The Ephemeral Plants of Spring


Ladies Slipper

Plants used in woodland gardens are …

those one might find naturally occurring. It has to do with specialized soils for these plants, spring ephemerals thrive on the floor of rich, undisturbed woodlands. They require well-drained acidic soil in dappled sunlight.

One thing about looking for wildflowers, many times they are like finding a hidden treasure, like the Lady Slipper above.


Erythronium albidum White Trout Lily

Sometimes they are found in patches, like these native Trout Lilies.



What many don’t realize, these species have limited time of sunshine between when the snow leaves and the time to leaf-out in which to grow, flower, be pollinated, and produce seeds. Trees start to leaf out and shade the forest floor, and the spring ephemerals will disappear back underground in the approaching heat of summer until next spring.


Tulipa urumiensis Wild Yellow Species Tulip

Many of these type of woodland plants have their seed dispersed by ants. Because of this method, a single ant may collect a thousand seeds, but only disperse them in a limited area, maybe only a few yards from the parent plant. This is why habitat fragmentation is a threat to spring ephemerals.


Wild Tulips in great numbers.


There is a place in Canada I hope to explore this season. Along with the coming wildflowers will also be the spring bird migrants, so it is a busy time for me.


Clintonia uniflora Queen’s Cup

I will be adding more spring plants hopefully when I return from the nature hikes. Where we are going has an abundance of spring ephemeral plants.


Osmundastrum cinnamomeum Cinnamon Fern

From our early childhood we have been drawn to meadows and wooded trails lined with spring ephemerals. The public’s increased interest and awareness in native plants has resulted in nurseries selling these plants for gardeners to grow.


Jack in the Pulpit

Unfortunatly, the State Park’s Departments are finding that there is an increase in the poaching of native wildflowers.


White Trillium

There really is quite interesting plants found in the eastern woodlands, but most are so specialized and adapted to their habitat that bringing them home for gardens is not only ethically improper, but likely to kill the plants being relocated.


Houstonia caerulea L. Quaker Ladies – Bluets

Other plants found in natural wooded areas and a few that peak at different times of year.


  • Anemones
  • Blueberries
  • Viburnums
  • Kousa Dogwood
  • Mountain Laurel
  • Rhododendron
  • Witch Hazel
  • Ferns
  • Leucothoe
  • Violets
  • Foam Flower
  • Lily-of-the-Valley
  • Lady fern
  • Carex
  • Serviceberry
  • Red Osier Dogwood

Erigeron strigosus Daisy fleabane

Some other early plants can be found in the sunny spots of the woodland too.


Podophyllum peltatum L. Mayapple

Next post, a very interesting, yet odd way to replace a lawn. It will get a lot of gardeners thinking.


Podophyllum peltatum flower

It has to do with flowers you might find in amongst your turf grass and those perennials you might think to use differently.


Ranunculus acris L. Tall buttercup

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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44 Responses to The Ephemeral Plants of Spring

  1. Lovely photos of some of my favorite plants. You really caught the essence of the mayapple.

  2. I always learn so much from you. Thanks for the great information.

  3. rose says:

    So many delicate beauties! You’ve made me want to drop everything, Donna, and go for a walk at the Forest Preserve near me.

    • I so like walking in the woods. The new problem this year is a new tick disease, Bourbon Disease, that is worse then Lyme. It has killed by organ failure in 11 days. I am a bit concerned since I was bit twice last year. It was very early in the season too, cold for ticks, but they were out there.

  4. Kevin says:

    Donna, think these are the plants that make me love spring. I like the idea that they’re wild and asleep for the winter — and without anyone tending to them, they reappear. Lovely.

  5. Nurse Kelly says:

    Hi Donna! This was just beautiful. Your photos are stunning. I have always loved these spring plants and flowers and really enjoyed this post. An absolute favorite of mine since I was a child, is the Lady Slipper. I’m planning on planting some in my yard this year, and recently found out that they are actually orchids!

  6. eulalia says:

    Love your pictures and allthose beautiful flowers and treess…

    Thanks for making my day happier with your posts.

