The Fleeting Beauty of Spring Ephemerals

Seek out these woodland wildflowers, the first blooms of the season, before they're gone—then plant your own for next year
April 24, 2021 Updated: April 24, 2021

Spring is moving north. One way we know that is to look at the early spring ephemeral wildflowers. These flowers are designed to leaf out, bloom, produce seeds, and then go dormant before the landscape becomes too shady. Some of them keep their leaves all summer, and some go dormant as the summer heat comes.

Anyone who has spent much time in the woods during the spring will recognize a few of these flowers, but a couple may be new.

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Trilliums. (Malachi Jacobs/Shutterstock)

There are about 40 species of Trilliums in North America. They probably have that many common names, including “wake robin,” “tri flower” and “birthwort.” Some are in only one or two states, and some are found just about everywhere. What most of us would call a “three-part leaf,” botanists call a “bract” because it is connected to the flower. The bract is often very attractively mottled with light and dark green and sometimes burgundy red. The flowers may be red, white, or yellow.

This,Jack,In,The,Pulpit,Is,Growing,In,My,Garden
Jack-in-the-pulpit. (David McIntosh/Shutterstock)

A favorite of kids, Jack-in-the-pulpit flowers have a hooded pulpit covering a preacher standing inside. They are in the Arum family, along with the houseplants Anthurium, peace lily, and Philodendron. They spend the dormant winter as a corm, just like a crocus or gladiolus. The springtime flower is green and may have red or purple stripes. It is pollinated by a few species of gnats.

Whenever I find bloodroot in the wild, some of the flower petals have fallen off. In my yard, the flowers last much longer but are still delicate. Bloodroot plants slowly spread into small clumps.

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Bloodroot flowers. (Tony Savino/Shutterstock)

In the past, there was an idea called the “doctrine of signatures.” It was thought that a plant that had a shape or color like an animal body part could treat diseases of that body part. The aptly named genus of Hepatica has three-lobed leaves kind of shaped like a liver. The leaves can have many shades of green, but it’s the flowers we like. They come in blue, pink, purple, and white.

Dutchman’s breeches is a true spring ephemeral. A few weeks after blooming, everything disappears until next year. The white flowers do look like cute little pants hanging upside down on a clothesline.

My favorite is the dogtooth violet. The yellow or white flower looks like a miniature cyclamen. The seeds are planted by ants. The leaves are covered in camouflage spots. It makes a nice early spring ground cover.

Epoch Times Photo

You can enjoy these and other wildflowers in your local forest preserves by going out before the trees get too many leaves. I have all of these flowers blooming in my yard because I have large, mature trees. I have large flower beds because I can’t grow much grass (besides, I like flowers more than grass). If you have an area of your landscape that has a lot of shade from trees or buildings, you can plant these flowers. Never dig them out of the woods.

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Dutchman’s breeches. (Randy Bjorklund/Shutterstock)

There are many spring ephemeral wildflowers, but these are among the easiest to grow. All of these flowers like good organic soil covered in mulch or leaves, just like a forest. The soil should be damp but not waterlogged. They all need several hours of direct sun in the spring and shade the rest of the year.

Garden centers rarely carry these plants because most of the time, they are dormant. One place to buy them is Sunshine Farm and Gardens in Renick, West Virginia. The website is SunFarm.com. The owner, Barry Glick, has agreed to put together a package of these plants: three plants of each, ready to go in the ground, for $4.95 as a special deal for you. They will be shipped free by Priority Mail. Email him at barry@sunfarm.com for details, and tell him I sent you.

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Dogtooth violets. (Shutterstock)

Remember, these plants are dormant for part of the year. Depending on when you order, you may get corms or rhizomes that are dormant. Plant them when you get them, and next spring, they should grow and bloom so you can enjoy spring before anyone else in your neighborhood.

Email questions to Jeff Rugg at info@greenerview.com. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Creators.com. Copyright 2021 Jeff Rugg. Distributed by Creators Syndicate.