the snow trillium is invariably the
first species to bloom in my yard. Snow trillium is native to
southern Minnesota but does not naturally range this far north.
The species is, however, quite hardy here and pokes up from the soil as soon as
the first couple inches thaw in spring. Often the newly
flowering plant is buried by fresh snow sometimes for days at a
time. The plants at left have just emerged and were photographed
April 28, 2022. Yes, spring was late this year. Same plants
in full bloom at right.
My plants are all descendants of half a dozen plants my southern Minnesota friend Sylvia gave me when my wife and I moved here in 1997. T. nivale seeded around freely in her yard, and it does here as well. A great attribute of T. nivale from a horticultural standpoint is that its seed does not exhibit the double dormancy characteristic of most trilliums. The West Coast species T. albidum is the only other trillium I know that has this trait. Fresh T. nivale seed sown in July here will germinate and send up a cotyledon the next April or May.
T. nivale is widely considered a calciphile and in nature is usually found in association with limestone, but the plant seems not to mind my pH 5.5 native woods soil at all and seeds freely in this material. I do, however, occasionally sprinkle most of my plantations of T. nivale with crushed limestone or dust them lightly with wood stove ash.
Below is a planting of T. nivale in the yard. Note the immature non-flowering plants of different ages.
|Two weeks later these trout lilies have
fully emerged, and some are blooming.
As is so often the case with this species, most of the plants in a
population have a single leaf, and very few possess multiple leaves and
flowers. One of the nifty things about the yellow and the white
trout lilies is that they spread rapidly by stolons. These white
"dropper" stolons reach out as much as several inches from the original
plant and ideally penetrate the ground again, subsequently producing a
new bulb, but sometimes the new bulb develops on the surface of the
soil. Horticulturally it's a good thing that our trout lilies
reproduce vegetatively in this way, for four or more years are required
to get a mature plant from seed. Moreover, the seed leaves of the
newly germinated plantlets look like grass, so the gardener is liable
to pull them thinking they are weeds. Seed should be sown as soon as it
is ripe, and although the bulbs of adult plants may have worked their
way down to considerable depth in the soil, the seed should be barely
covered. The soil where the seed is sown should be kept moist
throughout the summer, and the location should be marked so the grower
is reminded not to pull grassy looking leaves.
|Hepaticas bloom in early spring about the
same time as our trout lilies. They self seed freely in our yard,
but I also collect seed from the most colorful plants and sow it where
I would like plants. The plants growing naturally in our woods
are mostly white-flowered, but occasionally I come across one with blue
flowers. At the time of this writing, the plant at the left is
called Hepatica acutiloba, but hang on; taxonomists have
been changing Hepatica names frequently. The species name derives
from the pointed shape of the leaves as shown in the photo immediately
below that at left. My friend Sylvia in the Twin Cities gave me a blue
flowered H. acutiloba, and now all the many dozens of plants in
my yard including these two at left are descended from it.
At right is a blue-flowered Hepatica americana grown from seed my friend Dan in Virginia sent me. It has pleasingly patterned leaves, but the old leaves don't show here and the new ones have yet to emerge. These leaves have rounded tips distinguishing them from H. acutiloba. All the wild plants on my land are H. americana.
|Last year's leaves of the H. acutiloba at
left have survived the winter here in particularly good condition and
show the pointed tips well. All too often here, bitter cold
arrives in the fall before sufficient snow to protect the leaves, and
they get freeze dried. This doesn't kill the plant but does
deprive it of energy for good growth the next season.
At right is my pride and joy among Hepaticas: a pink-flowered H. americana that I grew from seed collected from a pink-flowered plant along a back road about five miles north of my house. Most of the wild Hepaticas in my area have white flowers; blue-flowered ones are scarce, and pink ones are downright rare. Note the rounded leaf tips.
|By May 20, as the hepatica blooming
season was winding down, floral activity under the bur oak grove
in our yard was really picking up. If you look closely at this
photo of a patch of ground under the oaks you can pick out bloodroot,
spring beauty, Dutchman's breeches, large bellwort, and large flowered
trillium not yet in bloom. Most of the upland part of our land
that hasn't been modified by agriculture or house construction has soil
consisting of 2"-4" of humus-rich, woodsy loam, underlain by the dense
clay that is characteristic of the glacial till covering most of the
local landscape. This small grove of bur oaks has some of my best
|Alas, few of my Claytonia virginica,
spring beauty, are so colorful as this one.
The majority are a pale pink or even white. I purchased a few
plants from Prairie Restorations well over a decade ago, but now I have
a great many plants from a combination of my scattering seed collected
from wild populations or from self seeding of existing plants.
