Happy Valentine’s Day tomorrow everyone.
Carole Brown has graciously asked if I would like to write weekly for BWG. My answer….Heck yes! So you will see me every Tuesday sharing many of my favorite native plants and critters from my now zone 5b garden in central New York.
Spring is rapidly approaching, and the first native plants many of us will see are the wildflowers. Those harbingers of spring. Found mostly in the woodlands where melted snow has left temporary ponds between the tree trunks. And these true wildflowers love that moist to wet humus soil. Most can tolerate the early spring sun and will also grow in shady conditions.
I am sharing my favorite wildflowers; those I just love to see as the spring sun warms the earth and air. I thought I would start with the early wildflowers. The ones many refer to as ephemeral because they are here and gone quickly.
“Each flower is a soul opening out to nature.” ~Gerald De Nerval
I think the thing I love most about the wildflowers is that you can find them in the woods right near your house or at a local nature center. They have been quietly growing unseen by many of us, but the early settlers and Native Americans knew these flowers well. Many had uses or folklore attached to them which makes for some fascinating history.
Bloodroot or Sanguinaria canadensis
Bloodroot is the first wildflower to be brave enough to show itself in late March or early April. I am so surprised to see this fragile flower show up in the harsh conditions of early spring here in my garden. The white flowers rise out of the curled leaves, open in sunlight and close when dusk arrives. It flowers for a very short time like most in the Poppy Family.
Be warned it is best to wear gloves when handling this plant especially the roots. Bloodroot was named from the Latin sanguinarius, meaning bleeding. And this plant appears to be bleeding if you break a stem. Bloodroot is well known for the red juice it produces from the underground stem. Native Americans used the juice to dye baskets and clothing, and it was also used as an insect repellent. *You can divide the rhizomes in either fall or early spring when the plant is dormant.
Virginia bluebells or Mertensia virginica
This early wildflower can be spotted sporting its gorgeous blue trumpet-like clusters throughout the woods. Part of the Borage family, the gray-green foliage opens to expose clusters of pink buds (as seen at the top of the post). You will love every stage of this flower. As it fades in summer, the foliage turns yellow, but resist cutting it back. Like a spring bulb, it needs to yellow and wither to replenish itself. So make sure to plant summer bloomers in front of this fading spring beauty. *It’s rhizomes can be divided in Late summer or fall when the plant is dormant.
Eastern Shooting Stars or Dodecatheon meadia
The flower stalk of this Primrose rises from green basal leaves that resemble lettuce. The white flowers that form at the end of the stalk, point down to resemble a star. The flowers cluster around much like a chandelier. The flowers were used by Native American women in charms to attract a man or wealth, and also to make a baby sleepy.
Bees pollinate this flower by vibrating their bodies against the stamen tube, shaking the pollen out. You will see this plant less in the wild nowadays. It could be found growing all over the prairie as it was being settled, and was called Prairie Pointers. The lavender leaves of Amethyst Shootingstar (D. amethystinum), can be found along the bluffs of the Mississippi, Susquehanna, and Ohio rivers. *Once this plant matures, you can dig up the crowns, divide and replant them in the fall.
Hepatica or Hepatica nobilis var. acuta and Yellow Trout Lily or Erythronium americanum
Two other early spring wildflowers that I adore and have written extensively about are hepatica and trout lily. Trout lily has a beautiful yellow flower and brown spotted leaves resembling a brown trout. Its leaves make a beautiful ground cover, and if you are lucky you may find this harbinger of the Lily family gracing you with blooms. Hepatica is the opposite and you will see the lovely pink or lavender flowers appear on hairy stalks before you see the mottled leaves. This member of the Buttercup family is a wonderful sight in the woods or garden. Hepatica and trout lily were used for medicinal purposes by early Native Americans. *Both of these wildflowers can also be divided when they are dormant in fall.
My house is built where there used to be a wet woodland. When the area was cleared for houses, most of the wildflowers were destroyed. While the developers left many mature trees and woods as well as other forever green areas, the wildflowers were not so lucky. I do have a few flowering trout lilies, but the other wildflowers shown here I planted in a protected North facing moist humus area of my garden. I was able to find most in local nurseries. Now that they are mature and growing nicely, I plan to divide some and move them about the garden. I hope to take a few walks into the woodlands behind my house, and see if I can spy any of the native wildflowers growing this spring. It will be a joy to find any that were spared.
“None can have a healthy love for flowers unless he loves the wild ones.” ~Forbes Watson
Next week I will have more wildflowers to share. I hope you can join me.
*These wildflowers are found in woodlands throughout the eastern US. Many wildflowers are now protected so do not go out in to the woods and dig these up and bring them home, unless you own the woods. You can find many of the spring wildflowers at your local native plant nursery or online nurseries that specialize in wildflowers.
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