The next time you venture into the woodlands, take the time to spot some wildflowers. These will be perennial and native plants that do well in the shade but may not be as flamboyant as those cultivated plants that can be found in your local garden center or your yard.
They require less maintenance and simply exist as nature intended to handle the weather conditions they exist in, including harsh winters and hot summers.
These woodland wildflowers are still worth seeking out simply because they will look so different to the plants you are used to.
In this guide, we will detail twelve of the best woodland wildflowers to spot on your next adventure. This will include Cowslips, Virginia Bluebells, Trilliums, Jacob’s Ladder’s, and Snowdrops amongst others.
1. Virginia Bluebells
Also known as: Mertensia virginica
Of course, Virginia bluebells are to be found in American woodland though not necessarily just in Virginia.
They can typically be found in those river flood plains and moist woodlands from eastern North America, such as the states of Minnesota and New York, all the way into Quebec and Ontario in Canada.
If you have a full-shaded woodland garden, invest in some Virginia bluebells to get some much-needed color. At full bloom, the long stems will hold a handful of blue, bell-shaped and drooping flowers
2. Gold Star Grass
Also known as: Hypoxis hirsuta
You might have to look hard for some Common Gold Star Grass. As a low and tufted grass-like perennial, it lurks close to the ground.
The wildflower grows from a hard and hairy corn and is native to the parts of American woodland to the east of the Rocky Mountains.
Even if you are not in any open woodland, you may see it in a savanna or a few dry prairies. It may be slender, it may be thread-like, but those yellow flowers sure are bright.
3. Great White Trillium
Also known as: Trillium grandiflorum
With a 12 to 15-inch stem, the Great White Trillium should stand relatively tall in a woodland growth and they can cover a substantial amount of land.
When it is in full bloom, you cannot fail to spot the three big oval-shaped leaves which can turn pink when it matures.
It may be of interest that the rootstalks that lurk underground were gathered and then chewed by the Native Americans for the benefit of medicinal purposes.
That may have been helpful to their health yet problematic for the trilliums as they rise from those rootstalks and can die when the leaves are removed.
4. Red Trillium
Also known as: Trillium erectum
You would have to act fast to see the purple (not red) three, slightly backward curving, petals of a Red Trillium. That’s because they typically wither away within two to three weeks though they do leave a berry-esque fruit.
Try not to get too close though as they do have a foul smell which tends to attract carrion flies but since they act as pollinators that’s fine.
Such a problem did not put off the first herbalists as they used this foul-smelling plant to treat the condition of gangrene as the plant was said to share some similarities with the illness.
5. Dutchman’s Breeches
Also known as: Dicentra cucullaria
Dutchman’s Breeches tend to be found in large masses with their fern-like, basal leaves over a naked flower stalk. The flowers themselves are white, double-spurred, fragrant, and appear to be nodding.
If you get to see this plant at the right time, you may see a cluster of bumblebees that are there for pollination. Get there too late in early summer and the plant may appear to be dormant.
6. Yellow Trillium
Also known as: Trillium luteum
With their big, broad leaves, it should come as little surprise that Yellow Trillium is a member of the lily family. The leaves will look mottled yet get close to the wildflower as you should catch the scent of sweet lemons coming from its yellow flowers.
Yellow Trillium is a member of the bunchflower, Melanthiaceae family. If you do want to seek out this wildflower, head to the Great Smoky Mountains and its surrounding areas.
7. Solomon’s Seal
Also known as: Polygonatum spp
You can eat the young shoots of Solomon’s Seal rather like asparagus and the rhizomes have had a medicinal benefit for a range of ailments.
The wildflower has alternate leaves which are carried on stems that should be long but can be upright or arching. Those leaves should be oval-shaped and zigzag up the stem with each pair of leaves being just a bit offset from the next one.
Catch the wildflower at the right time as the stems will wither away in preparation for winter after turning a lemony-yellow and then brown during fall.
8. Trailing Arbutus
Also known as: Epigaea repens
Though Trailing Arbutus is its official name, this plant will be occasionally referred to as Plymouth Mayflower.
This is a clear reference to the days of the Pilgrim Fathers and how the wildflower was the quickest one to cheer them up after going through their very first New England winter.
It fails to rise very high and may only creep up to a height of four to six inches but its broad and oval leaves feel like leather and should be evergreen and aromatic.
The flowers may also vary from pale pink in color to plain white yet they should remain aromatic.
Also known as: Galanthus nivalis
When you see a few Snowdrops making an appearance in the woodland, you should know that spring is near. They are typically a good indicator of the change of the seasons out of winter to the new year.
One of the good things about seeing Snowdrops is they will signify that warmer weather is coming. You should be able to spot Snowdrops across the country as these hardy wildflowers will thrive in woodlands, pastures, ditches, and orchards.
10. Jacob’s Ladder
Also known as: Polemonium reptans
Jacob’s Ladder is best found in the state of Missouri where it is a native species. The wildflower is a member of the Polemoniaceae and has a range of height and width from a single foot to one and a half feet.
Though the name includes a ladder, this wildflower fails to creep and it freely self-seeds when the growing conditions are at an optimum level.
Take a look in the moist and rich woods of the state and you should be able to spot its light blue and bell-shaped flowers.
11. Wild Sarsaparilla
Also known as: Aralia nudicaulis
You may notice that Wild Sarsaparilla has a single leaf stalk that can grow between 18 and 24 inches. That then divides into three parts which individually have five oval leaflets.
There should also be a separate stalk which is somewhat shorter than the leaf stalk and has clusters of small, green-tinted white flowers that turn into dark purply berries come winter.
From an extensive rootstalk, you can expect plenty of colones of Wild Sarsaparilla.
Also known as: Caltha palustris
As a member of the buttercup family, the Cowslip is a relatively succulent wildflower that has glossy leaves that can be in the shape of a heart or kidney. The stem will branch out yet remain hollow and thick to support the shiny, bright yellow flowers.
Be careful with this wildflower as it can be confused with marigolds yet the flowers more closely resemble the color of buttercups. Also, you can boil up the leaves to use them as potherbs yet they should not be eaten raw.
The next time you take a walk in the woodlands, take your time with it. Though there may be huge trees to look up to, look closer to the ground and you should be able to see some wildflowers.
Some are decidedly hardy and can cope with a range of weather conditions and climates across the country. Others will only make an appearance for a limited period of time, maybe even just a few weeks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should you spot a vacant piece of woodland that is ideal for a certain wildflower then you can plant the seeds.
Start by preparing the soil in specific areas and plant your selected wildflower seeds specifically. You can also cover a wider area by scattering the seeds across the existing vegetation.
While some wildflowers are hardy and tend to make an appearance at certain times of the year, others can grow incredibly quickly.
This includes poppies, petunias, and sunflowers which can take a fraction of the time to germinate and blossom compared to other wildflowers.
If you have a favorite woodland to walk into, the scenery can change between visits as some wildflowers make a sudden appearance.
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