  7. I am so glad I have some of these sweet beauties in my garden, Donna. I learned more about them from your posting… Didn’t know about the ants. It’s so sad that irresponsible people remove the ephemerals from their habitat. P. x

    • In the Poconos, I have seen many ephemeral plants. It is a great habitat for them. My uncle lives there. The ants do a great job with plants that depend on them for seed dispersal. I should write a post on how they do it. It is interesting how the seed evolved to be spread by ants. I think I learned this in one of our Master Gardener classes. So long ago, I cannot be sure.

  8. alesiablogs says:

    Nice post! The flowers are stunning.

  9. I have a special fondness for those ephemerals which bloom regardless[!] whether we notice them or not and they do it with such pride and simplicity… 🙂

  10. Emily Scott says:

    You don’t mention bluebells on your list. Do they count as an ephemeral? I am going to see a wood full of their special blue tomorrow.

    • Ahhh, those English Hyacinthoides non-scripta. We don’t have them in the woods in my area since they are native to the UK and Spain I think. We can buy bulbs of Scilla and other Hyacinthoides though for our gardens. They would be ephemerals if growing in the woods. We have a few other plants known as bluebells and one is, Campanula rotundifolia, another, Campanula glomerata which is in my garden in spring. Then you have my favorite in the US, the Texas Bluebell, Eustoma grandiflorurn. Our native bluebells grow in sun conditions though. I am probably forgetting many other bluebells in the US too.

      • Emily Scott says:

        I see, thanks. We are having problems with the Spanish ones as many are spreading and taking over the native bluebells (the same old story happening with all sorts of plant species moved around the world). I’m excited to see the bluebell wood.

  11. Great post! I have a perfect spot for planting a wild woodland area, but I still have work to go there. I didn’t do a thing with it last year… The Lady’s Slipper, Trout Lily, and Jack-In-The-Pulpit photos are great! Keep up the good work and GET DIRTY!

  12. Lovely post, Donna. Sadly, there is no need to poach our native wildflowers. There are sources who grow them for retail sale. Once I’ve even purchased the dried root stock of Red Trillium at a local nursery, although the memory fails on which one.

    • That is true, but many steal them because they see them as free. We do have nurseries that sell them, but as you know, the price is rather steep per plant, especially for the more difficult to propagate.

  13. I have some of these plants in my garden. Some are easy to grow, others not. Virginia Bluebells spread like weeds, though they are somewhat unsightly when they go dormant. There was a sale on Trillium grandiflorum at Prairie Nursery so I ordered several for this spring. I hope they do OK. We have Red Trillium and it does fairly well. Jack in the Pulpit for some reason has never done well in my garden.

    • Our garden club has ordered Red and White Trillium for their native garden. Most of their native plants are purchased. They too have the bluebells, I should have added them in the post. Next trip for the wildflowers I am sure to see them, but it will be later in May likely.

  14. Brian Comeau says:

    Coming to Canada eh??

    • Yep, right over the Niagara Gorge to the opposite side. There is a nice glen on that side. We don’t have as much open area as on the other side. As much as I walk the gorge on our side, there is less native ephemeral wildflowers to be found, except the place where these images were shot. It was a restored area, that is why so much bloom.

  15. What a lovely post. Forest Wildflowers are such delicate beauties. I loved them all.

  16. The woodland part of my garden has never been developed. Trilliums, Jacks, Bloodroot, Mayapples, Violets, and many more grow wild back there, and some are blooming now. They are a magical treat this time of year. It’s like reconnecting with dear friends I haven’t seen for several months. I tried to add Virginia Bluebells from seed a couple of years ago. They seem to be filling in, but still aren’t blooming. Maybe next year. 🙂 All of these plants you’ve profiled are jewels in an Eastern/Midwestern woodland garden. Beautiful photos, as always, Donna.

  17. bittster says:

    To me woodland flowers are always one of the nicest surprises to find while out walking. I’d like to say collecting plants is bad, but I’ve seen so many wild populations wiped out by deer overpopulations in the last few years I’m halfway tempted to change that opinion…

  18. Lucy Corrander says:

    I didn’t know about the ants! Really like the buttercup picture.

  19. Oh so many of my favorites especially the Lady’s Slippers so rare in NY in the wild. I am glad you mentioned the poaching….if you want a wildflower buy one and grow it…mine are behind because of the cold spring we have continued to have.

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