Extension Educator, Horticulture
Jack-in-the-pulpit, dutchman's breeches, toothwort, trillium, dog tooth violet and blue-eyed Mary–the names are as delightful as the flowers. The native woodlands of Illinois found in Allerton Park, Busey Woods and others come alive with flowers this time of year. Also the unique variety and durability of spring wildflowers can add spice to a shady 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.
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.
If you look close, you may still find a few Dutchman's breeches in bloom. The lacy blue- green leaves of dutchman's breeches look like their relative bleeding heart. Bloodroot leaves are visible, but the flowers have long since shown their glory. Bloodroot leaves look like the Batman emblem. 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.
Blue flowers are among my favorites and Virginia bluebells, wild sweet William and blue- eyed Mary are never disappointing. The pink buds of Virginia bluebells open to blue bell-like flowers held in arching clusters on the two feet tall plants. Wild sweet William has blue phlox-like flowers. Blue-eyed Mary flowers have a split personality with two petals of white and three 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. 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. Stop by Lincoln Square Mall Saturday May 9th from 9am-3pm for the Grand Prairie Friends native plant sale. They are sure to have some locally grown woodland wildflowers along with prairie plants.
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, fringed bleeding hearts or astilbes. Go wild in your garden with native spring wildflowers. Dandelions don't count.
Container Gardening Program
Join us Saturday, May 2, at 9am at the Master Gardener Idea Garden on South Lincoln for a program on container gardening. Master Gardeners Laura Hartman and Karen Fletcher will share their expertise in combining plants for a beautiful show all season. No registration or fee is required. Mark your calendar for the Champaign County Master Gardeners' Plant Sale Saturday, May 16, and the Garden Walk Sunday June 14. For more information, call 217-333-7672.