There are several patches in different areas of the yard. Across
the Swan River west of my house there is a small natural population on
county land with a few clumps on the floodplain of the river , but I
seldom visit these plants because of the difficult access across the
river. I found one spectacular spring beauty population in Aitkin
County, the next county south of me, as I was driving by it at high
speed on the highway. From the car I noticed that the whole floor
of the woods was pink and had to go back on foot for a second look.
|To my mind Uvularia grandiflora,
the large-flowered bellwort also known as merrybells, is one of our
most graceful and elegant wildflowers.
The species is fairly common in my part of northern Minnesota, and a
few individuals were making a natural comeback in former cow pasture in the
most remote corner of my property. To establish plants in the
yard, however, I have buried seeds where I wanted plants. The
seeds should be collected from the mother plant as soon as they are
ripe and immediately buried under a half inch of soil. If the
soil remains moist the rest of the summer and the next season, leaves
should emerge above ground the second spring after planting.
While there are herbarium specimens from Itasca County, where I live, I have never found Dicentra cucullaria, Dutchman's breeches, here; I have seen populations in two adjacent counties: Aitkin and Cass. The plant is reportedly toxic, but that doesn't stop deer from nibbling the foliage in early spring. Such predation decreases as the spring progresses, perhaps either because the plants may accumulate a greater concentration of toxic compounds with age or because the deer increasingly have more palatable options available.
D. cucullaria grows in several areas of my yard but clearly flourishes and spreads best in the rich soil under my little bur oak grove. I have repeatedly tried establishing plants in what appears to me to be excellent habitat in a patch of moist woods east of our barn, but these plants inevitably decline over two or three years or sometimes disappear abruptly even when encircled with a cylinder of hardware cloth to prevent deer predation. The damp habitat there fosters a large slug population, so perhaps slug predation is eliminating the plants, or there may be some entirely different threat that I have not yet even imagined. In any case this is a great example of a principle that good gardeners know, namely, that if a plant appears to be unhappy at one location, move it to another.
|By the end of May the floral display in
the deciduous woods here has reached a peak with such species as
woodland phlox, Phlox divaricata, and the larger trilliums in
full bloom. Woodland phlox self seeds here, and all I
have to do to start a new patch is to replant the volunteers where I
want them. There is also a Virginia bluebells in this
photo almost camouflaged among the phlox.
|I suppose Trillium grandiflorum
is most people's favorite trillium.
It has a very wide range including northern Minnesota, and I live just
along the northern edge of that range. The plant does very well
in many areas of my yard. I collect much of the seed and sow
it in spots where I would like more plants, but as you can see from the
little pointed cotyledons around the base of the clump in this photo, I
clearly don't manage to collect all the seed and neither do the ants
that help disperse trillium seed in nature. The clump in this
photo started as a volunteer seedling that I moved to this spot and is
now some 20 years old. There are many places in
Minnesota including several state parks where large-flowered trillium
carpets vast expanses of forest floor. While such displays are
beautiful, I don't think I want that here as smaller wildflowers can't
get established under the dense cover of trillium leaves.
|The flowers of large-flowered trillium
normally open white and then turn pink as the blooms age. Trillium
grandiflorum forma roseum flowers,
however, open pink. This beautiful form is extremely rare
throughout most of the range of the species, but is frequent in the
Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. My
Virginia friend Dan, who lives near the Blue Ridge, generously sent me
three plants including this one from his yard. I love this
beautiful form, and I'm delighted to have a good crop of seedlings from
it coming along; I'm hopeful a few will bloom in the next year or
two and come true with this color.
|While not so glamorous as some of our
trilliums, Trillium flexipes
or drooping trillium makes up for that lack with its impressive size,
sometimes 20" high or more. In this photo notice how the plant
dwarfs Trillium grandiflorum in the background. T.
flexipes is native to Minnesota, but not this far north.
Other plants in the photo include Viola pubescens, bloodroot,
and lady fern.
|Dicentra eximia, fringed bleeding
heart, is a plant that has given me a great deal of frustration.
Native to the Appalachian Mountains, fringed bleeding heart is a
wildflower that is widely available in the horticultural trade.
Many of these plants are propagated and grown in the Netherlands, then
exported to the U.S. and other countries. Instructions for
growing the plant invariably recommend planting in rich, well-worked
garden soil, preferably under the shade of tall hardwoods. I have
done this many times and have had the small plants from the nurseries
grow into luxuriant clumps like this. The plants are happy
enough to seed around a bit, but then in the third or fourth year they
begin to decline after heavy blooming in the spring and are dead before
the end of the summer. Fringed bleeding heart is reported to be
a long-lived plant but clearly isn't for me.
On a visit to my friend Dan in Virginia, he showed me numerous wild plants in the Blue Ridge Mountains, all of which were growing in crevices in rocks or on rocky ledges. Well, almost all; we found one plant along a railroad track growing in pure coal dust that had blown off trains carrying coal to a power plant! Dan has told me that he has never found a wild plant growing in the rich woods soil that is widely recommended for bleeding heart.
