Learn about some garden wildflower beauties called spring ephemerals which show up very early in the season every year but disappear all too quickly.
We are only the second family to live in my home, which was built in the 1980s. It’s located in a typical suburban plan which means, that, ten years ago when we moved in, there were a lot of basic foundation plantings, mature trees, and shrubs.
The family before us also had planted bulbs and some nice ground cover. One of the plants I find each spring, which I really don’t know whether someone planted or whether it just showed up, is Anemone blanda, commonly known as Grecian windflower.
When it’s finally warm enough for me to take my daily garden walk I come across the Grecian windflower, which always seems to surprise me and make me smile. You see, this little beauty is a spring ephemeral, which means it shows up as a friendly party guest, blooms its head off and retreats until next year. It happens so fast that I forget it was even there.
What Are Spring Ephemerals?
Spring ephemerals are defined as mostly perennial wildflowers that appear when the weather warms up, soaking up the sun before the trees and other plants have a chance to leaf out. They grow rapidly, bloom and then go dormant, all in a period of six to eight weeks. I personally find them a welcome sight for sore eyes.
Native Pennsylvania Spring Ephemerals
Below are some photos of a few well-known spring ephemerals that can be found here in Pennsylvania. Note that many are threatened plants, making it illegal to pick or disturb them.
Mertensia virginica or Virginia bluebells
What needs to be said about these beautiful blue and pink flowers. So pretty and they remind me of some of my Pulmonaria or Lungwort perennials. Most can be found in moist rich river valleys.
I see these beauties while driving on roads with wooded sides all over the place in the spring. I’m so tempted to get out and explore but usually, they are steep cliffs.
Dicentra cucullaria or Dutchman’s breeches
Dutchman’s breeches, named from the shape of the flower as they resemble an upsidedown pair of pants. This pretty woodland plant is related to the beautiful D. spectabilis or Bleeding Heart. Often bleeding heart plants will die back in summer similar to other spring wildflowers.
More Spring Ephemerals
- Sanguinaria canadensis – Bloodroot
- Thalictrum thalictroides – Rue Anemone
- Podophyllum peltatum – Mayapple
- Hepatica americana – Liverwort
- Erythronium americanum – Trout Lily
Where Can You Find Them?
Most of these beauties are found in the early spring in woodland areas. Check out local parks or large outdoor public gardens. Or, contact your local state extension service for recommendations.
This spring if you take a hike in the woods keep an eye out for any pretty wildflowers that pop up in your area. If it’s a spring ephemeral it won’t be around for long.