Spring Ephemerals: Our Native Wildflowers

Nothing seems to say “springtime is truly here” as the sight of our native woodland wildflowers in full bloom. With a few exceptions, most of these elusive spring beauties are tied into the seasonal rhythms of their shady woodland homes. Early spring provides a short window when these alluring plants can be enjoyed, even if it is for what seems to be a brief minute. When the warmer temperatures arrive, most species will go dormant for the season. They bloom for just a few weeks, and then their leaves turn yellow and the plants disappear. These plants are called spring ephemerals.

A particularly lovely plant that can be spotted in our gardens soon is bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis . It is named for the reddish-orange latex found within the leaves and roots. The pure white, star-shaped flowers open early and are then followed by large, waterlily-like leaves that unfurl as the weather warms up. The leaves will stay around as long as the soil remains cool and moist. It is beautiful interplanted with other spring ephemerals such as Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica). Virginia bluebells have spectacular pink buds that open to blue dangling bells which attract hummingbirds and the early bumblebees. They can spread into a spectacular large mass. Plant it with ferns that will cover up the yellowing foliage.

Also blooming now in the moist woods of early spring is Hepatica, better known as liverwort. Named for its attractive lobed and speckled leaves that are similar to the shape of the human liver, this plant is a welcome sight in very early spring for its cheerful flowers that bloom blue, violet, white or pink. They often will bloom into May and they do not go dormant.

Pretty soon the shooting stars (Dodecatheon media) will be poking their heads up in our Learning Gardens. White or pink nodding, star-shaped flowers will soon appear on stiff, upright stems of these unique plants. They look especially attractive when combined with the broad heart-shaped leaves of the native woodland ginger (Asarum canadense).

If you are not lucky enough to have the garden conditions that these plants require, please take a trip to your local forest preserve, the Morton Arboretum, or Chicago Botanic Garden over the next few weeks to discover and enjoy these enchanting and elusive spring ephemerals before they disappear for another year.

Aurora Location

2000 Montgomery Road,

Aurora, IL 60504

Phone. 630-820-8088

Naperville Location

25w471 Plank Road,

Naperville, IL 60563

Phone. 630-355-4000

Spring Hours

March 30-June 30

Monday-Friday: 9am-7pm

Saturday: 9am-5pm

Sunday: 11am-5pm

Memorial Day Hours

Monday, May 27


Growing for the future with
right plantsĀ in right places.