Spring Ephemerals and Wildflowers: Now Showing on a Greenway Near You!

If you want to enjoy spring’s loveliest—and most fleeting—display of colorful wildflowers, it’s time to plan a trip to a greenway near you! April and May are peak showtime for a variety of colorful perennials emerging from their winter slumber.

Thanks to the longer days and warming temperatures, little splashes of color will soon appear on the forest floor and along the banks of creeks and streams. Known as “spring ephemerals,” these wildflowers bloom early, linger briefly, and disappear before the trees are leafed out. This dazzling show of spring color is only a limited engagement, so take time to see the flowers before they are gone. No ticket is required to visit a greenway, and you’re guaranteed a front row seat whether you are on foot or bike!

Here are a few of the native wildflowers you can see along the greenways this spring:

Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

One of the most stunning early spring wildflowers! Buds are pink, turning to light blue blooms. Plants grow up to two feet tall and are often found in large groups.

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

Pink, sometimes white spring wildflower that resembles a series of miniature white knee breeches hanging on a clothes line. (Note: these can be irritating to your skin. Do not touch!)

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

These are the most widely distributed early spring flower in Missouri. White or pink with distinct pink veining on the petals.

Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna)

The flowers of blue-eyed Mary are 2-lipped: the upper lip is 2-lobed and white; the lower lip is 3-lobed and sky blue (rarely purple or white). This is one of the few Missouri wildflowers that is truly “blue.”

Wake Robin or Trillium (Trillium sessile)

The flower of wake robin, or trillium, has 3 petals and 3 sepals, and 3 leaves that subtend the solitary flower. The petal color varies in this common woodland spring wildflower, but it is most commonly brownish or maroon.

Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans)

As pretty as this wildflower is, the common name “Jacob’s Ladder” comes from its leaves, which made people think of the story from Genesis in which Jacob dreams of a ladder reaching up to heaven.

Best Greenways for Viewing Wildflowers

Some of the greenways provide better habitat than others for spring ephemerals and wildflowers. Those that meander through forests, across bottom land, or other conservation areas are your best bet for a colorful show. Take your pick of the following (or plan to visit them all this spring!):

Busch Greenway: Katy Trail to Missouri Research Park to August A. Busch Conservation Area
Where to look: There are two prime viewing spots along this greenway; the forest bottom between Missouri Research Park and the Katy Trail as well as the portion of the greenway that meanders through the Weldon Spring Conservation Area.

Mississippi Greenway at Cliff Cave Park
Where to look: In the spring, look for wildflowers along the paved trail in the lower section of the park. You might also find some along the paved trail in the area surrounding the entrance to the cave.

Missouri Greenway: Earth City Levee in Riverwoods Park

Where to look: Look for wildflowers in the southern part of the park along the greenway. ( Note that a portion of the greenway has been closed along the river due to repeated flood damage. You can still walk, bike or run on the rest of the greenway, but will need to turn around at the points of closure.)

Meramec Greenway: Glencoe to Sherman Beach Park
Where to look: The bottomland forest along Rock Hollow Trail is known for its showy display of bluebells. You can find all of the wildflowers listed above along this greenway.

Other places to enjoy native plants and wildflowers early this summer:

  • Trojan Park on the St. Vincent Greenway in Wellston has a beautiful garden filled with native plants!
  • Gravois Greenway: Grant’s Trail at Mysun Charitable Foundation Trailhead (by Orlando’s)
  • River des Peres Greenway: Raingarden between Route 66 and Lansdowne
  • Busch Greenway near roundabout connection to Hamburg Trail.
  • Katherine Ward Burg Garden on Laclede’s Landing

Please Don’t Pick the Wildflowers!

Because these flowers are so beautiful, it can be tempting to want to pick them or dig them up for transplanting. Not only is this unsightly, it also removes an important food source for pollinators and other animals. Because the plant’s life cycle is so short, animals that might eat the foliage have only a brief opportunity to consume them.  Enjoy the flowers, snap a picture, and leave them where they are! If you would like to add beautiful native flowers to your garden, you can find ethical plant nurseries and other resources here.

Wildflower photos and plant information are all courtesy of the  Missouri Department of Conservation. To learn more about what plants and animals to look for during every season, visit their website here.

3.14 Mile Walks & Rides on Greenways

Get out on a greenway to celebrate 3.14 Day! We’ve plotted out seven 3.14 mile routes on greenways across St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County. Follow one of our suggested routes, or make up your own- you’ve got 135+miles of greenway to choose from!

Storybook Walks on Greenways

Storybook Walks are a fun way to read a book while enjoying a walk along a greenway. (Not to mention instilling a love for books as little readers burn up some energy!) Books are displayed page -by-page on progressive signs along the paved path. There are Storybook Walks on greenways in St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County. Plan a visit to one or all of them!

What Made Us Smile in 2023

2023 was a great year for the greenways! We welcomed almost 3 million visits across the now 135 miles of free, accessible trails, and also cut the ribbon on EIGHT new greenway segments, with more to come in 2024! In addition to these historic milestones, there were so many other wonderful moments that added up to a fantastic year at Great Rivers Greenway.   

Here are just a few (of so many!) things that made us smile in 2023: 

Birdwatching on the Greenways

Birdwatching is a hobby that combines fresh air, exercise, and beautiful scenery wrapped up in a treasure hunt. Not only that, birdwatching has no age limitations, requires minimal equipment and gives everyone the opportunity to be a citizen-scientist.  The only word of caution from experienced birdwatchers is that once you start, it can become addicting!

