Ephemeral Woodland Wildflowers & Return of the Ethereal Hermit Thrush…

Red Trillium (Trillium erectum)

There’s no place quite like New England for experiencing three seasons in one day. Sunday morning I rose to find a chilly house and snow covered gardens. Soon –with the sun shining brightly outside– temperatures soared to 63°. Breakfast in the snowy garden … Well, why not? I threw open the entryway doors, soaked up the warm rays, and sipped my morning coffee.

As I sat gazing upon the blushing hillside, taking in the quiet still of morning air, I heard a sweet, long-anticipated sound in the distance. Rising and falling —a mystery in shadowy hemlock boughs— the ethereal song of the hermit thrush echoed through the trees. Flute-like and gently warbling, the sound of this bird’s melancholy voice always bring tears to my eyes. All thrushes have beautiful songs —I’m particularly fond of the twilight serenade of the veery and the haunting, melodic and supremely beautiful voice of the wood thrush— but the return of the hermit to my mountain top signals spring like nothing else. The hermit thrush is the sound of childhood memory —dusky riverbeds and humid, rainy mornings— and it will always be my favorite (click on name of bird to listen to its song at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology online).

Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot) takes its name from the bright red sap of its roots

This morning, seduced by woodland’s springtime song, I pulled on my raincoat and ventured into the damp darkness —filled with the musky scent of leaf mold and dewy moss— to find an explosion of life emerging on the forest floor. Busy bees hummed about in the mist and silver-tipped fiddleheads shimmered in the dim light. The first two flowers I spotted were Red Trillium (Trillium erectum, pictured at top of article) and Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, above). Sometimes called ‘Stinking Benjamin’ due to its odor (personally, I don’t find it all that offensive, even close-up), Trillium erectum blooms a beautiful, maroon-red color. Hardy in USDA zones 3-9, the trilliums —members of the lily family— prefer moist woodland soil and make lovely shade garden plants (be sure to purchase trillium from a reputable grower – never dig plants from the wild). Due to its summer-time dormancy, this perennial is best combined with other shade plants. Red and White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) are particularly lovely companions to lady fern (Athyrium filix feminina) and cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea).

The beautiful, starry flowers of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, pictured above) are among the earliest blossoms both in my garden and surrounding forest (USDA zone 3-9). Rich in pollen, early-flowering Bloodroot flowers are an important source of food for bees and pollinating flies. Although its white flowers are lovely in combination with many early-blooming bulbs and perennials, this is one springtime ephemeral that needs no leafly companion for summer-time camouflage. Bloodroot’s intricately-edged, long-lasting leaves make an excellent ground-cover in shady situations (particularly beneath shrubs and trees, in well-drained soil).

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) – one of the earliest blooming North American wildflowers in my forest

The last flower I spotted this morning was the charming Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria, pictured above). Dutchman’s Breeches —as well as fragrant Squirrel Corn (D. canadensis), Wild Bleeding Heart (D. eximia) and other members of this lovely group of wildflowers— are an important source of springtime nectar for pollinators like bumble bees, honeybees and other long tongued bees. Various dicentra species are native to moist woodlands throughout North America (most are hardy in zones 3-8), and these delicately textured native plants make fine additions to the shade garden. Like most springtime ephemerals, the foliage yellows and withers in dormancy, so it’s best to combine these perennials with large-leafed companions (ferns, astilbe, coral bells, etc).

Trillium erectum: So what if it doesn’t smell nice! I still think it’s one of the prettiest springtime flowers

Native forest flora and fauna have always fascinated me –a childhood interest nurtured by my knowledgable woodsman father– and while growing up here in New England, I learned to identify most native plant and animal species from my dad. My love of woodland wildflowers and native plants only grows deeper with each passing year, and I enjoy sharing my passion with others. The Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center and The New England Wildflower Society are two great, non-profit, online resources for native plant enthusiasts. Learning to identify, protect and grow native plants helps support wildlife; including bee, butterfly and bird populations.

