A Dozen Spring Wildflowers You Should Know

How many of these Perry Farm wildflowers can you name? Hover your cursor over each photo and its name will appear; click to enlarge the photo. Then read more about each flower below.

  1. Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

A member of the poppy family, Bloodroot is named for the orange-red juice in its rhizomes, from which Native Americans made a red dye. I like to think of it as the Water Lily of the Woods: Its lovely white petals open when the sun comes up and close when it sets. It also is recognizable by its lobed, basal leaves (i.e., leaves that grow only at the base of the plant). It attracts a variety of bees, including the honeybee, though its flowers are short-lived. Its foliage and roots are toxic.

  1. Buttercup (Ranunculus septentrionalis- Swamp Buttercup)

Its five yellow leaves are shiny because they contain a layer of reflective cells—hence the game we used to play as kids: We’d hold a buttercup under a friend’s chin, and if the skin reflected the yellow color, we’d announce that our friend liked butter. (When we got older, a yellow reflection meant a girl friend liked boys.) Buttercups attract a variety of native bees (though apparently not the honeybee). Their Latin name Ranunculus means “little frog” and reflects their tendency to grow in wet environments.

  1. Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)

This member of the Mustard family is easy to identify by its “toothed” leaves (they look a bit like marijuana leaves). The Illinois Wildflowers website notes that Passenger Pigeons used to eat the plant’s tubers, which apparently taste peppery (and hence its common name, Pepperroot).

  1. Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

One of Mother Nature’s oddflowers, Dutchman’s Breeches take me back in time: My mother first pointed them out to me during a mushroom hunting trip, tiny white pants hanging from miniature clothes lines. Sigh. Despite their odd shape, they also are a favorite of bees.

  1. Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis acuta, Sharp-Lobed Hepatica)

Hepatica is one of my favorite early spring flowers. The plants grow in tufts on the hillsides, little nests of purple, pink, or white flowers shooting up out of the leaf litter. This member of the Buttercup family is commonly called “Liverleaf” because its basal leaves have three lobes. These leaves can be round-lobed, sharp-lobed, or somewhere in between. The leaves first are visible in winter, a promise of the flowers to come. They attract a variety of bees, including the honeybee.

  1. Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Nothing smells better than a Mayapple, whose fragrance (I think) is a blend of pineapple and honeydew melon. There is a notion that plants must have a pair of leaves to produce a flower (which grows in the apex where the leaf stems meet). But Keith and I have found flowers on plants that have a single leaf and even on plants with no leaves at all. Evolution is at work on the Perry Farm! The ripe fruits are tasty, too, and I eat one (note the emphasis on one?) each spring with no negative results. But if you’re not sure they’re ripe, don’t take a bite, since Mayapples are mildly toxic. Folks who make Mayapple jelly always remove the seeds before they cook the fruit.

  1. Purple Cress (Cardamine douglassii)

Like Cutleaf Toothwort, Purple Cress also is a member of the Mustard family. Here, it grows in the sand along the creek and is visited by an assortment of bees.

  1. Prairie Trillium (Trillium recurvatum recurvatum)

Like all trilliums, the Prairie Trillium has three leaves (“tri” = 3). They typically are a mottled, camouflage green, but sometimes they’re solid green, too. The term “prairie” is a misnomer, by the way, since these plants grow in the woods. You can distinguish the Prairie Trillium from other kinds of trilliums by its sepals (the green “petals” below the deep red petals), which droop away from the flower, and by the fact that the flower appears to sit on top of the leaves, rather than growing from a stalk above the leaves. I admit to never having seen a bee on a Prairie Trillium, though I have read that they collect pollen from the plant.

  1. Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Although it’s a member of the Purslane family and thus related to one of my least favorite garden weeds, the Spring Beauty is a tiny, mighty wonder that can and will grow virtually anywhere. Look closely and you’ll see that each petal has tiny bright or pale pink stripes. The plant’s corm (its food storage unit, basically a bulb with no rings) is edible: It reportedly tastes like a chestnut. The flower is a bee favorite as well.

  1. Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

These small, mustard-yellow lilies are another example of “spring ephemera,” wildflowers that bloom one day and are gone the next (Bee visitors have to be quick!). They grow in colonies, which Keith and I first noticed as patches of mottled green leaves. They’re called “trout” lilies because the speckled leaves reminded someone long ago of brook trout. Most of the leaves in the colony are singles; only when the plants are old enough to have two leaves will they produce a flower. Makes sense, right?

  1. Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense reflexum)

This inconspicuous little flower hides under its more visible heart-shaped leaves. Its root smells and tastes like ginger, but there is conflicting evidence about whether it is safe to eat—so we don’t. The leaves definitely are toxic.

  1. Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricate laphamii)

This fragrant, five-petaled beauty is a real woodland star here at the Perry Farm (and I mean this literally: Note the tiny star in the center of each flower?). It is a favorite of long-tongued bees such as Bumblebees.


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