PASSAIC COUNTY, N.J. -- Native ephemeral plants are nature’s happy surprise in the spring. Like savoring a fine wine, you can appreciate spring ephemerals only briefly, but they make a lasting impression that lingers on. After deciduous trees leaf out, spring ephemerals start to die back, receding into the ground, storing their energy until they emerge again in the following spring.
Part one of this article described some of our common spring ephemerals that you can grow in your own woodland garden. Here are some more charming spring ephemerals to try:
Mertensia virginica (Virginia Bluebells)
Native to much of the Eastern U.S., Virginia Bluebells offer a showy splash of blue–lavender color to the spring garden. Their buds start off as pink and transition into blue as the buds mature into bell-shaped flowers. On occasion, you might even see an unusual white-colored form.
Very easy to grow, Virginia Bluebells will reward you with some gentle re-seeding in the garden. A number of native bees, including bumble bees, visit the flowers for nectar and pollen – an important early resource in the spring.
Trillium grandiflorum (Large-flowered Trillium)
Trilliums are some of our most cherished spring wildflowers and some of the most threatened. Long-lived, but slow to mature, all Trilliums require years of growth before they are capable of producing flowers. Large-flowered Trillium can take up to 16 years before flowering in the woods! When purchasing this plant, make sure to buy from a reputable nursery that has propagated their own plants, and not collected plants from the wild.
Named for three leaves and three large, white flower petals, Trillium grandiflorum is found in soils that are less acidic than some other Trillium species. The large white flowers offer nectar to bumble bees, and turn pink as they age.
Cardamine concatenata (Cut-leaf Toothwort)
Toothwort gets its odd name from its underground rhizome (root-like structure) that is shaped like a tooth. Newly emerging leaves are dark red, becoming green as they grow, with notable “cuts” in the leaves. Bell-shaped white or pink flowers appear above the distinctive leaves and provide forage for small bees and bee flies.
The leaves of Toothwort serve as larval food for the native Virginia White Butterfly. After the flowers fade and go to seed, the leaves die back, disappearing by he end of May.
Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot)
In dispute as a true ephemeral, Bloodroot often holds its leaves through the summer. A unique plant with some unusual characteristics, it is the only plant in its genus Sanguinaria. Bloodroot is named for the red sap that occurs in its underground stem, stalk, and leaves.
Only one flower appears from each small plant, emerging above a single unusual leaf. The white flowers usually have 8 petals with yellow centers containing pollen for some small native bees and pollinating flies. After being pollinated, Bloodroot flowers drop to the ground within a matter of hours, leaving the intriguing leaves behind. The foliage is attractive enough to warrant planting this spring charmer.
Kim Eierman, a resident of Bronxville, is an environmental horticulturist and Founder of EcoBeneficial ! When she is not speaking, writing, or consulting about ecological landscapes, she teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Native Plant Center and Rutgers Home Gardeners School.