William Cullina’s Wildflowers

I’ve mentioned favorite horticultural author, William Cullina’s books here many times, and his book, Wildflowers, with The New England Wildflower Society, is never far from reach during the growing season. An excellent native plant resource for North American gardeners —including those in the west— this book serves as both an encyclopedia of plants and growers guide-book to perennial wildflowers. In honor of The Gardener’s Eden’s anniversary this month, I will be giving away a copy of this beautiful book.*

To enter, simply leave a comment on today’s post, and in your comment, name your favorite wildflower and why you love it. Be sure to correctly enter your email address so that I can contact you if you win the giveaway (your email won’t be visible to others, nor will it be shared or sold). Your entry must be received by 11:59 pm Eastern Time, Friday, April 29th. A winner will be randomly chosen from all entries received in comments, and announced 4/30 here on this post, on The Gardener’s Eden Facebook page, and also on Twitter. Due to shipping constraints, this giveaway is open to readers in the United States and Canada only.

Good Luck! xo Michaela

*This is an unsponsored giveaway- book purchased by Michaela. All reviews are purely editorial, and are based on the personal experience and opinions of this author.

congratulations to wendy, winner of william cullina’s wildflowers!

Article and Photographs â“’ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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22 Replies to “Ephemeral Woodland Wildflowers & Return of the Ethereal Hermit Thrush…”

  1. Donna

    I too love wildflowers and I grow them in my garden…my favorite is hard to name but I think it is Virginia bluebells..the nodding blue cups with that heavenly scent overwhelm me. I even love the purple growth as it emerges in spring…

  2. Nancy Hamilton

    I have read that the wood thrush has one of; if not the most beautiful of the bird songs. I, as yet, cannot identify all the local birds by their songs. There is no mistaking “my” Carolina Wrens and of course the Robins, Cardinals, and Catbirds. :)
    Oh! that I had an appropriate spot for some of those wild flowers in my yard or even would find some in the woods next door which are over run with wild rose and honeysuckle… much of which I must continually “beat back” from the property line…. :)

  3. Nancy Hamilton

    I would have to say my favorite wild flower is Jack in the Pulpit… child hood memories and just the way it looks and seemingly appears from nowhere (oops – forgot to enter that above)

  4. Wendy

    I really enjoy reading your blog and how you express yourself I feel like I’m there with you. My favorite wild flowers are the violets peeking through the leaves on the forest floor. As a child my grandma would point them out to to me and I cherished our walks in the forest together. I love so many wild flowers but violet is for sure a favorite.

  5. Jane Rexing

    My favorite spring ephemeral is a toss up between twin leaf and Virginia bluebells. Twinleaf for the fragile flower and unusual leaf, and blebells for true breathtaking color. I must admit it is hard to choose just one. Dutchman breeches are pretty cool too!

  6. Morgan

    I love Indian Paintbrushes. My parents’ house always has a lot near the pond and I fondly recall my sisters and I as youngsters pretending they were actual paintbrushes.

  7. Jan Zona

    What a lovely commentary on these hidden beauties and early harbingers of color to woodland floor. Trillium with it’s tricolor magenta blooms always cheer me on my morning walks with my dog. Dutchman’s britches and Jack in the Pulpit are childhood favorites for their fanciful names that so aptly describe their blooms to a child’s mind. Trout lilies spotlit by scattered sunbeams carpeting the entry to a vernal brook is another delight to winter weary eyes.

    Can you tell that I am eagerly awaiting a glimpse of all these woodland wonders? They are still a week two away from putting on their show in my woods, so I shall patiently wait their arrival and enjoy these lovely photos.

    A favorite – they all are, but Bloodroot holds a special place in my heart. As a young girl my neighbor, an avid gardener would take my on forays into the woods to seek out wild flowers, and Bloodroot was one of the very first that we found together in the spring, it’s fragile and beautiful white blooms appearing before the gorgeous foliage fully forms and the lore of the root as a native dye captured my imagination and remains with me still.

    Sorry to go on – I do live woodland wildflowers!

