The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

The Wonders of Woodland Wildflowers

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

Tulips and daffodils aren't the only spring flower show offs. One of the best spring displays is occurring in the local woodlands. Jack-in-the-pulpit, dutchman's 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 are a bit shy at showing their bloomers.

Jack-in-the-pulpits are preaching 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 isn't Harry-in-the-pulpit or Jane-in-the-pulpit seems to be a mystery.

Mayapples are very obvious right now. Their colonies of miniature green umbrellas are prefect candidates to protect wood nymphs from the rain. Their white flowers are held underneath the large leaves, but only on plants with twin umbrellas.

The lacy blue-green leaves of dutchman's breeches are reminiscent of their relatives the bleeding hearts. The flowers dangle like pants (or breeches) on a clothesline.

The batman-looking bloodroot leaves are visible but the flowers have long since shown their glory. Spring beauties are a chorus line of pink and white flowers dancing among the other lovelies. These beauties are just about the first and last of the spring wildflowers to bloom.


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 or pink 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.

Solomon's seal will soon be in bloom with its arching stems and dangling flowers. A variety of Solomon's 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.

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.

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, look for plants designated as "nursery propagated". Plants labeled "nursery grown" may still have been dug in the wild.

Visit Allerton Park in Monticello this weekend to enjoy the wildflowers and add plants to your garden during their plant sale April 28th from 9-5 and 29th from 11-4. Other places to view wildflowers include Busey Woods in Urbana, Patton Woods northeast of Rantoul and Forest Glen south of Danville.


Stop by Lincoln Square Village in Urbana on Saturday May 12 starting at 8 AM for a plant sale extravaganza. Shop among several vendors with native plants, hostas, herbs, and annual flowers. Help support Grand Prairie Friends, C-U Herb Society, Illinois Prairie Hosta Society, and C-U Business and Professional Women's Club.

Tuesday, May 15: Master Gardener bus trip to the Missouri Botanical Gardens; $35; call 217-333-7672 for more information.

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