Method 1. Spring Wildflower Method

The spring wildflower protocol will include measurements of Trillium, Canada mayflower, Indian cucumber (Medeola virginiana), Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) and possibly others. These species are fairly common and decline in abundance, show reduced height, or show reduced flowering when browsed by deer. In the absence of these species, Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum spp.) and False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) as well as other Solomon’s seal species can be monitored instead. The goal is to select areas that allow you to monitor at least 20 (ideally 25-30) stems of a species. Secondary species can be included if at least 20 stems are present.

Wildflowers exhibit patchy distribution in any forest and not all of these species will occur at every site. However, any or all of these species may be monitored when present. Picture guides to help you identify these flowers are provided (See Resources link above). These guides can be printed and taken afield as references.

Figure 4. Wildflowers can be marked with 5 or 6-inch plant markers numbered with a permanent marker. A colored golf tee, available in sporting goods stores, can also be placed at base of the stem can help to relocate the plants in the event that the marker is disturbed.

When selecting which wildflower species to monitor, search your stand for species with at least 20 (but ideally 30 or more) individual plants of that species that are four inches or taller. Canada mayflower may be less than 4 inches tall. Place plots where the tallest plants of your chosen indicator species are growing. Deer tend to forage selectively on taller plants as they are more accessible. Therefore, the taller plants are more likely to be impacted by deer and will show the greatest response to changes in deer browsing intensity. Trillium and jack-in-the-pulpit begin as 1-flowered plants but do not flower until reaching the 3-leaved plant for several years. When monitoring these species, select 3-leaved individuals if they are available. Likewise, Indian cucumber does not flower until it has 2 whorls of leaves. When possible, select Indian cucumber plants with 2 whorls. However, if 2-whorled individuals are not present, 1-whorled plants can be selected. Plant height will not be measured for Canada mayflower.

Try to locate your plots to include three to seven or more individual flowers of the species you plan to monitor in each plot (for a total of 25-30). Canada mayflower is the exception, as it tends to grow in dense clusters. For Canada mayflower, ensure that each of your six plots includes a cluster of 10 or more stems. If you wish to monitor more than one species it may be possible to capture enough individuals of more than one species within the same six plots, or you may need to establish additional plots.

Once you have chosen your target species and created your plots, mark each plant you will monitor with a numbered marker next to the plant stem taking care not to disrupt the plant any more than necessary. Plastic or wooden plant markers are difficult to secure in forest soils, especially in rocky areas. Sod stakes (4 inches; Figure 4) can be purchased at stores carrying landscape supplies (e.g. Lowes, Home Depot) and can be used in combination with numbered tree markers available from forestry supply stores, or in combination with the same numbered plastic ties used for the Woody Seedling method. Place the marker in the soil directly behind the plants to which it refers. Be careful not to insert the stake so close to the stem that the roots are severed. These markers will be helpful for relocating and tracking each plant. However, markers can sometimes be disturbed by animals and in plots where many wildflowers are present, it may be unclear exactly which plant the marker refers. To help relocate the exact plant stems you are monitoring, each plant can also be marked with a colored golf tee (Figure 4).

Figure 5. Indian cucumber (pictured left) should be measured from the ground to the base of the second leaf whorl, if available, or the first whorl if only one is present. Trillium (pictured right) and jack-in-the-pulpit will only have one leaf whorl and should be measured from the ground to the base of the whorl.

Measure and record the height of each plant from the litter surface to the base of the leaf whorl (Figure 5). Record the height as "natural height" (do not manually extend the plant to make it more upright), measuring straight up from the ground as if measured along a plumb-bob line from the ground to the point where the stem intersects the leaf whorl. For plants with multiple stems, choose the tallest stem to measure. Indian cucumber will often grow two sets of leaf whorls (Figure 5). If two sets of leaf whorls are present, measure to the base of the highest whorl. For each plant you are monitoring, record whether it is flowering or shows evidence that it has flowered or will flower this season (bud, flower stems still attached, opened seed pod, etc.).

For Canada mayflower, which often grows in dense patches, do not mark individual plants but instead count and record all individual stems in each quadrant of the plot. If the plot is particularly dense, then count up to ten individual stems and estimate the rest by groups of 10 and record that number on your data sheet.