Margaret Gratz from Tupelo writes the monthly “Earth Lady” column about the natural world and the weekly “Wildflower Watch” column for the North Mississippi Daily Journal. She has written for other publications, including Birdwatchers’ Digest and Mississippi Outdoors. She is an active member of the Tupelo Garden Club.

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Spring Ephemerals
by Margaret Gratz    

In early spring the weather is notoriously fickle. There are always a few halcyon days to beguile us, but March, seemingly on a whim, will invariably turn tempestuous. Gardeners, ever impatient for spring, often despair. In March, frustrated but experienced gardeners have learned to bide their time.

To alleviate the gardener's frustration and before the garden becomes labor intensive, may I suggest a walk in the woods? Early spring is the season for spring ephemerals, which are the loveliest most delicate wildflowers found in nature. These wildflowers, as the word ephemeral implies, are usually short-lived, but their beauty will abate your despair.

The spring ephemerals bloom on the forest floor in the leaf litter before the trees completely leaf out. In early spring, as the days lengthen, the sunlight can penetrate through the woods and warm the ground. A walk in the woods in search of these wildflowers is like going on a treasure hunt. But when you come upon these wildflowers, please resist the urge to dig. Wildflowers should never be dug from the wild unless it is a rescue mission. Take your camera and field guide along instead of your trowel.

My Favorite Spring Ephemerals:

Trillium/Little Sweet Betsy - Trillium cuneatum

Trilliums are among the best loved and most sought after wildflowers. One of the most common is Trillium cuneatum. This trillium has lovely mottled green leaves with purplish spots. The erect flowers are a deep maroon.
There are red trilliums, white trilliums, yellow trilliums and even twisted trilliums, and some are very rare indeed.  


Virginia Bluebells - Mertensia virginica

The common name for this wildflower is most descriptive. The clusters of blue flowers are indeed bellshaped, and the five yellow stamens hang down like little clappers. And they are truly blue; however, the buds are pink. Virginia bluebells are the epitome of the word ephemeral. This showy flower will completely disappear without a trace by summer's arrival.  


Bloodroot - Sanguinaria canadensis

Whenever I am unduly impatient for spring, I go out and scratch around in the leaves like a towhee to see if the bloodroot is about to emerge. Bloodroot dares to bloom when spring is but a promise. This wildflower has pure white flowers with bright yellow centers, and they shine like stars in the brown woods. The heart-shaped leaves are attractive long after the flower is gone.  


Woodland Phlox - Phlox divaricata

If you should venture out for a woodland walk in early spring, a lovely fragrance may waft your way. If so, it will probably be woodland phlox. 
Woodland phlox is not only fragrant, but its periwinkle blue flowers are enchanting. This wildflower often colonizes to create a lavender blue carpet on the forest floor. 


Dwarf Crested Iris - Iris cristata

Iris cristata, a native plant found growing on wooded slopes, is as beautiful as any commercially grown iris. And this is one wildflower that is not delicate. It is a tough plant and will multiply.  


Jacob's Ladder - Polemonium reptans

This wildflower has celestial blue flowers. The leaves are pinnately compound and do resemble a ladder, which makes for easy identification.  


Hepatica/Liver Leaf - Hepatica americana

Peeping through the brown leaves, this charming wildflower was so named because its leaves reminded someone long ago of liver. Even the botanical name, Hepatica, is Latin for liver. Trust me - the name will not deter you from appreciating this enchanting wildflower. 

There are many more early spring wildflowers that can be found growing naturally in the woods, and many of these wildflowers will fare very well in the woodland or rock garden at home. These wildflowers are perfect for shade gardens.

There are many spring ephemeral wildflowers that can be ordered from specialty catalogs, but these days, even the most familiar seed catalogs such as Park Seed and Wayside Gardens now sell some of these plants. Again, please purchase these plants from reliable sources - do not dig from the wild.

This spring, I sincerely hope that you will venture out in search of wildflowers. The hike will be invigorating, and once you have seen these spring ephemerals growing in their native habitat, you will become a wildflower devotee. Your passion for wildflowers will not be ephemeral.

Sources For Wildflowers:

Woodlanders Gardens

Easy Wildflowers

Wayside Gardens

Niche Gardens


Posted: 03/09/16   RSS | Print


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