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary

Maple River State Game Area

Michigan Botanical Club

Michigan Nature Association

Isle Royale & Keweenaw
Parks Association

Huron-Clinton Metroparks

*Photography courtesy Clay Wilton & Leslie Mertz

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