Every April I look forward to the appearance of our native wildflowers in our woodlands. Not only are they beautiful but they provide critical early nectar for our pollinators (bees, moths, and butterflies, all of which need some love. There are nearly 4000 species of native ground and twig nesting bees in the U.S., with several hundred in Vermont – such diversity is critical for long-term survival on a rapidly changing planet. Native bees currently pollinate many crops in addition to wildflowers and pollinator/plant adaptations have evolved, whether it is blooming time or blossom shape, to mutually benefit both species.
A question I often get from clients is “how can I establish a blooming carpet of native wildflowers in my own woods?” The most adventurous approach would be to try to propagate your own – see Bill Cullina’s very thorough book on the subject:
The New England Wild Flower Society Guide to Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada
If you don’t have an existing stand of plants on your property, please DO NOT collect them from the wild. Instead, you can purchase seed and bareroot plants from an online source such as Prairie Moon Nursery, or even better, purchase container plants from a local nursery. Up until recently Northeast native wildflowers have not been that readily available in most garden centers, but that is changing thanks to the efforts of wholesale grower Van Berkum Nursery, which sells a line of native plants called New England Woodlanders®, and NEWFS at Garden in the Woods and Nasami Farm, which sells natives to garden centers as well as retail.
Here I have listed my Top 10 New England Woodland Wildflowers that will be easier to find, as well as some fun facts and growing tips:
|Round-lobed Hepatica, and Sharp-lobed Hepatica||Anemone americana, and Anemone acutiloba||Grows on wooded slopes in rich alkaline soils. 1/3 of flowers are white in Vermont dense forest, making them easier to find by pollinators.||Blooms before trees leaf out; evergreen; was used for "snake oil" cures for the liver in the 1800's due to its leaf shape. 40 species of insects visit the flowers, mostly native solitary bees and bumblebees; ants disperse the seeds.|
|Wild Red Columbine||Aquilegia canadensis||likes dry rocky slopes; seeds are nicked as they roll down through gravel crevices, increasing germination||Larval host for the Dusky Wing Butterfly; Only Bumblebee and Ruby-Throated Hummingbird tongues are long enough to reach the nectar in tips of spurs - other insects get impatient and chew holes; Aquilegia = Eagle, spurs resemble claws; bloom time coincides with migratory arrival of hummingbirds|
|Marsh Marigold||Caltha palustris||prefers moist boggy soil, can grow in shallow standing water in spring||Appears as plain yellow to humans but insects see nectar guidelines to a dark center in UV light;|
|Spring Beauty||Claytonia virginica||can carpet large areas on woodland margins, in small grassy clearings in woodlands; flower to seed in 2 weeks; true ephemeral||Carpets woodland edges; flowers are white to pink with deeper pink lines that serve as a nectar guide; flowers open above 52° F since andrenid bees need 55° for flight.|
|Dutchman's Breeches||Dicentra cucullaria||Rich loamy soils; often inbetween rocky areas; small underground white bulblets found a few inches below ground; loses its leaves after flowering||Bloom synched with Queen bumblebees emerging from their ground nests; seeds carried by ants|
|Trout Lily||Erythronium americanum||plants don't flower until they are 4-7 yrs old; best propagated by bulb offsets; grows on moist woodland floors; flowers close on overcast days||Only bumblebee tongue long enough to reach nectar; blooms along trout streams, has leaves spooted like the fish and blooms when anglers return to streams in spring; reliant on pollinators to reproduce|
|Mayapple||Podophyllum peltatum||Thrives in moist soil; spreads to form large colonies spreading with rhizomes; can grow under pines in dry semi-shade||White flower develops into large fruits in the fall that are a favorite food of box turtles|
|Bloodroot||sanguinaria canadensis||grows in rich forests and hillsides, leaves and flowers emerge at the same time (developed underground the year before);||Only member of its genus in the world; red juice was used by Native Americans to dye clothes and paint faces; remains on cloudy days when Andrena bees aren't flying to conserve pollen|
|Large-Flowered Trillium||Trillium grandiflorum||plant is 4-years old from seed before it shows its 3 leaves, and 16-17 years old before flowering. T. grandiflorum found on alkaline soils; flowers turn pink as they age||Trillium= 3 leaves, 3petals, 3-celled ovaries, 3-ribbed berries; Look for bloom as the trees are beginning to leaf out and Robins return (why its called Wake Robin); polinated by bumblebees|
|Large Merrybells||Uvularia grandifolia||likes rich moist alkaline soil; drought tolerant once established||Seeds are carried in inflated star-shaped capsules|