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Harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa)

Life history

Species overview

Harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa), a Wisconsin Endangered plant, is found in rich hardwoods. Blooming occurs late April through early May; fruiting occurs throughout May. The optimal identification period for this species is late April through early May.

Synonyms: None


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Distinguished by delicate habit and combination of white petals with dark-tipped anthers.
  • Flower characteristics: Borne in umbels 1 to 2 cm wide, each composed of about 6 tiny white flowers with petals 3 to 4 mm long; anthers red, turning black.
  • Fruit characteristics: 5 mm wide, usually exceeded by the persistent bractlets, splitting into parts at maturity.
  • Leaf characteristics: Broadly ovate in outline, 10 to 20 cm at maturity, repeatedly divided into 3-parted segments, each segment oval in shape with a rounded tip; petioles clasping the stem.


  • Blooming phenology: late April through early May
  • Fruiting phenology: throughout May
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is late April through early May


  • Growth form: Forb-erect
  • Vegetative reproduction:
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Acer saccharum, Tilia americana, Fagus grandifolia; presumably with many spring ephemerals.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Erigenia bulbosa in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusEND
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found in rich hardwoods.
  • Soils: Rich soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Harbinger-of-spring. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Natural communities score
Southern Mesic Forest 3

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Harbinger-of-spring. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Minimize disturbance to hydrology, including soil disturbance from rutting.
  • Survey for and control invasive plants prior to conducting timber operations, as these can be spread by vehicles and often respond vigorously to increased light; see forestry BMPs for invasive species.
  • Although maintaining high overall forest canopy is important, silvicultural techniques which open small gaps in the canopy may be beneficial to this species.
  • Avoid rapid and dramatic reductions in canopy cover or basal area in wet areas to reduce risk of swamping.


Harbinger-of-spring Photo.

Photo © Kitty Kohout.

Harbinger-of-spring Photo.

Photo © Kitty Kohout.

Harbinger-of-spring Photo.

Photo © Kitty Kohout.

Harbinger-of-spring Photo.

Photo © Lee Forrest.

Harbinger-of-spring Photo.

Photo by Kevin Doyle, Wisconsin DNR.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition