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Karrie McAllister: Cut-leafed toothwort is my favorite spring wildflower

By KARRIE McALLISTER Columnist Published: April 8, 2017 5:00 AM

Each spring, it feels I have no memory of the names of the wildflowers that come up once the snow melts and the mud dissipates. For every bloom I recognize, it seems that another stumper will pop up right next to it and someone will undoubtedly ask me what it is because spring wildflower identification is something I should know quite well.

"Boy, that sure is a pretty one," I will respond. "Look at that color. How lucky we are to see it in all of its glory." (These praises of the petals are only meant to be a distractor while my brain searches back an entire calendar year and tries to recall what the name of this flower is, or at the very least a fancy name with description that could fool the average bear.)

There are some spring wildflowers that I know well, however, and I'm happy to point them out to whoever will listen. Their names are as beautiful as their appearance and even through the gloom of the rainy spring days, they can't help but make you smile.

Take the very common spring beauty. I'm sure you've all seen them -- they grow just about everywhere. Five petals of white or light pink that look like a star. Each petal, upon closer examination, reveals fine pink lines down the center. They are very easy to identify and just like me, they open up when the sun comes out and close up when it's not so bright.

There's also the trillium, Ohio's state wildflower. As the name implies, there are three luscious white petals. These awesome flowers live in the understory of rich forests and can live to be 25 years old, which is an awful lot of bringing joy with changing seasons.

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But my favorite of all spring wildflowers has a name that does not imply beauty. It does not imply the majestic number of petals. I have to wonder if when naturalists were passing out flower titles, they were out of poetic names when it came to this lovely treat of the forest floor. Thus, we have the cut-leafed toothwort.

Yes, cut-leafed toothwort.

Named for the jagged edges of its leaves and the fact that it used to be used to treat dental issues, this bloom with the unfortunate name is actually pretty sweet. With green leaves and dainty pink flowers, it's the perfect addition to the spring.

My very good friend and I were hiking one spring day a few years back while she was pregnant and discussing nature-type names for her daughter-to-be. We tossed around a few and, of course, I had to suggest Cut-leafed Toothwort. To this day, as soon as they pop up in the spring, we connect and laugh about that walk and that flower. Someday we'll share the story with her daughter, who thankfully has a different name.


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