Spring walks in the woods are very enjoyable. Many of us look for morel mushrooms, but there is much more to see at the same time. Rhonda Ferree, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, says "Woodland wildflowers are beautiful and a welcome sign of spring."
A common woodland wildflower is the spring beauty (Claytonia virginica). This is a low plant with loose clusters of pink or whitish flowers, striped with dark pink. The flowers are one-half to three-fourths inch wide with five petals. Leaves are long, linear and grass-like. These flowers bloom from March to May in moist woods and clearings. This spring perennial is spectacular in large patches and grows from an underground tuber like a small potato. At Rhonda's former residence near Champaign, she had beautiful large patches of these across her lawn.
A more noticeable native wildflower is Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica). This 8-24 inch erect plant has smooth gray-green leaves and nodding clusters of light blue trumpet-shaped flowers. The individual flowers start as pink buds and open to about 1 inch long. Virginia Bluebells flower from March to June in moist woods and is also a popular shade garden plant. Grown in masses, this flower is hard to miss.
There are several flowers from the poppy family that have spectacular spring showings: Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), Corydalis (Corydalis sp.), and Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Dutchman's Breeches and Corydalis have delicate, fern-like leaves and grow to about a foot tall. Dutchman's Breeches are more common. The name comes from the clusters of fragrant, white, pantaloon-shaped flowers. Corydalis flowers are pink or yellow, tubular, and must be appreciated up close. Bloodroot has a solitary white flower, with a golden-orange center that grows beside a lobed leaf. Roots and stems have an acrid red-orange juice, thus the name Bloodroot. Bloodroot flowers last for a very short time and may be hard to find after March.
Two more woodland flowers you are sure to see are wild blue phlox and wild geranium. Wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) has loose clusters of slightly fragrant light blue flowers above creeping oval leaves. Also called Wild Sweet William, it will bloom from April to June. Rhonda says, "I remember seeing these as a child while walking Central Illinois woods with my dad." Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) is easily recognized by its typical geranium leaves and loose clusters of lavender flowers. It grows 1-2 feet tall and is found from April to June.
These are just a few of the flowers to look for while exploring our woodlands this spring. Take lots of pictures, but please leave the wildflowers. Although the ones mentioned here are numerous, some of our wildflowers are becoming rare. Leaving them assures they'll remain for others to see in the future.
Photos of these wildflowers and more are found on Rhonda's facebook page at www.facebook.com/ferree.horticulture. For more information on this or other horticultural issues, contact your local Extension office by visiting www.extension.illinois.edu.
Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Extension Educator, Horticulture & State Master Naturalist Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pull date: May 2, 2011