Greenways are great places for birdwatching. In fact, several have been recognized by the Audubon Society as “important bird areas.” We asked the St. Louis Audubon Society to recommend the best greenways for spotting a wide variety of birds along with some tips for beginners.

Can you find the Bird of the Week? Learn more at St. Louis Audubon Society here.

Best Greenways for Birdwatching

Fee Fee Greenway: Aquaport to Creve Coeur Park

The best place for spotting birds along this greenway is the area from McKelvey Woods to Creve Coeur Park. It meanders through what is known as an “edge habitat”—the space between a developed area and a natural habitat. The greenway’s location on a prairie flood plain near the Missouri River provides food and refuge for many migrating waders, waterfowl, and shorebirds.

Meramec Greenway near the Al Foster Trail

The section of the Meremec Greenway near the Al Foster trail lies within a bottomland forest and is considered an important bird area by the Audubon Society. It provides habitat for breeding forest birds, such as the Red-shouldered Hawk and Prothonotary Warbler. You can find all 154 species of birds that have been recorded in this birding “hotspot” on ebird.

River des Peres Greenway at Carondelet Park

Carondelet Park is on the eastern end of the River des Peres Greenway. This historic, 179-acre park provides stopover habitat for many migrating species in spring and fall. It also provides some breeding habitat for many birds excluded from the surrounding urban landscape (e.g., hawks and owls). The Audubon Society recently recorded 29 different species of birds on a single early-morning beginner bird walk in Carondelet Park!

Busch Greenway: Katy Trail to Missouri Research Park to August A. Busch Conservation Area

A good portion of the Busch Greenway passes through second-growth upland and bottomland forest, shrubland, and cropland areas managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation. All of this great breeding and stopover habitat means great birdwatching! If you want to see lots of birds, focus on the area between the Duckett Creek trail head and Katy Trail or the section that stretches between Weldon Spring and August A. Busch Conservation areas.

Birdwatching for Beginners: What do you need?

  • A pair of binoculars
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Weather-appropriate clothing
  • A field guide to birds. There are several options:
    • The Audubon Society has a list of recommended field guides here. You can also borrow one for free from your local library!
    • If you prefer to use an app on your phone, Cornell Lab of Ornithology has created the Merlin Bird Identification App. It prompts you to answer five questions about the bird you have seen and it offers suggestions about what kind of bird it is based on your location. Learn more about Merlin here.

The Audubon Society also has a free app for identifying birds. Learn more about the Audubon Society app here: https://www.audubon.org/app

Birdwatching Tips

  • Walk slowly
  • Use quiet voices; no shouting
  • Smaller groups are better
  • Observe; do not interact with the birds
  • Look low along the ground in “shrubby” areas and high up in the tree tops
  • Listen carefully (If you want to familiarize yourself with different bird songs, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology “All about Birds” field guide. You can enter the name of the bird and hear their song. Find it here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/ )

Become a Citizen Scientist: Share the birds you have seen on the greenways!

eBird is the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed each year by eBirders around the world. This collaborative effort is managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  eBird lets you:

  • Keep track of your bird lists, photos, and sounds
  • Explore latest sightings from around the world
  • Join the world’s largest birding community
  • Contribute to science and conservation
  • Find the latest bird hots spots in your area
  • Track migration of birds through your area

Registration on eBird is free and it an excellent resource for beginning and expert birdwatchers alike. Click here to learn more about ebird.

Five Great Greenways for Fall Color

Greenways provide a front row seat to fall’s annual show of color. Those that meander through forests, along rivers or bottom lands are typically your best bet—but you can’t go wrong with any greenway this time of year! Take your pick of the following (or plan to visit them all this fall!)

Busch Greenway: Katy Trail to Missouri Research Park to August A. Busch Conservation Area
The prime viewing spot along this greenway is the .75 mile route through the forest bottom between Missouri Research Park and the Katy Trail. For a longer walk or ride, explore the portion of the greenway that meanders through the Weldon Spring Conservation Area.

Meramec Greenway: Glencoe to Sherman Beach Park
The Rock Hollow spur will wow you with a showy display of color as it drops down from Ridge Road to meet the Al Foster Trail. Once you reach the river, you’ll enjoy splashes of sunlight reflecting off the Meramec and colorful leaves along the bluffs along the Al Foster Trail. You might even spot a few Paw Paws along the way!

Mississippi Greenway: Cliff Cave Park
Your first stop should be the overlook atop the 170 foot bluff where you’ll be treated to sweeping views of the Mighty Mississippi River. For an up-close look at leaves in all their fall glory, be sure to explore the paved greenway and natural paths in the upper section of the park.

Centennial Greenway: Forest Park to Washington University to Vernon
Make a day of it on this greenway! Start with shopping and lunch in the Delmar Loop followed by a walk beneath the colorful canopy of trees on the Washington University campus. Top it off with one or more of the attractions in St. Louis’ colorful crown jewel- Forest Park!

Fee Fee Greenway to Centennial Greenway: Katy Trail to Schaefer Park & Spencer Creek Trail via Creve Coeur Park
Bring your bike for an amazing fall ride that will take you all the way from the Maryland Heights Community Center to the St. Charles County Heritage Museum, Schaefer Park (and the St. Peters Rec Plex via Spencer Creek Trail) ! Take a spin around Creve Coeur Lake and enjoy the changing leaves as you traverse two greenways—and two counties—via the Creve Coeur Connector Trail!