The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Spring Wildflowers Showoff

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

No matter how much I love tulips and daffodils, the best spring show is occurring in the local woodlands. Jack-in-the-pulpit, dutchmanÍs breeches, toothwort, trillium, dog tooth violet and blue-eyed Mary - the names are as delightful as the flowers. Look quick because these guys and gals donÍt wait to show their bloomers. You might also gather some ideas on what you can buy to grow in your shady garden. Spring wildflowers offer diversity and durability to your garden.

Jack-in-the-pulpits will be blooming soon in a woodland near you. Their unusual flowers are on a cylindrical column - alias Jack. The flowers are surrounded by a tubular petal-like structure with an arching hood - alias the pulpit. Why it isnÍt Harry-in-the-pulpit or Jane-in-the-pulpit seems to be a mystery.

Mayapples are very obvious right now. They look like colonies of miniature green umbrellas where wood nymphs go to get out of the rain. Their white flowers are held underneath the large leaves, but only on plants with twin umbrellas.

The lacy blue-green leaves of dutchmanÍs breeches look like their relative bleeding heart. The breeches flowers hang like pants on a clothesline. The batman-looking bloodroot leaves are visible but the flowers have long since shown their glory. Purple trillium shows off its dappled leaves in whorls of three. The purple flower is held erect above the leaves and is also known as purple wake-robin.

Virginia bluebells, wild sweet William and blue-eyed Mary are never disappointing. The pink buds of Virginia bluebells open to blue bell-like flowers dangling in arching clusters on the two feet tall plants. Look close and you will see a few white bells among the sea of blue. Wild sweet William has blue phlox-like flowers with sweet fragrance. Blue-eyed Mary flowers have a split personality with 2 petals of white and 3 petals of blue.

SolomonÍs seal will soon be in bloom with its arching stems and dangling flowers. A variety of SolomonÍs seal with green and white leaves is available in garden centers.

Once established native wildflowers are durable and well adapted to our climate. Generally woodland wildflowers grow and flower before the leaves appear on the trees. The best planting spots recreate a woodland setting. Add leaf compost to the soil before planting and mulch with shredded bark and leaves after planting. Additional fertilizers are not necessary. Do not dig plants from the wild, no matter how plentiful you think the plants are. First many wildflowers do not transplant well from the wild especially when they are in flower, so they are likely to die. Also digging flowers may damage nearby plants and disturbs the forest floor for invasion of weedy non-native plants.

When purchasing wildflowers, ask the garden center or nursery for the source of the plants. Look for plants designated as "nursery propagated." Plants labeled "nursery grown" may still have been dug in the wild. Great local areas to view wildflowers include Allerton Park in Monticello, Busey Woods in Urbana, Patton Woods northeast of Rantoul and Forest Glen south of Danville.

Since most spring wildflowers are not visible during the summer, grow them with groundcovers such as sweet woodruff, vinca or wild ginger. Tuck some wildflowers next to hostas, ferns, fringed bleeding hearts or astilbes. Stop by Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana on Saturday May 11 from 9-3 for the Grand Prairie Friends native plant sale. They are sure to have some locally grown woodland wildflowers along with prairie plants.

Join us at the CU Junior WomanÍs Club Artful Garden Gala on April 20 from 9-4 at the Champaign County Fairgrounds in Urbana. Plants, crafts, garden accessories and workshops are sure to get you ready for the season.

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