  8. paspirit

    I love buttercups. They remind me of my childhood. We used to hold one under our chin and if the yellow from the flower reflected onto the chin it meant you liked butter.

    Thank you for the great post and photos!

  9. Helen

    My favorite wildflower? That would have to be Lady’s Slippers. They are probably one of the first thing in nature I learned to respect. I was taught to never pick them & to just appreciate them when you came upon them. To this day when that happens it catches my breath.

  10. Deb Weyrich-Cody

    Oh, how I love the woods at this time of year! Dog-toothed violet, white and red trillium, wild ginger, bloodroot… but my absolute favourite wildflower (and the only one that’s ventured out so far this abnormally long, cold spring) is Hepatica: the flowers are so fleeting, but always first to bloom here.

    Thank you for giving me hope that yes, spring is on it’s way. xo D

  11. lulu

    oh, Michaela, how am i ever to pick my favorite wildflower?? oh, how I love the woodland wildflowers. I think my utmost favorite is ghost pipe, although actually a fungus, it has mystical qualities and takes me on a mystical journey through the woodlands when i find it. My old dearest 90 year old friend, introduced it to me many years ago in her forest and it induces memories of being in the forest with her.
    Thank you for sharing these beautiful pictures. They inspired me to take my first trip into Pam’s forest today, despite the gloomy weather to search for the trillium and perhaps some spring beauties. xoxoLulu

  12. Jen

    I can’t wait to get out into the woods for a peak at what’s starting to emerge. I remember first learning the term “Spring Ephemerals” and how they are able to get more sun this time of year before the trees leaf out. I thought that was so fascinating, and I still do.

    I can’t pick a favorite. Maybe my favorite thing is finding something that I’ve never seen before, taking a picture or committing it to memory so I can ID it when I get home.

    I really love Tiarella cordifolia (sp?) – Foam Flower.

    I still remember exactly where I was on the Long Trail the first time I saw Dutchman’s Breeches in the forest. I was thrilled! Hiking with me in the Spring is a pain in the neck because I’m constantly stopping and stooping to “botanize”.

  13. Sarah Godbold

    Oh Michaela, what beautiful pictures. How can I ever pick just one, I love them all, BUT, I am a rather plain gal and intensely love the daisy and Queen Anne’s Lace.

    I so hope when I get to New Hampshire this May I have the birds you do. Does the thrush go to feeders, oh my so much to learn and it is all good!

    Much obliged, Sarah

  14. Terry Covington

    Michaela, what a beautiful post! I recently discovered your site and it’s incredible. My favorite wildflower is the Johnny Jump-Up, because my grandfather let it grow wild among the grass in his lawn because my grandmother loved it so. When they were in their 80s he was still picking little bouquets of it and leaving love notes to her on their kitchen table. So I always associate it with their farmhouse and their love for each other. Thank you for the chance to get a copy of this book, which looks amazing.

  15. Susan H.

    Hello Michaela
    The trout lily… aptly named and elusive, demure. A gift when you happen upon a swath at just the right moment.

  16. Dinnie Goldring

    White and Lavender Columbine Aquilegia caerulea

    I love the Colorado Columbine as much for the beautiful shape, lovely color, and sunny face as I do for the memories of my early 20’s living in the mountains of Colorado. Just seeing a columbine can bring back the smells, sounds, colors and feelings of a walk in the gulch behind our house.

  17. Stacey Morley

    My springtime favorite is the red trillium. It is the first flower that appears in our maple bush when we are finishing up the season. It is a happy little reminder that this season is coming to an end and another, in the field, is beginning…

    Thank you from my little piece of Eden to yours!

  18. Bill B

    Dandelion. Why is it my favorite,I don’t have to get my ass out of the chair to see it, it’s right out my window.
    Send me the book!

  19. Michaela

    Congratulations to Wendy! Her name was randomly drawn from all entries. Wendy, please contact me with your mailing address and your book will ship out next week. Thank you to everyone for your lovely and thoughtful comments! xo M

    ps Bill, the bees must really love you ;)

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