Helen Grundmann Garden Design

Native Spring Wildflowers

What’s Up? — Native Spring Wildflowers That Are Emerging Now


spring wildflowers

Dutchman’s Breeches

Spring wildflowers and other interesting native plants (1) are sprouting up through the leaf litter now — I heartily recommend taking a hike in the woods to discover all of these lovelies.  These spring ephemerals emerge early while the sun is still able to reach the ground before being shaded out by the dense upper canopy leaves. See (2) below for a list of wonderful hiking destinations.

Dutchman’s Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria, shown above, gets its name because the flowers look like Dutchmen’s britches hanging upside down on a clothes line.  There are 4 petals; 2 that are yellow at the waistband, and 2 that form the pantaloons.  These are of special value for early emerging Bumble Bees who are especially adept at entering the blossom from the underside to access the nectar located up in the spur.  The vibration of their buzzing helps release the pollen particles, which they zumba on to the next blossom.

spring wildflowers

Spring Beauties

Another spring wildflower, true to its name, is the Spring Beauty, (Claytonia virginica), whose reflective cells attract pollinators. The pink stripes along the white petals act like runway lines guiding bees to the nectar.  Spring Beauties are common woodland wildflowers because of their ability to survive in disturbed and grazed areas.(3)  These are not only some of the prettiest spring wildflowers, but also considered by foragers to be some of the tastiest.  Their tubers, known as “fairy spuds”(4), are edible and rich in potassium, calcium and vitamins A and C.  They are said to taste more like boiled chestnuts than potatoes, and can be eaten either raw or cooked numerous ways.  Personally, if you’re inclined to get hungry on your hikes, I recommend bringing some nuts and a granola bar to be safe : )

spring wildflowers

Trout Lily

Trout Lilies are easily identified, even when not in flower, by their unusual camouflaged leaves.  Their grayish green leaves are mottled with brown or gray that resemble a brook trout.  The Erythronium americanum variety, which is native here in the northeast, sends up yellow flowers, but only after at least 7 years of life.  They can grow as a dense ground cover in places, although each grows as a clone from a small corm that sends out stolens that create new plants.  These corms are also edible raw with a fresh cucumber-like taste.  As Trout Lilies’ natural woodland habitat is being lost to urban sprawl, consider planting these lovelies in your own woodland, shade or rock garden.  They grow well in moist, well-drained, humus-rich soil.

spring wildflowers

Jack in the Pulpit

This native spring wildflower should perhaps be called, “Jack and Jill in the Pulpit” since it is hermaphroditic.  This plant has the ability to choose and changes its sex from season to season.  So, technically, sex change has been around for centuries/millennia.  Jack in the Pulpit, (Arisaema triphylum), begins first as a male and then later female. The tall stalk in the middle, or spadix, of the flower is covered with many tiny flowers of both sexes. Encasing the spadix is a hooded structure called the spathe, which serves to trap pollinating insects that are drawn in (5).  Each year plants grow from a seed or an underground corm, that stores energy from the previous season. Young plants take from 4-6 years to mature and reach sufficient size to be able to produce flowers.  The first flowers produced will be male, pollen-producing flowers.  In subsequent years, plants with a larger spadix will be able to grow more female flowers capable of producing seeds and fruit.  Producing seeds and fruit requires more energy on the part of the plant and takes more nutrients from the soil.  Reduced nutrients usually triggers the plant to revert back to its earlier male form, or even to its immature pre-flowering state.

spring wildflowers

White Violet

Do you know your State Flower?  In New Jersey, you may know that it is the Purple Violet, but in the woodland areas, you’ll find them in white, yellow and purple. They are easy to identify even when not flowering by their heart-shaped leaves.  Violets like moist soil so you may even see them moving into your lawn if you water a lot.  Many consider wild violets to be weeds when they appear in well-manicured lawns. Search the internet and you’ll find numerous posts on how to get rid of violets, but consider taking a different view — lawns should have pretty things growing within, like clover, that used to always be an integral component of lawn seed mixes. Wild violets stay low and green after flowering, plus they have many beneficial uses.  Raw, the leaves and flowers add a nice pop of color and sweetness.  They are a beautiful touch to a bottle of vinegar, plus the flowers are high in vitamins A and C. And you can also dry the flowers for tea or candy them for decorating cakes.

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All of the native wildflowers mentioned above grow in moist woodland environments, perfect for enjoying on a weekend hike. Please remember though, that many of these spring wildflowers must be 3-7 years old or more, in order to produce flowers. We always encourage taking pictures and not taking the plants themselves so they will be there for the next passersby (or pollinators) to see.

For more on New Jersey native wildflowers, there is an abundance of information available at NJ Native Plant Society. Consider joining our Hunterdon Chapter. And, I would love if you share pictures of your favorites with me — happy trails!

helen grundmann




Acknowledgements & References:

1  New Jersey Native Plant Society:

Click here for a list of scheduled hikes in New Jersey during 2016.  Other wonderful hiking destinations include:  Bowman’s Wildflower Preserve, Morales Nature Preserve, Musconetcong Gorge, Sourland Mountain Preserve, Great Swamp in Lord Stirling Park.

3  Nature Conservancy:

4  Brooklyn Botanic Gardens:

5  Michigan State University:


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