Unlike the dicentras native to Minnesota, fringed bleeding heart stays green all summer and continues to bloom sporadically after the major spring flush of flowers. Thus it is a superb wildflower for woodland gardens, so I am still working hard at trying to make it happy long term. My latest attempts involve siting plants in thin layers of woods soil spread over thick artificial beds of inorganic pebbles and granules so as to provide an extremely well-drained habitat. I hope to be able to report eventual success with bleeding heart over the course of the next several years.
|Taxonomists have made keeping up with
the correct names for our native plants a daunting challenge for
gardeners. The Kew Plants
of the World Online database lists Primula fassettii as the
accepted name for the plants at the left, but still gives Dodecatheon
the name long known to amateur wildflower aficionados, as a synonym
for our jeweled shooting star. The plant is native to Minnesota
but only in the southeastern corner of the state.
I had trouble growing shooting stars from seeds until my friend Dan advised giving the seedlings lots of direct sunlight. Seeds are readily available from Everwilde Farms and Prairie Moon Nursery, and before growing plants from seed myself, I purchased several larger seedlings from Morning Sky Greenery. The plants at left were grown from seed. The seeds were germinated by surface sowing in a flat, and the seedlings were transplanted to small pots for another two seasons before being planted here and elsewhere. I probably planted these seedlings too close together here, but I'm not unhappy with the result.
I've read repeatedly that amethyst shooting star likes calcareous soil, but my plants seem content with the natural pH 5.5 forest soil here. They, however, definitely do better with lots of light. They have no trouble with full sun here but very well might in a warmer climate.
is the northern Minnesota equivalent of Virginia bluebells. While
Virginia bluebells are found in southeastern Minnesota, Mertensia
paniculata, northern bluebells, is native to Itasca County, where I
While the individual flowers are smaller and less showy than Virginia
bluebells, the northern plant has the great horticultural advantage of
not being a true spring ephemeral. Northern bluebells leaves
remain green all summer, at least in my climate, whereas Virginia
bluebells go dormant in early summer leaving large gaps in my
plantings. Fillmore County is the only Minnesota County to which
both species are native.
|Pink-flowered Virginia bluebells with
the usual blue form in the background. Several years ago my
Virginia friend Dan sent me quite a few bluebells plants from an
abundant population on his land, and this pink one was among
them. I placed the plants he sent in my yard. Since then I
have grown quite a few seedlings from Prairie Moon Nursery seed and
have transplanted them along with some of the volunteers that have
appeared in my yard to a naturally low moist area in my woods.
Again, notice all the ostrich ferns in the background. They are difficult to control because they are hard to pull out and spread aggressively by rhizome.
|Iris cristata, dwarf
crested iris, is native to much of the eastern
United States, but not to Minnesota. Nevertheless it does
extremely well here and has the added advantage of not being browsed by
deer. The plant is very easily propagated through cuttings, but
volunteer seedlings do appear here and there occasionally.
|You probably know this plant
as Dodecatheon meadia or prairie shooting star. Well,
currently it's called Primula meadia. There is now only
one remaining natural population of P. meadia in Minnesota, and the
plant is protected as Endangered. The Minnesota plants
have white flowers. The species is far more common in Iowa and
The plant in this photo was purchased from a nursery in Virginia. I have raised plants from seed from the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve in Virginia, and the Naked Mountain plants are much taller than the plant shown here.
|Phlox divaricata blooms persist into June. Woodland phlox self seeds readily and spreads rapidly.|
|This Cypripedium parviflorum
var. pubescens, large yellow lady's-slipper, exhibits the dark
lateral petals and dorsal sepal frequently found here in Northland
clump, now about 20 years old, was grown from seed and planted just in
front of the bay window of our house, so I can enjoy a good view of the
plant while brushing my teeth after breakfast. The
Hepatica acutiloba, Viola pubescens, and lady fern
are all volunteers and must be cut back from time to time as Cyp.
pubescens, like most orchids, suffers from competition.
|The photo shows a portion of a Cyp.
pubescens plantation in a tree ring surrounding a bur oak tree in
the yard. The plantation comprises numerous individual plants
grown from seed as are all the lady's-slippers shown in the photos on
This oak tree was afflicted for several years with bur oak blight, and during this time the slippers in the photo suffered terribly from leaf spot disease. I hypothesize that the fungus responsible for bur oak blight was also the agent of the leaf spot in the orchids. I've read in multiple sources that bur oak blight is fatal for the tree; the oak is not killed outright by the fungus but eventually perishes by some other disease after being weakened by the fungus year after year. Fortunately my tree eventually recovered as have several other trees in my area similarly afflicted.
This photo was taken 15 June, and at this time Cyp. reginae, the Minnesota State Flower, was barely starting to bloom. This web page is already getting a bit long, so C. reginae and other summer flowers will occupy another page.