Spring is here! Can I get a sigh of relief? If you want to celebrate spring’s arrival, what better way than experiencing some of our native wildflowers? The woods, wetlands, and grasslands are full of color as the world around us turns green. Some flowers are blooming now, and as the season continues and turns to summer, different plants will begin.
This post will focus on woodland spring flowers. We’ll talk about different habitats and seasons another time. Some of my personal favorites that are out right now or will be out soon are Spring Beauties which bloom March-May, Bloodroot (March-April), Prairie Trillium (April-June), Jack-in-the-Pulpit (April-May), Woodland Phlox (May-June), May Apples (April-June) and, my absolute favorite, Dutchman’s Breeches which blooms in April-May.
Spring Beauties are one of the most common woodland flowers. They are small, delicate little guys that can come in either snow white or a blush pink (Figure 1). They open in areas where they can get bright sunlight. That’s why they are one of the first to bloom. They open their flowers early before other plants grow or leaves fill out the trees and shade them out.
Bloodroot can be tricky to find since the flowers are short lived, but is always a thrill to see (Figure 2). If you are wondering about the name, it comes from the blood-red juice that oozes out if you damage the roots (please don’t do that). The sap is toxic, but is used in naturopathic healing to treat skin disorders and as a treatment for ringworm. It is even thought to have anti-cancer properties.
Prairie trillium is an odd looking but beautiful flower, and despite its name, is found in oak-hickory woodlands (Figure 3). It’s used as an herbal antiseptic, a diuretic, and even to reduce swelling.
Jack-in-the-Pulpits are a fun but hard to spot flower since it looks more like a leaf than what we think of as a flower (Figure 4). The name comes from the club-like spadix which is the “Jack” or preacher that is inside the spathe that curves over and forms the “pulpit.” This plant is highly toxic and can be fatal, but has been used as a stiffener to starch clothing or treatment for various skin disorders and wounds.
Woodland Phlox are a common but gorgeous flower. It likes moist soil and can come in a variety of colors including a lilac purple, rose pink, and a lovely blue (Figure 5).
Mayapples may be the easiest to spot on your walk through the woods. What you will see first are their leaves. They grow in dense groups and have 2 large leaves that form an umbrella over their big white flowers (Figure 6). Both the flowers and the fruit have a wonderful fragrance. The fruit of the Mayapple is edible once fully ripe, though I have never eaten one. Remember, it is never a good idea to eat anything growing in the wild unless you have special training on identification and how and when to eat it. It is also thought to have potential anticancer properties.
Last but not least, Dutchman’s Breeches are a distinct beauty. You can’t miss them. Each individual blossom looks like a pair of upside-down white pants or breeches (Figure 7). They are about as cute as a plant can get, except for maybe liverworts, but that’s for another time.
If this had spurred your adventurous side and now you want to find these little treasures for yourself, there are many ways to enjoy them. County conservation groups, nature preserves, forest preserves, etc. will often have wildflower tours or classes around this time of year. One place to check out if you live in the Chicago area is the Morton Arboretum.
If you’re looking to strike out on your own, a local forest preserve or state park is a great choice. You may be surprised at how many of them are around your area. You can usually see them if you simply look around your address on Google Maps. If you want to make it a family excursion, try turning it into a scavenger hunt. Make a list of wildflowers native to your area, and try to find as many as possible.
To add more to your list than what I have here check out the following links:
Bring your phone or a camera with you. You’ll want to get photos of your finds. As hard as it may be, do not pick any flower from a park or preserve. Many of these little gems are sadly endangered or threatened. If you pick the flower, you prevent them from producing seeds for new plants.
All herbal information was derived from www.altnature.com. Lewis and Clark Community College and I do not endorse the use of these plants for healing purposes and do not suggest their use without consulting a licensed physician. Many plants are toxic, even deadly, when not prepared correctly. Never consume any wild plant without expertise training and knowledge.